The Budget Epicureans Review: The Harp

Jeremy Smyczek | Staff Writer

Each week, the Budget Epicureans visit a local restaurant or take-out, searching for quality and value. Bonus points are awarded for healthy eating options.

The Harp Tavern on South Third Street has a great location. Along with the neighboring Satellite Lounge on Greenfield Street, it’s situated around an old barracks about to be converted into trendy housing. Both places are ahead of the curve for a baby urban renaissance, right in the shadow of Greenfield Lake Park. What the Harp Tavern does not have going for it, however, is consistently good food.

The design of the Harp is classic American-Irish pub: lots of dark wood, with old Irish whiskey posters framed on the walls. There’s even an old piano, which is played in the evening on occasion. A couple of tastefully placed and not-too-huge big screens play Euro league football matches.

The menu continues the theme. Shepherd’s pie, corned beef and cabbage and fish and chips sit alongside the usual burgers and chicken fingers. A full bar is available, so a bloody mary or mimosa can keep the palate freshened.

Or at least they might, if the mimosas weren’t tiny and the bloody mary was not served with too much Worcestershire sauce. One needs water to wash down cocktails just purchased.

Smoked salmon always seems like a good appetizer choice. That is, unless it is served on heavy brown bread that utterly masks its delicate texture. Then it’s not very good at all.

But before the Harp can be filed under “mistake not to be repeated,” fluffy, lightly pan-fried Irish potato cakes with apple sauce and sour cream come to the rescue and make one pause to reconsider.

The entrées repeat the riddle. Delectable medium-rare tuna steak with sautéed spinach and root mash alternates with a greasy, lifeless fish sandwich with browning iceberg lettuce. The lettuce matches the dingy brown of the fish and the hand-cut fries, both obviously cooked in fryer oil that should have been thrown out two days earlier.

The service mirrors the food. It’s well-intentioned but can’t quite seem to get it right. Long pauses without drinks are followed by main plates showing up in a flurry while appetizers and salads are still in progress.

The real shame of it is that none of this food is innovative enough that anything should be hit-and-miss. It’s traditional Irish cuisine, after all, and everyone’s had a few centuries to work out the bugs. Since no one eats Irish food looking for an experiment, consistency is particularly important. The Harp has the potential to be good, but its inability to avoid crashing and burning on certain dishes makes it impossible to recommend, especially at its price level.

Cuisine: Irish pub

Price range: $10-$25

Address: 1423 S. Third Street

Wilmington, NC 28401

Contact: (910) 763-1607 or

Store hours:

Seven days a week 12 noon to 11:30 p.m.