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Mar 31, 2008 07:30 AM

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.