As a Harlemite, the most exciting and heralded restaurant event of the last six months was by far was the opening of Red Rooster.  A black celebrity chef opening a soul food restaurant in Harlem!  Nevermind that he’s Swedish.  The tittering commenced.  Aunties and church members from across the country called and asked, “Have you been to that Marcus Samuels restaurant yet?” (They always butcher his last name.)  And before Red Rooster, I always had to reply, “No, unfortunately I can’t afford to go to Aquavit.”

But Red Rooster is a delight of a place, another showpiece in Harlem’s popping restaurant scene.  The decor is welcoming, there’s always a vibrant scene of people waiting, eating, drinking, mingling in the front bar.  And the downstairs lounge is never empty Thursday to Saturday, a racially and generationally diverse crowd boogie-ing down to old school jams on the early side, hip hop and dancehall after midnight.

Then there’s the food.  Having never sat down to a full meal at one of Mr. Samuelsson’s other venues, I have no basis for comparison.  But from years of observing him and following his career, I expected soul food, but with his signature international flavor profiles and his own fine-dining finesse.  And I wasn’t disappointed.

I heard a few grumbles from the local color that “well it wasn’t all that” and “it wasn’t enough food” and whatnot…  But one must understand: it’s soul food, something that is defined as variably and subjectively as each cook or eater’s tastes.  Is it going to taste like your mother’s?  Or the favorite neighborhood spot back home that had the bomb [fill-in-the-blank] whatever?  NO!!!  This is Marcus Samuelsson’s vision, the vision of an Afro-Swede’s interpretation of American soul food.  It’s not going to be to “your” taste, or even to a “traditional” taste.  It’s to his.  You either like it and enjoy it, or you don’t.  No shade, but I personally hate both Sylvia’s and Amy Ruth’s food, both heralded as staples of Harlem soul food.  Too greasy, not enough thought or spice for my cultured creole tastebuds.  But I loved this.

The food and drinks were simply delicious.  Yes I had the fried chicken.  No, it wasn’t earth shattering and groundbreaking – it was fried chicken and french toast.  But expertly made, with a unique flair.  Worth a trip uptown, for those daring enough to brave the 2/3 train to 125th.

At least once a week, both my mother and grandmother would make homemade biscuits from scratch for breakfast.  They’d always make a big batch, enough to freeze into “individual” serving sizes of 2 or 3 (“snack” vs. “meal”).  Grandma would make buttermilk biscuits, impossibly fluffy and light, and I would eat them with Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup and butter.  Mom went all macrobiotic when I was in high school and started making them with whole wheat flour.  Which was disastrous at first and they came out like hockey pucks.  But she gradually learned how to adjust her recipes so they weren’t terrible, and whole wheat or unbleached all-purpose flour became more easily available.  I also discovered the love of my life at that point – Steen’s 100% Pure Cane Syrup – and never willingly ate anything else on a biscuit or pancake ever again.

Anyhow, I can’t shake the weekly biscuit habit.  I use the JOY recipe, with unbleached flour, sometimes with buttermilk, sometimes drop biscuits instead of rolled (only if I forget and flub up the recipe).  I take great pleasure in kneading, punching, and making little shapes with the dough.  The problem is, with my singleton status, I end up eating them all myself.  Between that and my potato habit I’m likely to ruin my bid for bikini shape.  I’ve started walking an average of 10 miles a week to try to justify my carb intake.  Because I will forever be entranced by those fluffy little bites of love.


a first iteration, the goal being to eventually replicate Grandma's fluffiness w/increasingly more hearty whole grain flours



Veggie Omelette, Il Caffe Latte, Harlem

Veggie Omelette + Mimosa, Il Caffe Latte, Harlem

If you can beat the weekend rush (by going super early or super late), Il Caffe Latte is a totally worth it, a great, relatively quiet place to nurse a hangover or catch a nice strong latte.

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