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ITHACA, N.Y. — The best-kept (open) secret at The Heights Restaurant is certainly The H Bar. From hand-cut ripple potato chips with scallion sour cream to moo shu pork carnitas, the menu at The Heights’ H Bar resists definition.
Instead, it opts for American with a globe-trotting feel, stocked with wine, craft beer, specialty cocktails, and a wide-ranging selection of bar food.
The Heights first implemented a bar menu in 2008, but the later addition of a curtained cocktail area cemented its versatility.
“If you don’t want to have a full meal, you can sit in that room and you can have the bar menu, and whoever you’re with can have the regular menu,” said owner James Larounis.
As long as it’s not full of reservations, the front room is open for patrons to enjoy selections from The H Bar, served small plate style, another option in addition to sitting at the bar itself.
Flexible and familiar
James and his wife Heidi opened The Heights after their move from Philadelphia in 1995. The restaurant’s Community Corners location reminded James of Locust Valley, a hamlet of Muttontown, Long Island where he grew up.
Formerly occupied by Rosetti’s, the footprint of the restaurant was much smaller and lacked a bar. In 1999, Larounis annexed additional space, but the real face-lift came in the summer of 2014.
“We gutted the whole bar and extended it. We redid the tile, the lighting, all the décor: a refresh and rejuvenate,” Larounis said. “We didn’t want it to feel too heavy. It’s still open; it feels like the bar.”
Larounis brought up a restaurant designer from New York City, who outfitted the room in black, gray and white, and added semi-sheer curtains to delineate the flexible cocktail area without boxing the room off.
“You’ve got to keep reinventing,” Larounis said. “But you have to make food great. That’s the bottom line.”
The kitchen breaks down its own meats and whole fish. They make gravlax in-house for a smoked salmon chowder, and handcraft gnocchi, features in both the bar and restaurant menus.
“Everything we do here is homemade,” said Larounis. “After 20 years, we’ve set the standard for what really phenomenal food should be.”
The sheer breadth of The Heights’ menu makes favorite items hard to pin down.
Nonetheless, Larounis managed to cite two: the sweet and sour glazed beef short ribs, with green onions, sticky rice, marinated cucumbers, and fra diavolo, and the braised pork shoulder with shrimp, clams, carrots, Yukon potatoes, zucchini with an Argentinian-style chimichurri basil sugo.
With multiple daily specials, rotating seasonal items and two main menus a mile wide, The Heights gives options galore.
“We just change with the times and give people different options with what they can do here,” Larounis said.