My Life in NYC

First Impressions of Harlem + Review of Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too

Harlem can hardly be described in a few short paragraphs, but I want to share a few thoughts. I remember when I first got off the M60 bus from La Guardia Airport.  I thought, "This is Manhattan??" There were no sky scrapers, no packed narrow streets, no yellow cabs.  Harlem is technically in the borough of Manhattan, but it definitely has its own vibe.

The bus dropped me off at 125th Street and Lenox Avenue. I suddenly heard a symphony of "Hello Beautiful,"Hi, what's your name," "Are you married," "Can I talk to you's"... coming from all directions.  And of course some comments of the more vulgar variety as well. I kept walking.

I turned down 131st street and headed towards Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd. I walked down the sleepy block.  Now this looked a little bit more like the "NYC" I imagined... tree-lined streets and beautiful, historic brownstones.

Harlem is a large community with a variety of dwellings.  The brownstones showcase the glamorized perspective of Harlem.  But, in reality, most people are living in severe poverty.  As I walk down Frederick Douglas Blvd., I can't help but recite the Langston Hughes poem, Harlem: A Dream Deferred.

"What happens to a dream deferred?


p style="text-align: center;">Does it dry up 
like a raisin in the sun? 
Or fester like a sore-- 
And then run? 
Does it stink like rotten meat? 
Or crust and sugar over-- 
like a syrupy sweet?


p style="text-align: center;">Maybe it just sags 
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?"

Despite the lack of financial capital of many of Harlem's residents, many are extremely devoted to their community.  Every morning at 6:30 a.m., a man writes inspirational messages on the sidewalk in pastel chalk.  Churches also play a significant role in community change. The church that I, First Corinthian Baptist, is currently undertaking a campaign to benefit the community culturally and artistically.

The "Harlem" of the Harlem Renaissance is relived through its residents and venues. The Lenox Lounge, a jazz club which once hosted the likes of Billie Holiday and John Coltrane, has live jazz nightly in their "Zebra Room." The Zebra Room is an intimate setting that was once a hangout for Malcolm X, and writers Langston Hughes and James Baldwin, and I recently went there to see Paul Mooney perform.

The Lenox Lounge is at the corner of Lenox Blvd. and 125th Street, which is also where Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster Restaurant will be opening this Fall. Walking down 125th Street, you'll see everything from business people to European tourists with cameras around their neck, locals selling incense, flavored ice, or dvds, and some people just posted sitting down outside.

I recently walked down Frederick Douglas Blvd.--from 125th to 110th.  The effects of gentrification are obvious. With each block, things got a little greener--more grass, tress, and finally, a glimpse of Central Park.  The store fronts got a little "nicer."  The "liquor stores" became "wine retailers."  I even walked by a fancy grocery store.

We finally reached Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too and indulged on some well-deserved soul food. I actually find it strange that "soul food" is a Harlem attraction. I guess that's because I consider Thanksgiving at the Lomases real soulfood--the best yams, mac and cheese, and other "soul food" dishes I've ever had.

I digress.

Anyway, we went to Miss Mamie's and had a lovely supper. The mac and cheese at this place is extra cheesy, and it is crispy on the outside.  I like the yams because they aren't too sweet.  They'll even serve you your sweet tea in a jar.  This place would've gotten a solid A-, but for the spotty service. The prices are slightly high, but hey, that's pretty much everywhere around here.  It was my third time going there, and I'm sure I'll be back.