Beating the crowds is hard in NYC. Just when you think you have the inside line, the back door or the loop hole figured out you’re usually met with hundreds of other NYers who figured it out too. Not the case with my latest plan of attack for the first annual Harlem EatUp. Truth be told this plan was great for beating the crowds but very poor for experiencing the festival. You should check out the insta and some of these stories for better festival happenings. See, I was in Harlem a week before the event. I dabbled along the bustling Frederick Douglass Blvd. poking my head into every new restaurant, cafe, butcher and bakery I could find. And, there’s quite a few. Of course, I missed out on the talks, chefs, Bill Clinton and the rest of the festival awesomeness BUT I did stroll into Streetbird and easily belly up to the bar.
So, for the rest of this story I’ll give you my play-by-play of what Marcus Samuelsson’s latest restaurant is all about because it’s about a lot. It starts with deliciously, moist rotisserie chicken. My ebony (definition below) plate pictured above. It then quickly moves into being a new Harlem hub. Designed to pluck the nostalgic strings of those that live local and those who grew up east coast and 80’s like myself. Hip Hop culture drips off the walls as satisfying as the juice that drips off the chickens.
A sliding subway door separates the open kitchen from the dishwasher station, mix tapes fashioned into lamps hang over the bright colored Kid’n’Play toned bar. Street tags consume my peripheral vision as crisp monitors on the walls show the thumping playlist and run excerpts from the Harlem of the hip hop uprising.
The Caribe beer I ordered came ice cold. It instantly transported me back to the beaches of Barbados, Jamaica and my other Caribbean boondoggles. But, it was there to make another point designed by the crafty Mr. Samuelsson. The menu is inspired by international street food maybe best understood through the chicken sauce choices. Smokey Q, Jamerican or Streetbird Hot Sauce are available for sampling, smothering, pouring and lathering on just about anything the menu serves up.
All that hit a happy spot for me. A little NY nostalgia, some bump in the beats, an international note, street food matchmaking and the baseball style jerseys that all touted the number 116 on the back (for the street the restaurant is on)…ohh yeah and a juicy, freshly spun bird. All that screams for this next point. What Marcus and his partners has done was meticulously crafted the details so they constantly augment and remind you of the experience you are having. A trick I often tout and rarely see performed. I could spend three paragraphs on the copywriting alone. The below gives you a snippet. Dark or white chicken explained perfectly for the vibe.
As I finished my last bite and chilled sip of beer, I threw in the towel and decided to use the restroom before journeying back to Brooklyn. Thinking it couldn’t get better there was one more detail waiting for me. Now this is a real inside joke but i hope that many of you understand the significance. I’ll let the picture do ALL the explaining.
So, I didn’t do the Harlem EatUp justice at all but I did get to eat one of the premiere festival vendors grub and experience the beauty of a well executed plan. We’ll be up above 115th street a lot more this summer and plan to systematically eat threw what we missed this weekend. For now we’ll just have to read the recaps like the rest of you.