Lately, my friend Scott and I have been scouring West Harlem for new places to eat. Some might say that there are plenty of options, but alas, the road to good eats is perilous, laden with traps and disappointments.
M & G Diner had closed. For what reason exactly, vacation, renovation or for good, I do not understand. We weren’t in the mood for Sylvia’s, Amy Ruth’s, Bayou, Miss Spoonbread, and Rack and Soul. We tried the new 2010 Pier restaurant. This place was as if some Japanese business man thought it would be a good idea to open a megaspace smack in the middle of Harlem with full band and quirky design. It feels like Disney meets Captain Nemo meets Hot 97 gone awry, and with the average appetizer at $18. (@#!$^%#!), we graciously made our getaway.
The streets are dotted with delis, bodegas, hair salons, churches, fried chicken spots, and West Indian joints. Not all of them looked appetizing. Wide boulevards like ACP and FDB all the way up to 157th Street yielded the same old same old. Last night we headed to Charles Southern Fried, famous for an $11.99 buffet, but they were closed. Harlem Grill was closed too.
On 132nd Street, we settled on A & D West Indian, sporting a neon light that shone “Yard Style”. This can only mean that the jerk chicken is prepared in a converted steel drum right there on the sidewalk. Illegal, I’m sure, but proper. No place to sit unless you join the locals, so it was jerk to go.
We sat across the street on a stoop, and enjoyed the R & B tunes from a boom box regular. At the bodega I picked up some Prestige beer, a Haitian lager with a touch of toasty malt flavor, and we stared out wide into the avenue observing Harlem night life.
The jerk was excellent, not too spicy or saucy, just right.
There was a sidewalk barbecue to our right, bar patrons at P & J on our left, the West Indian diners across the way, and our gentleman friend with the boom box tacitly gave us permission to sit next to him as long as we enjoyed the music. He was drinking Bud, and I offered to buy him one. “Maybe next time,” he said.
Harlem was still, not quiet, its pulse barely beating past normal. Scott and I argued over all the changes in Harlem, and how long it would take before the city moves the real people out, what with all the new buildings at ridiculous rents going up at a record pace.
Long time spots like A & D will eventually lose its lease, and in its place a Duane Reade and a Starbuck’s. The Harlem renaissance will lose the Harlem part, good and bad.
But we figure this is a long time coming. Until then, we’ll keep trying, looking for a slice of Harlem in a neighborhood that never gives up.