While its name celebrates the moon, expect a little more sun worship from longtime downtown Modesto dining staple The Harvest Moon.
Starting next week, the I Street restaurant will close down its dinner service and instead expand its breakfast hours. The eatery’s popular lunch service will remain the same, said owner Mark Smallwood.
“Everyone is fighting for the dinner dollar downtown,” he said. “But I’ve always been a morning person. And it’s something I always wanted to do was to have a breakfast and lunch place and I think now is the time.”
Now, I know your first question is, “Are they still serving the Neil’s Toss?” Yes, relax. The beloved entree-sized chicken salad very much remains on the menu.
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Instead of being open for lunch and dinner daily and then Saturday and Sunday for a late breakfast starting at 11 a.m., the restaurant will now be open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Wednesday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. for breakfast and lunch Thursday to Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for breakfast and lunch Sunday.
With the change some of the restaurant’s higher-end dinner items will be taken off the menu like the ribeye steak and crab-stuffed filet mignon. But other favorites like the rack of lamb and gumbo will be incorporated into the lunch menu.
Smallwood said he hopes the change will help bring a new crowd looking for breakfast and brunch into the restaurant. He said because they only served breakfast two days a week and started it late, many people missed out on their selection. But now he hopes to introduce more people to their scratch-made dishes like huevos rancheros, crab omelets and chile verde tostadas, all made with farm-fresh eggs from Crows Landing. If the breakfast options catch on, he plans to expand the days it is served.
The Harvest Moon first opened in 1995 as, of all things, a barbecue and beer place. Smallwood was originally its manager, and noticed it wasn’t attracting any female clients. In 1997, he purchased the restaurant and changed its menu to the eclectic, California menu it has today.
One of the first things he did was add the Neil’s Toss, named after Neil Young, whose song inspired the restaurant’s name. The inspiration for the salad, in turn, came from the TV sitcom “Seinfeld,” in particular an episode that featured “The Big Salad.” At the time not many local restaurants were offering large meal-sized salads. So the Neil’s Toss — composed of poached chicken, tomato, bacon, avocado, croutons, asiago and blue cheese crumbles in creamy lime dressing over romaine lettuce — was born. Since then it has achieved cult status among its fans.
“The Neil’s Toss is incredible to me. It blows me away every day how that salad has such a following after 23 years,” he said. “People come in, they don’t want a menu, they just want a Neil’s Toss.”
Smallwood said he is looking forward to getting off work earlier, and riding his bike for the first time in two years. It’s some perspective the 62-year-old gained after becoming lost in the Tuolumne County backwoods with his girlfriend and dog for several days two years ago. He said people still come into the restaurant and ask him about the experience.
“After we got lost, the outpouring was tremendous. People came into the restaurant and called and texted me,” he said. “When I bought the restaurant I never thought it would last this long. Thought we’d go maybe five years. But this town has been great to me.”
Elsewhere on the Business Beat:
If you’ve ever wanted to escape Modesto, now you can do it with the entire city.
Escape Modesto, a downtown escape room business, is planning a city-wide scavenger hunt Saturday, Oct. 13. Instead of having to escape a specially themed indoor room, the escape hunt will allow players to roam outside around the city looking for clues to track down a fictitious serial killer who has been terrorizing the city.
The hunt encourages people to join teams of two to five players. Tickets to participate are $100 per team. The first person to catch the killer will take home a $1,000 prize. The event will run 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and clues will be left in public places and other businesses. For more information call 209-324-5190 or visit www.escapemodesto.com/escape-hunt.html.