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Harlem restaurant. Any reviews?

This one's been mentioned on a few threads. Really didn't know it existed, so I checked the website. What's the place like? $17 for pork hocks? Worth a try?

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  1. On a side note...

    I had a hell of time with Harlem on Friday.

    2 Weeks prior, upon reviewing the website, I emailed the owner, as per the site, to make a reservation for a birthday with out of town guests. I didn't get a response for a couple days so I left a phone message with the restaurant. The next day a woman called to confirm the details for my reservation.

    When Friday finally came, members of my party arrived at the restaurant first and were turned away saying that there was no reservation. When the rest of the guests and I arrived, I was told the same by the apologetic floor manager and given the owner's business card. He said their 1/2 full restaurant had little staff and was small so there was no way they could accomodate us.

    The next day I called and the owner said the reservation was recorded for the wrong day. I felt he wasn't genuinely apologetic and he kept repeating that they did in fact have my reservation but it was just on the wrong day. I expressed my disappontment and let him know how inconvenient and difficult it made our evening. He could tell I wasn't going to let it go easily (his attitude bothered me more so than an honest mistake) so he finally relented and said I would give me a and a guest a free meal at either of his restaurants.

    5 Replies
        1. re: Googs

          Oh, it's that guy?! I had no idea, I love that place...I'll have to give Harlem a shot...thanks Googs!

          1. re: Recyclor

            Hopefully you'll have a better experience. That said, I'm curious about Harlem as well so I will definitely be checking it out.

      1. re: chocabot

        My delayed response.....

        We had our comped meal 1 week later. The portions are huge and the service is slow.

        For starters we had the braised ribs, (dry parts, and tender parts, braised in a sweet and savory type sauce) and the beet salad (good but czehoski's is better)

        For mains we had the pork hocks (the meat parts were lovely but as with hocks if you're not going to eat all the fat and skin you end up pushing a lot to the side) and the fried chicken (exactly as moh describes below). The hocks is served with collards and rice but the chicken has no sides so we got the collards (not knowing the hocks would have collards as well). The collards were cooked with coconut milk and very delicious.

        For dessert we had the brownie which was a special. It was not made that day but was good nonetheless. The serving was enormous and it was extremely rich. A jug of milk would have been perfect.

        Overall, the food tasted like fancied home cooking in that it was pleasant and there wasn't any pretense.
        If we went again, we'd order other things as nothing was a "must order".

      2. Had a great experience here last week. Nice service staff, cool intimate space. Food was outstanding. BBQ ribs appetizer, collard greens and jambalaya were simple, flavourful and close to perfect.

        1. Greetings TO! We did a drive-by eating on our way to Hamilton to visit friends, and went to Harlem. It turns out driving the 401 from Montreal to TO really puts a craving for fried chicken in one's heart (all those darn KFCs). So here is a report!

          We got in late, and were at the restaurant by 9:30 pm. The place was full, but the waiter/house staff (one person) was very helpful, and we were seated after about 20 minutes. The waiter was very friendly and pleasant, but he was alone. It is clear they need a bit more staff in the front of house and probably in the kitchen too. So if you go, expect a leisurely pace. Not a great place if you are in a hurry. But they are very nice, so it makes it a pleasant place to sit and wait. He made very appropriate suggestions in terms of amount of food. I felt a bit bad for him, he was run off his feet. Despite the pressures, he maintained a cheerful, helpful disposition.

          We had a plate of fried chicken (family style), shared the braised short ribs, and three sides, the mac n cheese, the collard greens and the red beans and rice. The fried chicken had a thick crispy skin which was nicely seasoned, but could perhaps have used a little bit of salt. The chicken was moist and tender, which was impressive, as I had a breast piece, and I normally find fried chicken breast a little dry. The chicken was perfectly fried, and was not greasy at all. It really hit the spot. Dare I say that I almost felt healthy eating this chicken? No, I guess I can't go that far. But it is certainly lighter than many a fried chicken I have had in the South, and I chalk this up to good frying technique. The chicken was a hit.

          The short ribs were also very well-received. The ribs are braised in a brown sauce with root vegetables and scotch bonnet peppers. I expected a bit more heat from this dish, but it was surprisingly mild. But the sauce was rich and savoury, and the meat was incredibly tender. No knife was used in the consumption of this meat! It was accompanied by collard greens and rice. This dish is very rich and heavy, classic soul food. I strongly recommend this dish especially on a cold rainy/snowy night. It is very well-executed.

          The collard greens were absolutely wonderful. These are not completely traditional, they are much lighter in execution, with less fat and salt. I adore southern style collard greens, but they are often full of pork fat, and the greens are cooked to death, it is hard to consider them a healthy vegetable side. The version that Harlem serves maintains the bright healthy green colour of the vegetable. The collard greens are soft, but not mushy, and they are almost sweet, with a slight hint of bitterness that reminds you they are still collards. Harlem treats these marvelous veggies with respect and love.

          The mac n cheese was far superior to many a mac n cheese I have had down south because they use quality ingredients, and they don't overcook the macaroni. You can taste the butter and the cheese. It is a simple but satisfying side. Again, it seems light and almost healthy, there is no excess grease to make you fear for your arteries.

          The red beans and rice were also very flavourful. The beans are cooked in a rich tomato based sauce, and laid over a bed of white rice. You can taste the wealth of spices and the effects of slow cooking in the medley of flavours.

          I was impressed that you could eat any one of the sides and be perfectly satisfied. The kitchen pays a lot of attention to the fine details. (well, you'd have to order several helpings of each side to be full if that was all you ordered).

          For dessert, we shared the bread pudding. The spicing and texture of the bread pudding was delicate, light and balanced. However, it was inadequately heated up. We all felt it would have been better if it had been warmer and served with ice cream or whipped cream. But the basic flavour of the dish was excellent.

          For all this food for 3 people, we paid $65 after tax and tip. We did not drink. We were all very full after the meal. I would definitely recommend this restaurant. The food is delicious and very satisfying. I was also pleasantly surprised at how well I felt after eating, I normally feel very full and bloated after fried foods and rich southern cuisine. The chef has lightened up the cuisine significantly, so you feel you can indulge without paying too much of a price. If you are looking for a typical Southern soul food meal, this isn't it. This is a lighter, modern version. But the food still captures the rich soul satisfying tradition, and it is clear the chef loves his ingredients and these dishes. Well worth a visit, and worth the somewhat slow service.

          3 Replies
          1. re: moh

            Thank you for such a detailed and thoughtful report.

            1. re: moh

              I can't wait to try the fried chicken... thanks for the report Moh :)
              also, can you recall what else they had on the dessert menu?

              1. re: sugarcube

                Re: the dessert menu, I had originally wanted the rice pudding, but they were out. On that evening, they also had a guava cheesecake. I must admit, it did not look exciting. I don't think dessert is their forte, the desserts were in trays on the counter, and not so interesting to look at. And I kind of feel they lack something in construction as well, as evidenced by the lack of a cream product to accompany the bread pudding. So I wouldn't get your hopes up for a mind-blowing dessert. Their strength really is in their savoury food.

                Hope you enjoy the fried chicken! Such a simple but lovely food...

            2. After having Harlem on my to-try list, I finally made it for lunch. Absolutely fantastic. Jerk meatloaf amazing, cornbread to dream about. Incredibly friendly service. Timing was good, though certainly not fast-food. I was definitely in and out within 50 minutes and felt I had a relaxed lunch. Highly recommended by me.

              1. Made it here last night. I have to add to the chorus of voices supporting this restaurant. I had an excellent meal of bbq chicken and peas and rice. Everythign was a bit of a rush because we were going to Avenue Q after but the chicken had a great low burn to it and the sauce was terrific. Friends had the jerk meatloaf which I tasted and was good but not as good as the chicken. The place is tastefully decorated and definitely a pleasure to eat at. I will definitely go back.

                1. I will also add my voice to the chorus of support for Harlem, tried it last night and thought it was amazing. I expect we'll go there fairly often. Highlights included the fried chicken (first good one I've had since Cajun Corner made the ill-fated move from Leslieville), the mac and cheese side, and the seafood "fondue" appetizer which is more like an "a la king", served with fried wonton wrappers, a very simple and yet totally addictive starter. They use fake crab in it but it's forgivable as the dish came together really well for us.

                  Everything there is obviously cooked with love. Total for two people stuffing their faces - we couldn't finish everything - and drinking two Heinekens was $68. I was a bit dismayed that there were only 3 other tables occupied, albeit with one 8-top. The location is problematic, but I think this restaurant deserves support.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: childofthestorm

                    It was full on Friday night when we were there for our chowmeet. It got busier the later it was, when it has a nightclub vibe to it.
                    Without going into too much detail and speaking for other CH'ers, I think on the whole we enjoyed most of what we ate. It's definitely "comfort" food - stick to your ribs variety.
                    Of what I tasted the highlights were the chicken and catfish lafayette appetizers - I preferred the chicken because it was crispier and spicier, but the fish was delicious also. Another highlight were the candied yams - yum.
                    Others ordered the mac and cheese sides, which looked good, but I didn't have room.
                    I had the short ribs as a main, and I'd say they were just ok. They were a bit overdone (or underdone as is often the case with this type of cut) and not as melt in your mouth as I've had them recently (most notably at Joy on Queen East). The collard greens on the side were nice and had a little bit of spice. Apparently they are made in coconut milk, but I didn't taste that in the collard greens. The rice on the side, did however, taste of coconut milk, which I love.
                    We shared an appetizer of corn bread in the beginning, which was nice and had a nice touch of sweetness.
                    We wanted to try the chocolate coconut cake for dessert, but it was gone by the time we were ready for it :(
                    The service was great in the beginning. It kind of fell off towards the end when are regular waiter for the night disappeared (I think to the nightclub above). We were waiting forever for our bill, even when we asked for it and they were short of change, so instead of waiting for what seemed like eons (full of soulfood on a friday night makes time go on slower when you are eager to leave) we figured out how to pay without getting change.
                    All in all, a nice place for tasty soulfood.

                    1. re: pescatarian

                      At the chow dinner, I had the Porkhock. It was wonderful and tender -- and cooked enough that the fat had rendered away. I had the mac and cheese side, which was good in the restraurant but did not survive the trip home in my people-bag.

                      Next time I go, I am tempted just to have apps and sides.

                      1. re: smr714

                        What happened to the mac and cheese that made it not good anymore?

                      2. re: pescatarian

                        What are these 'chow' dinners I'm reading about? May I have more info on that?

                        1. re: sugarcube

                          Hi Sugarcube,

                          Here's the link to our Google Group: http://groups.google.ca/group/chowhou...

                          Anyone is welcome to join.

                    2. Went back for my second meal at Harlem last night. My first experience was during lunch. I had the Harlem sandwich and the mac n cheese side. The sandwich was nicely toasted, perfect degree of melted-ness to the cheese, flavours were great. Also enjoyed the side salad, especially the grilled plums (or at least that's what I think it was) on top. My only quibble was with the slow service, which I knew to expect after reading reviews on this board. While we didn't mind waiting for the food because we had nice conversation in the meanwhile, we notified our server that we were in a rush at the end and wanted our bill. It took her literally 20 minutes to give us our bill, during which time she ignored our 3 requests for the bill and proceeded to serve other tables first. On top of that, she wasn't very competent with using the computer/cash.

                      Despite my lunch ending on a sour note, I decided to give Harlem another try because of how much I enjoyed the food. We arrived close to 8 and the place was pretty busy, but we had no problems getting a table right away. They were a bit slow in taking our orders (20 minutes or so after we arrived) but that was understandable because as others have mentioned, they lack people in front of house. Our server was running all over the place trying to keep his tables happy. Anyway, we put our orders in and the guava iced tea was a great beginning to the night. Food wise, we both got the southern fried chicken and mac n cheese and collard greens as a side. Chicken was fabulous and as described by everyone above. This was my first time trying the coleslaw and it was just the way I like it - still crispy, creamy, not too vinegary (which is why I'm not a fan of Caplansky's). It balanced out the deep fried richness of the chicken. Mac n cheese was stellar as usual and my friend loved the collard greens, which I didn't try. I will note, however, that I found portion sizes to be perfect - perhaps due to my big appetite? I'm a small girl, but I eat a lot! I polished off all my chicken, salad, coleslaw and side without a problem and didn't feel overly full or sick afterward. It was the perfect amount for me. Our bill arrived with two mini chocolate chip cookies which were a nice touch. Also, after the initial slow start, service was perfectly paced. I will definitely be back!

                      1. I am also very tempted to try Harlem especially after reading all the comments on the food. However, my biggest concern is that I am getting the impression that it does turn into some kind of lounge spot after dinner hours. I would like to have a dinner with friends this weekend (Saturday) and saw on the website that they've got a performer coming in. For those that have been, is the dining area separate from the "stage"? My group of friends and I have a lot to catch up on and I wasn't sure whether the performance or lounge-music will be blaring if we don't finish our dinner until later on in the evening...

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: alleycat81

                          The lounge is upstairs and would not affect the enjoyment of your meal in the main-floor dining area.


                          1. re: Tatai

                            I went to this place for the first time for dinner. The place is decorated in nice way and it felt really cozy and intimate. They have this really cool looking patio on the side that looked like it was decorated with graffiti art. Foodwise, I had the best Mac and cheese I have ever had. I would just go back for that. The Fried chicken was very tasty. It was more on the sweeter side then salty. I tried a piece of bbq chicken but found the meat kind of dry. The rice and beans was very flavourful with a bit of a kick. I ordered tea and thought it was quite worth it because it came as a big pot. Overall, I really liked the quality of the food. The portions were decent. I would go back because there are a lot of dishes that sound really good on the menu that I would love to go back and try. Also, I want to go back and try their Gumbo. I remember trying one of Cajun Corner's gumbo and it was awesome when it was in Leslieville. (Haven't gone to the new location yet)

                        2. One warning about Harlem and reservations. Both their website and the notice outside the front door says that, on weekends, the kitchen stays open until midnight. So, as we wanted dinner after the play we were seeing, I made a reservation for three of us for 11.15. However, when we turned up, a few minutes before 11.15, they claimed that they had no record of such a reservation and that it should never have been made as the kitchen closes at 11.00., even on weekends.

                          However, to be fair to them, they seated us immediately, and bustled around to feed us. The avocado and walnut "pate" is, in fact, two pleasant dips and we all enjoyed the fried chicken and a shared order of collard greens. They were out of cornbread by the time we ordered and when it came around to deserts, the kitchen was DEFINITELY closed. Service was friendly and attentive, however, and they did their best to rectify an awkward situation.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ER2

                            Ya gotta, gotta, gotta have the cornbread.

                          2. Had another wonderful dinner at Harlem tonight. Service was incredible, our server was very efficient, friendly and attentive. Music was playing upstairs at a volume just loud enough to hear but not so loud that it disrupted my conversation.
                            We had:
                            Chicken Lafayette served with coleslaw- I adore these little sweet and spicy morsels and the slaw is really delicious. Its perfectly seasoned with a hint of sweetness from golden raisins.
                            Walnut pate and avocado hummus with crisps- the "hummus" is really more like a smooth guacamole and the "pate" is really more like a hummus. Regardless, its completely delicious and our server was quick to supply extra crisps for dipping once we ran low.
                            Fried chicken- 3 large juicy pieces of chicken fried to perfection with a nice sweet spice. The server brought me some honey as requested which just made the dish for me.
                            Mac and cheese- so creamy but not heavy or "oily" as sometimes mac and cheese can be
                            Candied yams- I don't know exactly what goes on these, other than maybe honey, but they are so addictive.

                            So with 2 apps, 2 orders of fried chicken, 2 sides, 2 beers the bill was only $75 after tax and before tip. This is definitely one of my favourite spots and I'm already looking forward to my next visit. Thanks again to Chowhounds for introducing me to the place last year.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: hungryabbey

                              Went back to Harlem a few days ago for lunch. I have been looking forward to having their mac and cheese again. For some reason, it didn't taste the same this time and it didn't have the same consistancy either. My friend went twice recently and found it inconsistant too. I recall it being really thick and creamy but this time it was very runny and not very cheesy so I was quite dissapointed. Too bad it's not the same each time. I ordered the Gumbo this time, expecting a nice thick soup, but it was more like a stew with a side of rice. I guess Gumbo comes in different forms? It was good and tasty but I was just hoping for something soupy.

                              1. re: babybluepowder

                                Recipes for gumbo can be quite variable, with the main constant being the use of celery, bell peppers, and onion (aka the Holy Trinity). Some are more soup-like, some more stew-like. And traditionally, it's served with/over rice.

                                1. re: babybluepowder

                                  I had the watery kind. You can see the photo of mine in the link below. Looked good, but wasn't the creamy I had been hoping for. :(

                                  But I really liked their fried plantains and the rice & beans. I had gone to Harlem for lunch over the summer and had their jerk sandwich, which I thought was rather tasty as well.

                                  And I still want to go back for their chicken!

                                  http://www.foodpr0n.com/2009/04/22/ha... -- food. is. love.

                                  67 Richmond St E, Toronto, ON M5C1N9, CA

                              2. I went to Harlem last Thursday night for my anniversary.

                                My bf doesn't appreciate fine dining but after trying lunch at Harlem and eyeing their delicious dinner menu I thought this would be a great place for a special meal.

                                There were only a couple of tables free so we took one after making eye contact with a staff member. 20 minutes later, nobody had even acknowledged us. Finally I waved at a man I thought was a server and he waved back saying hello and kept walking past. I had to stand up and catch him on my way back and plead to have our order taken. At this point we were frustrated and hungry.

                                We started with the catfish Lafayette which was quite tasty by the time we got it but even though it was lukewarm. I had ordered Chicken and Waffles as my main (having decided this prior to that evening) and especially after seeing other patrons enjoying it. I was told later that they were out of it and the server did not do much to soften my disappointment. He seemed impatient and told me I could just have the chicken on its own. When it finally came with a side of mac and cheese I must say I enjoyed it, very crispy and covered in a spicy maple syrup. Unfortunately by this point the damage was done...the lack of service and long wait had put us both on edge and we couldn't wait to scarf down our food and get out of there, after paying a substantial bill ($75 for 2). I had so wanted this to be a good experience as I live nearby but it would take a lot to get me back in there now.

                                67 Richmond St E, Toronto, ON M5C1N9, CA

                                1. My wife took me here for my birthday on Saturday. The disappointment started right at the door.

                                  A surely band member (they have live music upstairs) was loading gear in and blocked our way in. Once past that roadblock, we had to navigate around a large party that had blocked the entrance into the narrow restaurant.

                                  Finally sat down and ordered drinks. The bar menu leaned heavily on sugary cocktails, only a single "house" red and white wine and a small selection of bottled beer.

                                  I played it safe and ordered a beer. Wife was adventurous and ordered a martini. It arrived in a scratched up, chipped, plastic martini glass. Was this meant to be intentional? As if we were poolside somewhere?

                                  Starters: We split a plate of spring rolls after the waitress affirmed they "were awesome". Menu advertised them as vegetarian, but they clearly had shrimp in them. Tasted okay, but in the same way that frozen grocery store spring rolls would taste okay.

                                  Mains: I ordered the Fried Chicken and Waffles. Wife ordered Blackened Catfish.

                                  Neither came as advertised.

                                  Fried Chicken was not very crispy. Pieces were very tiny and comprised mostly fatty sinew with little meat. Menu claimed that it came with a "scotch-bonet-corriander-lime syrup" (don't you mean "bonnet"?) and gravy. The syrup was very clearly just plain maple syrup. Gravy was chunky and runny. Collards were overcooked and came with orange bell pepper slivers that also had the texture and appearance of frozen. Waffles were the only solid part of the dish.

                                  Blackened catfish is advertised on the menu as "Served with a shrimp and crab etoufée sauce. Collards and basmati rice." The etoufee had no visible shrimp present and the crab was IMITATION (pollack). Dish had the same collard and bell pepper accompaniment as my dish. The catfish portion was also very tiny, about the diameter of a can of tuna. Basmati rice was... just plain basmati rice - no way of messing that up.

                                  Did not stay for dessert. Waitress clearly knew we were done but we waited 20 min before she realized she forgot to give us the bill. She was apologetic.

                                  After listening to Sade's "No Ordinary Love" piped quietly through the house speakers, the band started upstairs. First song? "No Ordinary Love". Painful!

                                  67 Richmond St E, Toronto, ON M5C1N9, CA