Even if there was a password or a secret knock required to gain access to The Sturges Speakeasy, the friendly staff wouldn’t hear me—they are way too busy serving a full house night after night. No worries, I knew what I was here for: the meatloaf.
Meatloaf – the pan-packed, tummy-filling dish has been much maligned (and sometimes celebrated) over the years; occasionally evoking moans and groans but, when done well, can summon “oohs” and “aahs.” Mom’s homemade meatloaf was a staple of Depression-era America when cost complemented comfort and convenience, but loaves of ingredient-filled meat were prevalent as far back as ancient Roman times (when they were packed with pine nuts and wine-soaked bread). When I scanned the Sturges Speakeasy’s menu online, the Spanish-infused smoked bacon-wrapped was what stood out to me.
I walked into 400 Forster St. on what I thought would be a slower than average evening expecting to have the staff’s full attention. But that was easier said than done. Every seat at the bar was filled with patrons enjoying happy hour, so I took a seat far in the back of the dining area where I could get in a little people watching. The crowd at The Sturges Speakeasy ranged in age from the mid-20s to the late 40s, and there was a good mix of styles.
As soon as I sat down I ordered a Sazerac and the Spanish-infused, smoked bacon-wrapped meatloaf, which like any great ground meat product, consists of three different types. The Sturges Speakeasy uses Spanish-seasoned pork belly, brisket, and top sirloin (the tasty stuff under the tenderloin). The addition of brisket is what really holds this dish together. The ultra-savory cut needs to be cooked slow and low to reach perfect tenderness; it allows the end product to be light and supple. The meatloaf falls apart and crumbles as opposed to the sponginess associated with those that might be found in truck stop diners or on some kitchen tables. By the size of the portion, I’m guessing the meatloaf weighs in at one pound before it is wrapped with bacon. Inside, shreds of carrots, onions, and fresh herbs and spices add some aromatics and flavor to the dish and the authentic Spanish flavor is delivered through the use of chilies. During my visit the meatloaf was served with herb-roasted red potatoes and creamed spinach. The creamed spinach was some of the best I’ve ever tasted – not overly salty and enough sweetness to make something simple, like spinach, seriously complex.
I asked my server if the meatloaf was something frequently ordered here. It is. In her year and a half at The Sturges Speakeasy, the meatloaf has never rotated off the changing, seasonal menus. The dish would have paired nicely with a good beer and I probably should have taken a closer look at the sixteen rotating taps at The Sturges Speakeasy. On their sign, the bar promotes the motto, “American Restaurant and Tavern.” This is true and is a better definition than “speakeasy.” Even with jazz on the radio and some French advertising art, this place feels more like a neighborhood tavern. One that I wish was in my neighborhood.
400 Forster St., Harrisburg