Although I've been living in NYC for nearly two years, I have only walked around Harlem once, and sad to say, it was when I first came to the city looking for an apartment. I'm not familiar with the area and I have no real need to ever go there, so when Kevin and I took the train uptown for dinner and Columbus Circle was the last stop until Harlem, which we did not get off at, I was not a happy camper. I was hungry, annoyed, and uncomfortable in an unfamiliar area. Thanks to technology though, when we finally got off at the first stop in Harlem, we were able to use our phones to search for vegetarian restaurants in the area. And thanks to Yelp, we found a nearby place with good reviews, Strictly Roots.
I was a little hesitant when we first walked in. The place looked a little grungy, there were men with dreadlocks just sitting around playing checkers, and the food was pre-made buffet style (although the cook could make other items too). Because I was so hungry, I took my chances on the pre-made food. I had a scoop of seitan, sweet & sour ficken (fake chicken), and another random side. The meal was surprisingly good. The seitan was especially good with a lot of flavor and an enjoyable texture. I ate my entire plate but was still a little hungry. I would definitely go back to Strictly Roots if I happen to be in the area again. One thing that was a little disconcerting is their NYC Health department restaurant inspection letter grade which is a C. By the looks of the place, I think that grade is fair. At the same time, it was cool to find that little gem of a vegetarian restaurant hidden in Harlem.
Since I was still a little hungry after our meal, Kevin and I also searched for a nearby dessert spot. We found Tonnie's Minis, a cupcake spot. Little did I know that Tonnie's Minis is a pretty well-known cupcake spot and Tonnie himself was actually a competitor in the Food Network's Cupcake Wars. I felt li
ke a kid in a candy shop I was so excited. Tonnie's Minis are very good. Ilove that they are made fresh, the cake is perfectly moist,and you get to pick the frosting and any toppings you want on them. My favorite is the yellow cake with pistachio frosting. The red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting is also delicious. There's something about seeing frosting squeezed onto a naked cupcake that makes it extra delicious. They're simple to make yet being able to customize your own cupcake on the spot makes it seem like a special homemade treat and adds to the whole experience.
So, while having dinner and dessert in Harlem was not quite what we had in mind for dinner on a Sunday, we were happily surprised what we were able to find. I'm thankful that we didn't just hop back on the train downtown and instead took a “”risk”” and tried food in an unfamiliar place. The city is exciting in the sense that even when you're “”lost,”” you never know what unexpectedly awesome spot you might come across. Additionally, even though Harlem is in Manhattan, it didn't feel like it. When I stepped off the train I felt like I had been transported to
an entirely different city. There were no luxury high-rise buildings for one. It was also a culture shock being a minority walking down the street and seeing men just hanging out in a restaurant playing checkers. Harlem is their hood. They seem so comfortable and unrushed….like they belonged there, like it was their home.
Perhaps I particularly noticed this because even though I live in NYC, I still have a hard time calling it my home. I'm not a regular anywhere, partly because there are always so many other
spots I want to check out, but also because I haven't found a spot I feel comfortable enough chilling at for a few hours. I don't have any place I can yet call “”my spot.””Maybe it's only a matter of time, or perhaps Harlem is an anomaly in Manhattan. Either way, my unexpected afternoon in Harlem was a great experience.