Harlem’s Burgeoning Food Scene

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A host of new eateries is diversifying local offerings

Not long ago, eating out in Harlem meant the obligatory trip to Sylvia’s Restaurant on Malcolm X Boulevard for soul food. But when Red Rooster opened a block away in 2011, followed by Harlem Corner Social diagonally across the street, it signaled a change in the local dining scene.

For a long time all you had was soul food or mom-and-pop places. But now people are seeing there are opportunities for so much else.

Bolstered by that confidence, a second restaurant, Angel, will open by the same owner of Red Rooster in two weeks, the latest in a string of openings below 125th Street on Frederick Douglass Boulevard. This month, Streetbird Rotisserie, following the lead of six-month-old LoLo’s Seafood Shack, the month-old bar Mess Hall, and its adjoining coffee shop, Double Dutch Espresso—all clustered around 116th to 119th Streets.

To further propel Harlem’s exploding food culture, the four-day Harlem EatUp! Festival was founded, which will debut May 14, joining the Food & Drink Boulevard event, now in its fourth year.

The buzz was a long time coming.  There were only two businesses on the boulevard back in 2011. It was only a handful—and handful is a generous term.

But the growth spurt has been fast: At six years old, Bier International is already a senior citizen, the four-year-old Lido and Harlem Tavern are teenagers, and the two-year-old Vinateria a toddler.

The Harlem food scene in general is really sort of buzzing at the moment. People are really surprised about the wealth of offerings available now…Frederick Douglass Boulevard, it’s on fire.

Such developments are reported on Harlem + Bespoke, a six-year-old blog covering local culture, business and design. A lot of people were saying the neighborhood wasn’t ready…or that it’s not on the same level as Brooklyn or other neighborhoods you hear about.

The boulevard’s makeover is not the usual cringe-inducing takeover story, but rather is anchored by reinvested interest from locals, and two community organizations.

Every one of the businesses on Frederick Douglass Boulevard is owned by someone who lives in the community.

Once marred by dilapidated buildings, the boulevard now hums with business. A day spa, yoga studio, wine store and epicurean market reflect both a hyperlocal revival and a desire for the service and style typically found in trendy locations.

Newcomers won’t find housing options as plentiful as dining—stock tends to fly off the market. The initial surge in construction in 2009 to 2010 produced mainly starter apartments. Now, inventory in the pipeline weights toward two- , three- and four-bedroom condominiums.

As opposed to when people bought here when it was bargain, they’re buying here now because it’s one of the last real surviving neighborhoods in Manhattan that hasn’t been taken over by the super luxury, and is still attainable.

One-bedroom condos average $800,000, and two-bedrooms price between $1.1 million and $1.5 million.

There is a concern that a saturation point will be reached and not every business will be sustained, and that’s happened in numerous other neighborhoods as well.

Source:  wsj.com, 4-23-2015

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