Out to Lunch: Mary and good food are back at Harriman Steak and Diner

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By Bethel Poston
I get tips on places to go “Out to Lunch” from several people. One of them, Eddie’s Body Shop owner Rodney Harback, told me about Donna’s Diner 18 months ago. I wrote about the diner, a restaurant across from Jerry Duncan Ford in Harriman.

“You need to eat at the new Harriman Steak and Diner,” Rodney told me a couple of weeks ago when I picked up my car at his Harriman shop. “The food is great. It’s at the former Donna’s location, with a new name and new owners.”

Ray Collett, my scout from Rockwood, recently emailed to tell me about a new Harriman eating place.

“My wife and I just enjoyed the best steaks we have eaten lately at Harriman Steak and Diner,” he wrote.

With these recommendations, I called Rodney and asked him to meet me and my wife, Carol, at the diner on a Monday. Over lunch, I found out he really likes to cook and share his recipes.

New owner Mary Long didn’t really need any help from Rodney. She opened the Spot Café in Harriman in 1988 and later sold it to its present owner. In 1990, she opened Nana’s Restaurant in Kingston. Her cooking reputation followed her as the main cook at Rookies in Harriman for several years. Mary opened Harriman Steak and Diner in April.

Rodney cooked a big pot of beef stew, “just like mama used to make,” and took it to the diner for them to try. He later did the same with a seafood gumbo.

You might want to ask if they have some in the kitchen when you visit.

I jumped on the Monday special: meat loaf, with sides of corn nuggets, okra and fried squash. Three days later, I was still working on the leftovers. The size of the servings will amaze you, and the modest prices will likely please you.

Carol chose the pulled pork dinner (barbecued out back) with potato salad and slaw, both made on site. She also was served a portion of sliced barbecue beef brisket. Overhearing me order corn nuggets, she had to have some, too.

I’ve already had two large barbecue sandwiches, with some still left in the refrigerator.

Rodney told me the barbecue is injected with apple-cider vinegar the night before smoking. Each week, 120-140 pounds of meat are barbecued.

The barbecued slab of ribs I saw when touring the newly remodeled kitchen was very tempting. A smoked baked potato is already on the menu, and smoked chicken soon will be available.

Becky Miller sat at a table next to us and overheard us talking about the size of the servings.

“I had chicken and dumplings last Friday, and I’m still eating on them three days later,” she said.

Some years ago, Becky had worked with my wife at Heilig-Meyers Furniture. She had a grilled steak (Philly cheesesteak) sandwich with chips the day of our visit. I saw the size of her sandwich, and I’ll bet she took part of it home.

Her lunch companion, Joe Walters, a former employee of Toho Tenax America Inc. in Rockwood, had the Philly cheesesteak with fries.

“The porterhouse steak is very good,” he said. “All their steaks are better than what you find in Knoxville, where I used to live. We eat here all the time, and I really like their beef tips and noodles when available.”

Don and Tonia Huffstetler greeted Mary: “Just found out you were serving your famous steaks again, and came right in.” Don is a TVA electrician foreman, and they live in Dyllis. Both Huffstetlers had 12-ounce ribeye steaks with salads and baked potatoes.

Mary’s nephew, Robert Webb, is the grill man. Robert hand cuts steaks from nine to 10 ribeye loins a week. He also deveins and butterflies 16-20 pounds of fresh jumbo shrimp each week.

Fresh oysters and grouper are also available, breaded or grilled and cooked to order.

Other daily specials are hot roast beef sandwich on Tuesday; country-fried stead on Wednesday; salad and spaghetti with garlic bread on Thursday; and chicken and dumplings on Friday.

The Sunday buffet features fried chicken. I’m told you better get there early if you don’t want to wait for a seat.

Side orders not already mentioned are macaroni salad, pinto or white beans, mashed potatoes, green beans, fried green tomatoes, fried squash and turnip greens. Selections of fries, salads and onion rings are available.

Wednesday evening is steak night: two steaks for one price.

Grilled chicken, pork chops, liver and onions, popcorn shrimp and breaded catfish are also on the dinner menu.

I found four hot dogs on the menu: the mad dog with chili and slaw, which is also available as a foot long; a corn dog; and a hot dog on the kids menu.

My eyes also caught the fried bologna sandwich in addition to a varied assortment of other standard sandwiches.

Mary told me the barbecue with five different sauces, including an apple flavor, is one of the most requested items. Ribeye steaks are a close second, followed by white beans and cornbread. Liver and onions are also in the running.

Peggy Sands said she eats at the diner almost every day. She had a chicken Caesar salad the day of our visit.

“They serve wonderful food here,” she said.

Peggy’s lunch companion, Roane County Family Practice LPN Martha Effinger, had a generous cheeseburger and fries.

Eddie’s Body Shop employees occupied another table. Glen Moore has been with Eddie’s 25 years and was having grilled chicken on a bun with a center-cut onion slice the size of the bun.

Randy Evans of Crossville and has been with Eddie’s six-plus years. His large chef salad was covered with ham and chicken slices. Two-year employee Bob Hart went for the meat-loaf special with mashed potatoes and green beans.

“We’ve been regulars here since they opened,” he said.

Ed Adcock, service writer for Jerry Duncan Ford, also had the meat loaf special. Because he works just across the street, I’ll bet he knows the menu by heart.

While I was table-hopping, Rodney told server Tiffany Swinford to bring Carol and me a slice of his favorite pie. It was made with cream cheese, whipped topping and crushed pineapple, topped with English walnuts and drizzled with caramel syrup.

He waited until we commented about how delicious is was before telling us he had found the recipe and encouraged Mary to make it.

Harriman Steak and Diner is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. They can seat 80 customers and host the Harriman Lions Club meetings on the second and fourth Monday of each month.

I caught postal carrier Deborah Case and her lunch mate, Danny Pemberton, filling a carry-out container with a bunch of meatloaf.

“We’ve been here several times and always take home some delicious leftovers,” Deborah said.

Rodney had no leftovers. He is a satisfied member of the “Clean-Plate Club.”

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Bethel Poston is a Roane County businessman and entrepreneur who writes about places of interest in our area. E-mail suggestions and comments to postonplace@bellsouth.net.