HARLEM—It wasn’t long ago that it looked like soul food in Harlem was in trouble. Stalwarts like M&G’s Diner, Copeland’s and Louise’s all shut down within a year or so of one another.
Some blamed a gentrifying Harlem, others thought a new awareness and focus on health issues like high blood pressure and obesity led to the decline.
But soul food is now alive and well in Harlem thanks to its connection to the African-American culture that makes Harlem a top tourist destination. Along the way, some restaurants have developed their own take on soul food and some of the stalwarts have changed with the times.
“Restaurants like Red Rooster have reinterpreted soul food so we now have more options. Before, you only had traditional options like fried chicken and fried chicken with fried chicken,” said Nikoa Evans-Hendricks, a founder of Harlem Park to Park, a business alliance that includes several restaurants that cook soul food or a variation thereof.
At celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant — named after a famous Harlem speakeasy— he serves many southern classics with a twist. The fried chicken is fried yard bird with a white mace gravy. The macaroni and cheese is made with Gouda cheese. There’s cornbread but you can get it with tomato jam. It’s his take on comfort food.
“They are taking food that is traditional to us and approaching it differently,” said Nikoa-Evans.