Haven’t been to Harlem recently? Then go. The area is experiencing a gastronomic revival, and it offers an enticing alternative to more common grub grounds around New York City.
On Sunday, Oct. 27, a collection of restaurants and culinary companies from the uptown neighborhood collaborated to create an eating event for the ages: The Harlem Food Festival. The extravaganza was orchestrated in a large, segmented lot on the corner of West 117th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard and featured a live band rocking eclectic world music, along with food trucks, representatives from restaurants, and other local vendors slinging their wares.
Among them were Lido (an Italian restaurant and bar dishing out roasted veal meatballs from James Beard Award-winning executive chef Serena Bass), Silvana (home of gluten-free falafels), Les Ambassades (known for its African/French/American fusion cuisine with a focus on Senegalese specialties), Melba’s (which came in second for best slogan with its "born, bred, and buttered in Harlem" line), and newcomer Savann, a Mediterranean spot that sampled out a selection of dips and spreads. The Luke’s Lobster truck was parked at the gate and served up the restaurant’s famously fat rolls filled with juicy Maine crustacean meat, and Parantha Alley (which can be found at both Smorgasburg spots in Brooklyn) made its whole-wheat roti to order with cucumber raita, cilantro chutney, and pickled mango on the side.
Jack’s Chedbred, makers of multiple flavors of outrageous cornbread (most of which is spiked with delicious cheeses), not only took (unofficial) first prize for best slogan ("Cheesy & Corny Since 2012"), but also won over The Daily Meal with its scrumptious craft cornbread. Owner Jack Sorock is a former attorney who traded a snazzy office and chilly courtrooms for a steamy commercial kitchen and booths both Brooklyn Smorgasburgs (at least temporarily while he searches for the perfect storefront location). In the spirit of cheesiness and corniness, let’s just say Jack’s Chedbred so rocks. The maple-bacon variety contains Vermont maple syrup, chunks of bacon, and a super-sharp New York Cheddar; the roasted jalapeño is loaded with dry Monterey Jack and fiery flamed chiles; and the honey sea salt reigns supreme in flavor with its brown butter crumble crown.
Also on hand was Riley/Land Gourmet Pantry, which is also working its way from pop-up to full-fledged Harlem storefront shop in the near future. The collection of wares available from this boutique culinary company are carefully curated by its proprietor, Joseph Riley Land, who gained his expertise in selecting extraordinary products through years of managing a Williams-Sonoma. You’ll be amazed by the array of artisanal eats in Land’s edible arsenal, from sweets like rosemary pear spread, chai spice nut butter, and small-batch crabapple jelly to surprising savories like fennel blood orange tapenade, skillet bacon jam, and Carolina Creole simmering sauce, and he’s constantly taste-testing and adding more obscure offerings to his line. Riley/Land also carries T-shirts, linens, and functional art, including handmade kitchen rugs and wooden utensils.
The event wouldn’t be possible if not for organizations like Experience Harlem, Corbin Hill Farm/Food Project (which helps bring fresh produce from local farms into Harlem), and The Harlem Garage (a co-working space for Harlem businesses), and they plan on producing similar shindigs in the future to further highlight Harlem’s culinary happenings.