In these “Interesting Times,” there has been one thing that my dining partner and I have noticed when dining out. It appears that there is a general decline in people displaying civility and good manners in public, especially so in restaurants.

Recently, I commented on this to my dining partner while watching (and listening to) a diner at the next table loudly berate his server (and embarrass his tablemates) on how long his food order was taking.

My dining partner told me not to worry. She said that, for some folks, being isolated by the “Interesting Times” had made them forget how to be sociable with others.

Well, there is a restaurant that is still able to provide good, old-fashioned hospitality, even to those whose social graces have gotten flabby from lack of use. A place where the simple art of making customers feel welcome is not a lost art.

Harbor House is located on the corner of Springbrook Drive and North Roan Street in Johnson City. In business since 1991, Harbor House specializes in American cuisine, primarily seafood and steaks. There is a hostess station as you enter, along with a cashier and take-out counter to the right. Harbor House’s décor is nautically themed through three dining rooms and a spacious glassed-in porch. Restrooms are centrally located. Dine-in service at Harbor House is friendly, professional and follows social distancing guidelines at all times.

Po’ Boy combo sandwich

We had the pleasure of sampling Harbor House hospitality one Friday evening, when my dining partner announced that she was “in the mood for seafood.” Upon arrival, we were greeted by Caleb, who, properly masked and gloved, conducted us to our table. Once there, Caleb introduced us to Kyrel, our server (also masked and gloved) who made us comfortable, efficiently took our drinks orders and answered our questions about the menu. I was immediately attracted to the menu’s Po’ Boy sandwich section, pondering a choice between a Harbor House’s Po’ Boy sandwich made with fried shrimp, and one made with fried oysters. Kyrel had the solution, suggesting that I order the Po’ Boy combo sandwich, containing both fried shrimp and fried oysters ($11.99). Instead of my usual French fries, Kyrel suggested a baked potato and coleslaw as my side orders, making my Po’ Boy Combo sandwich sound even better. Inside of fifteen minutes, Kyrel was back at our table serving me a properly-baked Idaho spud and a ramekin of cool, creamy coleslaw alongside a Po’ Boy combo sandwich just loaded with fried shrimp, fried oysters, lettuce, tomato and some strips of excellent smoked bacon on a toasted French baguette. Between bites, I extracted a fried oyster for my dining partner to enjoy. She said it was almost as good as her Mamaw’s. High praise indeed.

2 pieces of fried flounder with popcorn shrimp

My dining partner’s choice for her supper was a Harbor House Combo Special platter, ($12.99) of two pieces of fried flounder matched with a sizable quantity of fried popcorn shrimp, and a baked potato rather than her usual French fries. I had just finished prepping my own baked potato when Kyrel showed up with my dining partner’s order of fried flounder and shrimp. Each piece of flounder was of a good size, well breaded and fried until the breading was crispy outside, and the flounder was steamy, tender and tasty inside. As for her popcorn shrimp, they were prepared calabash style, being dredged through a light breading of cornmeal instead the usual unbleached flour and then deep-fried in very hot oil. My dining partner’s baked potato was quite good as well when dressed in butter and sour cream.

How to be hospitable

Throughout our meal, our server Kyrel was that most excellent of type of server: one that has learned how to be hospitable. Responsible for six customer-filled tables in his section of the dining room that, were social distancing not in play would have been 12 tables, Kyrel saw to his each of his guests with quiet, friendly hospitality. As he would be serving food to another table, he always kept an eye on the one my dining partner and I were at: checking for drink refills, additional napkins, extra lemon slices or cocktail sauce. Needed items were accompanied by a smile and a query on how we were enjoying our meal. All this while seating a table of senior citizens and assisting a young mother and father with two toddlers loudly demonstrating classic “Terrible Two’s” behavior. Through it all, Kyrel kept his cool, his humor and his hospitable attitude in play like the true professional he was. As we were leaving, I asked our host Caleb how long Kyrel had been with Harbor House.

“Thirteen years,” said Caleb proudly, “Kyrel is one of our best.”

And how.