Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review: Taste Harlem

...the one in which one of us gets really, really sick....

A word of warning: Today's post will be long. It will be photo heavy. I wish I could shorten it, but I can't - because in order to do Harlem justice - and I really think it deserves justice - I must do a long post. Bear with me - I've tried to put in the interesting photos and stops, will be long. {You've been warned!!!}

The Plan called for us getting up at an ungodly hour this morning and heading over to Times Square, where we'd hang out on the streets with a bunch of other insane barbarians, in order to watch the morning broadcast of "Good Morning, America." Yes, we'd rub elbows with Robin Roberts and George Stephanopolis, as well as my favorite, Sam Champion, the weatherman.

Didn't happen.

Once again, the pull of our comfortable beds was just too strong, and there was NO WAY I was getting up at the crack of dawn...not even for a date with Sam Champion. Sorry, Sam. Sleep will always win with me. Always.

So, we now had some extra time to chill out in the hotel room, which we used to great advantage. Daughter, however, was running a bit sluggish...even with our extra sleeps...we popped an Ibuprofen in her and figured she was just tired. With this in mind, we hopped on a subway and headed north - to Harlem.

A previous commenter has asked for a map...I don't have a super-duper good map, but here is a breakdown of Manhattan and her neighborhoods:

Our hotel was in the Midtown East neighborhood - which is about "3:00" if looking at the map like a clock. Harlem is located due north of Central Park - or "12:00" if you would imagine a clock. That was our destination...Harlem.

Harlem...I couldn't wait to experience the architecture...the culture...the people...the history...and the food. During my research, I found a staggering lack of tours that visit I mentioned before, it's not exactly on every tourist's "Must Do" list while visiting Manhattan...and that's a shame, as we would find out today. After doing some digging, I found a tour company called Taste Harlem - which offers food and cultural tours of the neighborhood. It is ranked #107 out of 421 activities in New York City on TripAdvisor, and receives consistently excellent reviews.

A four-hour tour, including all tastings, runs $73 per person....

By 10:30, we'd hopped on the subway, and was heading north - to 116th Street - to begin our tour of Harlem:

Not looking like tourists at we sit and study our subway map. :)

Our meeting point was a restaurant, Amy Ruth's, located at 113 West 116th Street.

Here, we met our tour guide, Jacqui, as well as another family of three (from New Zealand), who would be joining the tour. Jacqui took us inside to the refreshing air-conditioning, and passed out bottles of water to everyone. Let me interject here by saying that it was already BRUTALLY hot this day...the heat AND the humidity was high, which would definitely play a factor in what happened later in the day. Jacqui then gave a brief overture of the tour, explaining that she would do the talking while we did the eating. We'd be visiting five different restaurants, each with their own style of cooking, and we'd also visit various other Harlem points of interest during the afternoon.

Our first stop, Amy Ruth's, serves up southern-style cuisine. The menu is varied, but Jacqui ordered up the "Rev. Al Sharpton" for us to sample:

Chicken and waffles? I'll be honest...I've never had chicken and waffles together. I was dubious - especially when I heard the name of the dish - but I'm game for anything, so I gave it a shot. So...what did I think?

EEP! This was delicious! The waffle...cooked to a crispy perfection...topped with savory fried chicken...with a bit of sweetness from the maple was DELISH.

We headed out into the brutal sun, and began our walk to our next stop...along the way, Jacqui kept up a running monologue of everything-Harlem. We passed this pretty cool street art:

This would just be one of many amazing murals that we saw this day...leading us to believe that our Street Art & Graffiti Tour should have been done on the streets of Harlem.

Our next stop was at the Sea & Sea Fish Market, located at 301 St. Nicholas Avenue:

Oh my goodness. Someone should have prepared me for what was someone who doesn't buy much fresh fish (remember - I live in Kansas City - not exactly the fish capital of the world), I really had no idea what to expect. However, I DIDN'T expect to see thousands and thousands of fish...frozen in the walls like some weird 3D art project gone wild:

This salmon looked AMAZING!!!!

Daughter and I chat with Jacqui in the fish market...

Leaving the Fish Market, Jacqui then took us to an African market, the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market located at 52 West 116th Street.

It's a maze of vendor tents - like a street fair - with oodles and oodles of crafts, jewelry, fabrics, and souvenirs....We strolled through and ended up purchasing some delightful earrings for both Daughter and I, after haggling with the vendor to a good and fair price.

Our next stop was at the Tropical Grill, a Caribbean/Spanish restaurant located at 2145 Adam Clayton Powell.

Here, we had a plateful of typical Caribbean dishes:

Yum...I wish my photo did it justice. The flavors were strong and savory....

We also had ox tail...of which I've had before, while in Jamaica, and happen to be a fan of:

Seriously...ox tail is very good...if you can get past the name!

We walked further down the streets of Harlem...and it was getting hotter and hotter and hotter. One thing we learned is that there's not much shade in Harlem. Skyscrapers really don't exist here, so you don't get shade from tall buildings. The sidewalks and concrete were baking us at this point, and Daughter started mentioning that she wasn't feeling all that great. We thought if we could just get her to the next air-conditioned spot, she'd be okay. In the meantime, we were passing some pretty brownstones and architecture along the way:

A typical street in Harlem...Lenox and Malcolm X Boulevard....

Look at this building!! I love the details....

Seeing the need for some cool air, Jacqui stopped briefly at a little baker, Make My Cake. The inside of the shop was darling, and had some delicious cupcakes on display:

The tiled entryway....

Nom! Would have LOVED to have sampled this for my NYC Cupcake Wars!!!

We walked a bit further, passing some more amazingly cool buildings and such:

One of the more upscale buildings in Harlem...Morgan Freeman (the actor) bought an apartment for his daughter here....

Squee! Isn't this street divine? I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the buildings!

A secret garden??!! In Harlem??!! So, so pretty!!!

We were soon at our next stop, Lee Lee's Baked Goods, located at 283 W 118th Street:

Here, we had some rugelach, which is a delicious Jewish pastry:

Noms. This was outrageously delicious!!!!

Mr. Lee Lee himself was behind the counter, and so this was pretty cool...he's considered the "King of Rugelach" in NYC, and people will line up outside the door to get this's THAT good.'s not often you can say you had "Rugelach by a brother" - as this mural in the shop says....

Our fourth restaurant was Les Ambassades, located at 2200 Frederick Douglas Blvd. This is a Senegalese Cafe, something I've never really tried. I have photos of what we had for lunch, but I honestly don't have a clue as to what it note-taking abilities were sadly lacking this day, as I was just so, so hot...and getting increasingly worried about Daughter, who was still complaining of not feeling well....

I took one bite...and had to quit. It was just way too spicy, as in, burn my mouth spicy. Hubby, though, LOVED this. He said it was his favorite spot of the day. Not me. I still loved that chicken with waffles - not to mention the rugelach - but I'm not a big fan of spicy food. I just enjoyed chatting with the New Zealand family:

All too soon, it was time to leave the delicious cool air of the restaurant and hit the streets again. We passed a cool park dedicated to Harriet Tubman, with this cool statue:

We then made some brief stops at a Harlem floral shop, a supermarket, and a brownstone-turned-art gallery. Speaking of brownstones, look at these:

That's me...up ahead...just strolling down the streets of Harlem like I belong here...!

EEP! Isn't it beautiful??!! How can you NOT love Harlem??!!

We also passed some more street art:

What an appropriate message...we really DID feel welcome here....

We were now at the Apollo Theater, where we stepped in briefly to see the lobby. There were some really strict security guards inside here, and they didn't cotton to the idea of an outside tour group coming in...needless to say, we didn't stay very long here. This was really the ONLY place in Harlem where we didn't feel welcome.

Today was the anniversary of Michael Jackson's death, so it was neat to find his plaque on the Walk of Fame that is on the sidewalk outside the theater:

Daughter was pretty much in tears at this point...we'd tried Ibuprofen, a bathroom stop, and cool towels...but she was getting worse. She's suffered from stomach issues over the years - just like her mom, go figure - and today, her stomach was killing her. The tour was scheduled for four hours - we were approaching 3.5 hours, so we figured it had to be getting close to the end. With that in mind, we bravely marched forth....

However, karma was not our friend. Somewhere, along one of those brownstone streets, something sharp flew up into my sandal. I was walking along just fine, when - OWWWW! Holy crap - that hurt! Something had cut the bottom of my foot - and I was now bleeding.


Fortunately, we were at our next stop, Jacob's Restaurant, located at 373 Lenox Ave. While Daughter and I took a seat, Hubby bravely ran down the block or two to a pharmacy, where he quickly bought some bandaids, as well as some Pepto Bismol. Meanwhile, Jacqui told us the story of Jacob's, and then gave us all a heaping plate of traditional soul food:

The food was delicious. It really was. Black-eye peas, collard greens, cornbread...NOMS. However, between my foot, which won't stop bleeding, and Daughter, who is now in full-blown tears because of her stomach - it's time for us to bug out. We felt terrible, leaving the tour a bit early, but we needed to get Daughter out of the heat...or to the hospital, at this point. Quickly saying our goodbyes to Jacqui and the New Zealand family, we quickly headed to the closest subway station and headed back to the hotel, where we could assess what was going on.

All in all, it was a great tour - almost overwhelming, actually - what with the food, the walking, the heat, the history, the trivia, and the knowledge that Jacqui has. It was very obvious that she is passionate about her home, and it showed. She loves Harlem. And she should - we found the neighborhood so unique, so diverse, that we wished we could have spent more time there. I would HIGHLY recommend any visitors to Manhattan to take some time out and visit this neighborhood - and visit one of these delightful restaurants I've mentioned.

You can't go wrong.

Well. Except for the spicy food. Bleh.

I don't do spicy.


1 comment:

kimrye said...

OMG! I am so impressed. You read my comment about a map and responded. I am in love with your travel writing. Let me explain - I am 65, married 44 yrs and about to retire at the end of the year. and READY to TRAVEL. Wish you were my guide!! Thank you Sherri.
Am OHlady on CruiseCritic.