Being that both of us hail from the South, Rachel and I decided that it would only be fitting to kick off our weekend with an early Saturday morning brunch at Marcus Samuelsson's recently-opened nouveau-Southern, Red Rooster Harlem.
"Early" and "Saturday" are two words that should never be used so closely together in a sentence but, due to the fact that President Obama had visited the restaurant earlier in the week, I thought that a pre-noon arrival would be necessary in order to avoid a potentially heinous line and/or wait for a table. We settled on 11am.
In true Lunch Belle fashion, I arrived at the restaurant about 15 minutes early and, to my surprise, Red Rooster was not nearly as crowded as I had imagined it would be. Since Rach and I did not have a reservation, there was no need to approach the hostess and inform her of my arrival. Instead, I made a beeline to the spacious bar and ordered a café latte as I waited for my guest.
Just as I began to get comfortable, Rachel arrived. As I paid my bar tab, she approached the hostess stand and inquired about a two-top. Coincidentally, we were seated at a communal table, located just inches from my original bar stool.
"You know," Rachel admitted, as my head was buried deep in Red Rooster's brunch menu, "I've already been here for dinner." I glanced up in shock — as if she'd just announced that she was going to move to Las Vegas to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a showgirl. "What?" I exclaimed. Rachel reassured me that, despite having previously dined here, this did not change the fact that she was eager to sample the 'Rooster's morning offerings. "OK, Rach, but I don't want to hear about your dinner experience until after we're done with brunch. Fair?" She nodded.
Cornbread I've never had cornbread shaped or sliced like pound cake, but this presentation made quite a bit of sense. I cut my portion down the middle and, on each half, spread a thick layer of the accompanying dips — honey butter and tomato jam. The cornbread was very heavy and dense — almost dry. The tomato jam was incredibly fragrant, though not in a positive sense (or shall I say "scents," hahaha) of the word. There were too many combative ingredients and textures. The honey butter, however, was an excellent pairing with the savory bread. Rachel and I butter knife-fought over the last spreadable serving.
Hearth Baked Mac & Greens I took one look at the skillet-baked macaroni laced with "greens" and turned up my nose. And this was pre-bite, people! "What the hell are 'greens' doing mixed in with mac and cheese? Who does that?" I asked Rachel, as if she had all of the answers. She looked at me and shrugged — with an expression similar to what I probably made when she told me that she had "already been here for dinner."
For $14, I thought, this entrée was an ample amount of food for a relatively low price. Plus, I was not expecting a side salad to accompany the mac and cheese, but I was happy that it was there, nonetheless. Seeing more greens — whether or not they're doused with dressing — still makes me feel a little bit better about ordering à la lumberjack. It wasn't until I took my first bite that I realized just how compatible these ingredients were! If you're familiar with the Indian dish, palak paneer, then you are more than aware of just how sexy cheese and spinach is when combined. Well, mac and greens takes this sexiness further. Try 1000 times further.
Imagine, if you will, the pairing of orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta noodles) and wilted greens, enveloped by a gooey mélange of three cheeses (Gouda, New York Cheddar, and Comte). After being folded into a cast iron skillet, this hearty blend is topped with seasoned breadcrumbs and placed under the broiler for some well-deserved "sun bathing." I'm telling you, folks, this dish is out-of-this-world and worth the trip to Harlem.
Nuggets and Toast Having had the opportunity to sample some of Marcus Samuelsson's fried chicken at an event in October, I was really looking forward to his nuggets and toast (nuggets equals fried chicken chunks, toast equals French toast). Visually, the "nuggets" semi-resembled Chili's chicken crispers which, I'll be the first to admit, I love. Unfortunately, and very unlike that of what I tasted in October, this particular chicken was tasteless, greasy, and flecked with random bits of dark meat.
In conclusion, aside from the mac and greens, would I run back to Red Rooster? No. There are too many other restaurants in Harlem that I want to check out.