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Near Disaster at Harlem

Yesterday was my birthday. My very sweet SO made a dinner reservation about a week ago at Harlem (Richmond and Church Streets). When we arrived, the small dining room was packed, dominated by a party of 12 near the door.

We were shown to a table at the back -- opposite the bar and perilously close to the kitchen. The table was in a narrow hallway and near a side door. We sat down, but there was a noticeable draft from the door (it was -25 c last night). The wait staff brushed up against us everytime they picked up an order. We ordered drinks and endured for about 15 minutes and then calmly told the bartender that we wanted to pay for our drinks because we were leaving. I said that I understood that the restaurant was busy, but that it was unfair and bad business to sacrifice a party of 2 for a party of 12. I added that I felt my birthday dinner had been ruined.

She asked us to wait saying she wanted to speak to Jervis ( Executive Chef) and then dissapeared into the kitchen. She came back with Jervis who asked me if I was the birthday girl. I said yes, and he told me not to worry that he was going to move us to a table upstairs and take care of our bill.

We ended up sitting on the stage on the second floor (also packed) under the glow of a spinning disco ball. My SO had Jambalaya which he loved. I had the bourbon rib appetizer and we shared sides of corn bread, greens and rice and beans. Everything was delicious and quite spicy.

Kudos to Jervis-- his quick thinking saved my birthday dinner. If we'd left the restaurant after having drinks, we would have never returned. We'll definitely be back.

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  1. And kudos to you for giving them a chance to correct your situation. Just another reason to love Harlem.

    1. Perhaps a better title to this thread might be Near Disaster at Harlem Averted or something as such

      1. Classy move. This is why a restaurant succeeds. Well, that and really really good fried chicken.

        1. I'm glad it worked out for you, but really... you expect them to ignore a party of 12 for 2? I would be upset in your situation and would probably take the same action. Kudos to Jervis for stepping up. Class like this is needed for restaurants to survive in tough economic times.

          1. Good stuff. We ate there on Friday night and were quite pleased.

            I'll give my 2c review since I was gonna do it on another thread.

            table of 4, Jambalaya (Me), Fried Catfish (Mrs. Sippi) shared Mac and Cheese. BBQ Chicken (Sister), Fried Chicken (BIL) shared cornbread.

            Jambalaya was really good but mine is much better IMHO. I didn't see the point of adding greens and found the sausage choice a bit odd. It tasted like pepperoni.

            Fried Catfish was also good from the sample I had. Mrs. Sippi said that it was great and the etouffee topping was also great. However the whole wasn't any better than the sum of it's parts.

            Fried Chicken I tried was good. My BIL doesn't like dark meat and forgot to ask for only white so he didn't eat the drumstick. He's also a very picky eater. He thought it was okay.

            BBQ Chicken, my sister was happiest with her meal. She said the chicken was really good but the BBQ sauce was incredible. So much so she got the recipe. Or at least the ingredients.

            Mac and Cheese was really good. Exactly what it should've been.

            Cornbread was a surprise with chilies in it. It was very tasty.

            The staff were great. Attentive enough which was great considering they were setting up/dealing with a large party.


            1. My only complaint with Harlem is that the service occasionally falls apart, and in my experience it was also because a large party arrived. On one visit, for most of our meal we had great attentive service, but after a large party arrived we were basically ignored during our dessert and coffee phase. I forgive them, though, because the food is so great and the service has been good on other visits before and since.

              1. I have visited the East side Harlem a few times, so we wanted to try Harlem Underground for a change.. We have always loved the food at Harlem, but found the decor a bit lacking (kind of tight, dark, a bit cold and drafty).. we MUCH preferred the queen st location as it was much more open, airy, lots of light, and the service was great.
                For food, we tried:
                Sweet potato biscuits (incredible, so much flavour)
                Corn bread (also very nice, I like corn bread with corn bits in it, so this was great)
                Buffalo chicken fried morsels (good sauce.. we have had this many times, its sweet but with a nice bit of heat)
                Fried dill pickles (not the best Ive had.. they didnt have much crunch.. I think they needed a thicker batter because the juice from the pickles made the light tempura type batter soggy)
                BBQ chicken (in a sauce similar to the buffalo.. HUGE portion of chicken)
                Fried chicken (another large portion of chicken.. they're batter is really so beautifully spiced and crisp)
                Chicken and waffles (served with a really nice chipoltle-coriander-lime maple syrup.. I loved it.. the waffles were very light and fluffy inside)
                Short ribs (good amount of heat from the scotch bonnet.. but in comparison to the other mains, it was a smaller portion (when you take away the bones from short ribs.. there wasn't a whole lot of meat there)
                Bacon mac and cheese (amazing.. creamy sauce, with some extra cheese sprinkled on top when baked.. I would have liked the bacon a bit crispier, but there was a good amount of bacon throughout the dish).
                The whole meal including 4 beers came to $145 including tax, and tip. Great service, great food. There are a tonne of great looking dishes on the menu worth trying too. Look forward to another great meal there.

                Harlem Underground
                745 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

                7 Replies
                1. re: hungryabbey

                  All that for $145? Bargain! So what are you eating for the rest of the week? A glass of water and a piece of lettuce?

                  1. re: Googs

                    I was just going to say the same thing - lol - talk about gluttonous : S

                    1. re: Googs

                      Ha, I know I know. Totally gluttonous.. but if I learned anything in dietetics school, its "everything in moderation". Ha, I live by that 200%...I did do an hour run today... *sigh*.

                    2. re: hungryabbey

                      Try the jerk pork spring roll and/or the catfish lafayette apps on your next visit - both also totally delicious!


                      1. re: ggom1

                        I wanted the spring roll, but they didnt have any. I will definitely try those next time though.

                        1. re: hungryabbey

                          you would have blown up at that point : ) just kidding

                    3. Great report, it kind of makes me want to give Harlem another chance next time I'm in Toronto. The one meal I had there was so under whelming and bland, but everyplace deserves a 2nd look, especially one that I would like to see do well in TO, it definitely fills a void in the market.

                      1. Glad to hear the eve went well in the end!

                        Just wanted to add that I went to Harlem Underground (Queen St.) today after having a hankering for fried chicken. Got the 'Chicken with waffles', and I was very happy with them. Well, with the chicken, I should say. Crispy, not too heavily battered, perhaps a titch overdone (a little dry) but I could live with it. Very tasty, as well. Less enamoured with the waffles. They were fine, I guess, but had a hard time getting past them being, well, waffles with fried chicken. Just not my thing, I guess.


                        Harlem Underground
                        745 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA