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.
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by Amanda Kludt
Just over a year ago, Village soul food spot The Pink Tea Cup was threatened with extinction, and now it’s expanding to Harlem.
Last year, when the over 50 year-old restaurant closed due to high rents and slow business, local restaurateur and owner of the Actor’s Playhouse Lawrence Page stepped in. He bought the trademark from the owners, hired one of their chefs, and reopened the Tea Cup a couple of blocks away from the original restaurant. Now he’s opening a branch up on Lenox and 120th Street, right across from local favorite Settepani and blocks away from Marcus Samuelsson’s soul food restaurant Red Rooster.
He originally planned on calling the place the Pink Heifer—due to a partnership with charity Heifer International—but the community disapproved, because “Heifer is often used as a derogatory slang term for a woman.” So Pink Tea Cup it is! The restaurant will hold 29 tables and will feature an upstairs lounge that will be open all day. Down the road Page plans on opening a Moroccan-themed bar nearby.
Read more about the new restaurant in Harlem from Eater NY.
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