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Harlem is home to traditional soul food, adventurous menus

By Richard Vines
Bloomberg News.

NEW YORK Broad avenues are lined with attractive old buildings, many of them home to cafes, bars and restaurants. Where can I be? Oh yes, Harlem.

These days, the Manhattan neighborhood offers welcoming establishments for exotic dishes and cocktails, along with soul food and home cooking. Here are a few places I tried on a recent visit:

Corner Social

The friendly bar and restaurant serves an alarming-sounding concoction: deep-fried macaroni-and-cheese croquettes with truffle mayonnaise ($12).

Executive chef Jonathan Romans, formerly of Tribeca Grill, seeks to take familiar dishes and give them a twist, so don’t be too surprised by cheeseburger spring rolls or the meatloaf sandwich with Grafton Vermont cheddar.

Or you could just settle in at the bar.

The check for one was $65.33, plus tip.

Corner Social is at 321 Lenox Ave. Details: www.cornersocialnyc.com.

Red Rooster

Opened in 2010, it’s become the top place to experience the cultural diversity of Harlem. Chef Marcus Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden. He studied cooking in Gothenburg, where he grew up. He then worked in restaurants in France and moved to New York in 1994, with an apprenticeship at Aquavit.

There’s a casual area in front, where you may find yourself sharing a high table. Having said that, the back is hardly fancy.

I started with an Obama-Tini, featuring Wodka Vodka, crushed pepper flakes, pineapple, lime, grapefruit bitters and angostura bitters ($13). Or how about some wine on tap for $10? I had a glass of Paumanok New York rose. It was fine.

The menu is best described as eclectic. I skipped chop suey and Helga’s meatballs in favor of two starters: fried green tomatoes with iceberg lettuce, bacon and buttermilk dressing ($13) and dirty rice & shrimp with aged basmati, curry leaves, almonds ($18) plus a side of spicy wings, with lemon yogurt and habanera salsa. Now that’s what I call a lunch.

The food was good, the service friendly and the bill for two was $141.27.

Red Rooster is at 310 Lenox Ave. Details: www.redroosterharlem.com.

Sylvia’s

Founded in 1962 by Sylvia Woods, “Queen of Soul Food,” it’s been the magnet for hearty eaters from all over town. You can sit at a counter and grab some food and a beer. A more formal dining area across two rooms appears untroubled by renovation.

I ordered a beer and a Harlem-style fried chicken and waffle. (That costs $11.95, $1 more for all white meat.) This signature dish is beloved of diners and has been a favorite for decades. I enjoyed the experience more than the food, but it’s certainly filling. Everyone should go to Sylvia’s at least once. Bill for one: $20.63.

Sylvia’s is at 328 Lenox Ave. Details: www.sylviasrestaurant.com.

Melba’s

This small restaurant was founded in 2005 by Melba Wilson, who describes herself as Harlem-born, bred and buttered. She previously worked at Sylvia’s, as well at Windows on the World, and her aim is to make Melba’s feel like home.

You can choose among grits, home fries and French fries with your main dish. I ordered a salmon croquette with grits and a Chambord royale cocktail, for $22.81.

Melba’s is at 330 W. 114th St. Details: www.melbasrestaurant.com.

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