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Photograph by George Sakkestad

Dude Food: They keep it simple down at the Harvest Time in Gilroy, where fresh, locally harvested foods headline the menu.

Chic Wagon

High-class cowboy cuisine a proud tradition at the Harvest Time

By Joseph Izzo Jr.

THE IDEA OF "cowboy continental" was born in 1987 while dining at Harrah's steakhouse in Reno. I overheard a cowboy--Bobby Mack Higgins--decked in rhinestones, buckle and hat tell of the glories of dining after a hard day wrestling bulls. "There's nothing like fancy food under the queen's chandeliers," I overheard him say in a drawl that drifted through the room like sacred smoke from the peace pipe. And it was Cousin Al, maestro of bluegrass over at K-Fat (now K-Pig), who pushed the idea home. He was the one who told me to get on over to the Harvest Time in Gilroy for a supper I'd never forget. "Wear your best boots, too," he added, with a wink I could barely see in the shadow of his 10-gallon hat.

I didn't have any boots, but I went anyway and found true meaning in the concept of "cowboy continental." On those first visits I tasted authentic renderings of wiener schnitzel, saltimbocca and other delicious European dishes, including the mythic Salzberger Knorkel (dessert soufflé), all of it served in an atmosphere pulsating with cowboy life, punctuated by dialogue about horses and cows and barbed-wire fences in need of repair.

I realized, too, on that initial visit that cowboys have a nose for good food and fine dining. Cousin Al's right. They like to dress up in their finest rhinestones and boots and be pampered--like the rest of us--and dine not on sagebrush hen and beans but on exquisite cuisine served without complication.

The building that houses the Harvest Time used to be a hotel where cowboys actually stayed when participating in local rodeos. Their spirits still roam the place, I swear. I felt them walking through the rooms. I saw them sitting at tables, getting comfortable with all the linen, snapping the wine glasses for the ring of crystal. What a great place! Above the bar is a serpentine structure wrapped with wallpaper depicting scenes of cowboys riding bulls and broncos. The paper's been up for a long time and even though it's yellowing and old now, it still ties the room together and gets me thinking about life on the range.

The Harvest Time offers a wide-open menu of standard continental classics like Beef Wellington, Fettuccine Alfredo and Wiener Schnitzel, plus a number of dishes based on the bounty from the local earth. Cream is used in many of the sauces. Though I'm not a cream sauce fan, I found that the kitchen applied cream with discretion, as it should be, using it to lace and richen, not to overwhelm or smother.

We opened with a local favorite of Whole Roasted Garlic ($6.75), Gilroy-raised and served in bulbs roasted to sweetness with feta cheese dressing. Alongside came a ramekin of very hot Festival Mushrooms ($7.50) in an aromatic sauce of butter, garlic and basil. At my insistence, we ordered the Ancho Smoked Chicken ($13.95) and split this pasta as an appetizer. Bouquets of spiciness rose from the plate. My surf buddy--called the Pelican by his dear friends--polished it off in short order and was happy he did.

Harvest Time Chicken Salad ($9.95) impressed us all. Crispy and fresh are adjectives that best describe this mix of chicken breast cut into strips and served over greens and walnuts, with a lively vinaigrette stitched together with honey and lime.

If your idea of fine dining includes beef, the Harvest serves up a healthy selection of steaks with or without sauces or mushrooms. We had the T-bone ($17.95), broiled to specifications with minimum seasoning, and the Cajun Prime Rib, an ample slab penetrated to the core with Louisiana spices. Both were on special that night.

From the fancy side of the menu we sampled the Gallo Saltimbocca ($14.95), which reworked the classic recipe, replacing the veal with chicken breast layered with thin slices of prosciutto and mozzarella, then finished with a Marsala-fortified sauce.

The ocean dwellers proved standouts at our table. Beurre Blanc Salmon ($17.95) could not have been fresher had we been on the dock to receive it. Over spinach greens it came with an intriguing rendition of beurre blanc that included a dash of cream for extra body and richness. Tequila Prawns ($17.95), a favorite with the locals, also earned high marks for freshness. The tangy tomatillo sauce chimed with cilantro. The bed of tender rice absorbed this tangy sauce, turning what could have been a bland aside into an impromptu risotto.

Harvest Time serves a local clientele. If the servers don't know you at first, just give them time. They work the tables with genuine affection, making everybody feel at home and in the hands of family. Our waitress juggled our numerous orders without a peep, without a grimace, smiling through the ordeal, calling people by first names, touching shoulders.

Harvest Time welcomes cowpokes and would-be cowpokes with open arms, never closed. The years have deepened this restaurant's character, underscoring the definition of cowboy continental twice, maybe three times. If I had one, I'd tip my hat to you, Cousin Al. This restaurant still rides with the best of them.

Harvest Time
Address: 7397 Monterey St., Gilroy
Phone: 408.842.7575
Hours: Lunch 11:30-2pm Mon-Fri; dinner 5-9pm Mon-Thu, until 10pm Fri and Sat; brunch 9am-2pm Sat and Sun
Cuisine: Cowboy continental
Price Range: $9.95-$20

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From the May 24-30, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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