HARLEM: Couldn’t get into it

416-368-1920   |   $16-23 mains

I’d heard some good things about Harlem, and hadn’t really had any riffs on ‘soul food’ before. Figured this would be a good spot.

Photo Credit: Food Junkie Chronicles


The CD shaped menu lists a variety of starters and mains, many of which actually sound tasty. Most items have a southern/cajun spin on them. Was especially tempted by jambalaya, braised beef short ribs, and jerk beef meatloaf.

In the end, we decided to start with some ‘harlem crisps’ I would liken to a cross between pita chips and bubbly samosa batter. The two dips were avocado ginger hummus and spiced walnut pate. I thought both could have used some salt as the flavours fell a little flat and the flavour of the crisp muted the dips. For me, the dips didn’t pass the ‘I would buy that again at Loblaws’ test.

Photo Credit: Christina Truong

After much flip-flopping I ended up selecting fried chicken and waffles with collard greens. The pic above is a variation that has a salad and gravy. The fried chicken was crispy, not overly greasy, and the chicken was moist - mostly dark meat. Also had a scotch-bonet-corriander-lime syrup drizzled over top that I thought could have used more heat (writing scotch-bonet is a promise of ensuing heat). I think I got citrus, sweet, and a pinch of spice though. As for the waffles, lukewarm and soft, and the collard greens side was under-seasoned and felt mailed in.

My friend ordered the blackened catfish served under a shrimp and crab etoufee sauce with collard greens and basmati. The fish was flaky, but ‘blackened’ implied a crispy quality that was lost under all the sauce. That said, sauce was good. Again, the sides were an after-thought.

Photo Credit: Food Junkie Chronicles

We finished the meal with candied plantain (above) and mango cheesecake. The plantains felt like part of a dish. We actually thought it would work well in a bread pudding or breakfast muffin. Sauce was quite sweet, but that wasn’t a huge problem. 

Cheesecake was OK, somewhat heavy, and tasted like a cremesicle. 

Service and Ambience

We went early on a Thursday for dinner so we were the first in the restaurant, and not too many people joined in. Service was attentive and polite throughout, food came as ordered and in good time. 

Photo Credit: Harlem Website

The vibe there is very ‘small jazz club’, especially at night with the lights down. I expect it would have felt more authentic with one of their live music acts and a packed house, so I can’t really comment.

The Reco?

As much as the menu intrigued me and the fried chicken satisfied, there were too many things that just weren’t executed well. I probably wouldn’t return to Harlem.

Other reviews:
Toronto Star   |     Food Junkie Chronicles

Posted by: Jacob, Visited Jan 12, 2012

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