EAST LAURINBURG — Harry’s Grill may look like just another roadside sandwich shop to the passerby, but exotic surprises for the hungry diner await within.
Owner Harry Patel opened in early summer in a newly renovated space that had been occupied for about 35 years by Rachel’s Grill, which closed early this year. Harry’s is the only restaurant in East Laurinburg and one of only a few businesses.
“I saw a need in the community and a business opportunity for me,’’ said Patel, who also owns the adjacent Community Mart and three other small businesses in Scotland County. “I wanted to provide not just another place to eat, but a place residents could feel at home.’’
On Wednesday, an array of poultry greeted each customer, chicken curry and three kinds of wings: fried, barbecued and hot.
While offering standard restaurant fare, such as hamburgers, hot dogs, Philly cheesesteak, cold cuts and other sandwiches, Harry’s offers burritos, pizza, nachos and steaks, plus weekday specials.
On Wednesdays, though, the boss himself comes in to cook lunch, serving up such traditional fare as barbecued chicken, plus dishes common to Patel’s native India — chicken curry with rice and Indian bread, kebabs of beef or chicken, tacos and side dishes khaman and papdi.
Khaman is made from chickpeas and flour, but with a taste that reminds many of pork skins, although it contains no meat. Papdi is a side made from puffed rice, cumin seeds and ground green pepper, cooked in the microwave or a fryer. The former is quite spicy, the latter with a taste suited to tamer tongues.
“I want to expand my selection of vegetable dishes,’’ said Patel, who has lived in Laurinburg with his mother, his wife and their two children since 2005. “I want customers to be able to find their favorite familiar dishes, but also to be able to try newer and healthier selections that they may not be as familiar to them.’’
One breakfast customer Wednesday was looking for an old favorite.
“I live in Moore County, but I came in here looking for some good old country ham with eggs the way I like ‘em,’’ said Kenneth Purcell, who owns Purcell’s Funeral Home in Laurinburg. It was his first visit to Harry’s Grill.
Opened from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day except Sunday, Harry’s Grill staff includes two full-time cooks who have worked for several Scotland County restaurants, including Champs Fine Food & Spirits: Kylie Emanuel and Eddie Mason.
“I usually have people waiting here for me to unlock in the morning,’’ said Emanuel with a smile. “We have a lot of regular customers who come in almost every day, often to eat and sometimes just to have a cup of coffee and visit.’’
Emanuel cooks breakfast orders until 11 a.m. The breakfast menu includes such local favorites as liver pudding, county ham, biscuits and gravy, waffles, pancakes and even fresh-made burritos.
Mason, who been a cook for more than 10 years, takes care of the lunch and afternoon orders. Several customers eating breakfast and lunch Tuesday and Wednesday spontaneously acclaimed his culinary skills, almost in unison.
Daily lunch specials include pork chops on Monday, chicken and dumplings or fried chicken on Tuesday, stew beef and rice on Thursday and fish and shrimp on Friday. Prices on specials, excluding drink, range from $3.99 to $6.99.
It’s all served in clean and well-lit booths, accented with warm colors and a brick-fronted food service counter. With plastic dinnerware, it’s not fancy, though it attracts a broad mixture of local blue-collar workers and businessmen. Cash-only payment is the rule.
“I have replaced all the fixtures, tables, food service equipment; everything,’’ Patel said. “We’re trying to provide a selection of familiar foods, plus a few things they can’t get elsewhere. We want our customers to want to come back.’’
J.L. Pate can be reached at 910-506-3171.