I don’t know too much about Harlem, about its history or the many nuanced perspectives on its gradual gentrification. I do understand that Red Rooster has been an important part of that story, and that those who know more than I do have strong opinions on the role it has played in the process, for better or for worse. I do remember hearing about the restaurant when it first opened in 2010, back when I was just getting into the food world and stretching my writing muscles. Ten years later, this past February, my mom proposed going there during a trip to NYC. We had been staying at an airBnB a few streets away and brunch fit nicely into our program on our last day.
Red Rooster Harlem was easy to find in the cluster of restaurants and bars near the 125th Street station on Malcolm X Boulevard. Walking in, there’s a large circular bar near the entrance and a more intimate dining area behind it. The walls are decorated with influential black historical figures, politicians and poets. The menu offers beautifully executed versions of soul food classics. Here is what we had:
Poppa Eddie’s Shrimp And Grits was just what the doctor ordered on a cold February morning. On a bed of the creamiest, butteriest stone ground grits was ladled a bright gumbo stew made with tomato, spicy chorizo, tender okra flush with slimy seeds, seasoned with red chile powder and sweet paprika. And, of course, the plump and juicy shrimp, three or four big ones, soaking up the same red sauce and offering a nice tight, springy texture to the otherwise very creamy dish. Freshly chopped parsley and chives added a dash of green over the top.
My mom got the Miss B’s Croissant & Gravy, a halved croissant bearing strips of breaded and fried chicken, slathered with “dirty gravy” and a sunny-side-up fried egg on top. A modest salad of dressed arugula on the side. The strength of this dish lay in the quality of the chicken, whose caramelized coat stayed pleasantly crunchy even after it was drowned in the salty, thick gravy. Meanwhile, the meat inside remained moist and tender. The croissant was a tad dry for my taste but, well, I live in France. It did it’s job here to soak up the gravy and oozing egg yolk, providing a moist, decadent pillow of flavor to contrast against the crunch of the fried chicken.
Politics aside, the food at Red Rooster Harlem was delicious, comforting and prepared with skill. Very well executed versions of two Southern soul food staples, in no need of elevation.