My trip to Canada concluded with dinner at Harlem Restaurant in downtown Toronto. I tell you, this was the best food I tasted during my trip. I dinned at the 67 Richmond St. E location of the restaurant. As soon as I walked through the door I feel in love with this eatery. +Harlem Restaurant serves Southern Caribbean cuisine. Now, being a gal of the south and Jamaica W.I., I had to authenticate this concoction of flavor.
I entered the establishment as was mesmerized by the charming hanging red curtain and phonograph that lead to the main dining area. I parted the curtains and was instantly drawn in by the welcoming embrace of the eclectic environment. The warm red covered walls, the intimate space, the beautiful assortment of color infused original paintings, created a soulful inviting atmosphere. I loved the artsy feel of the interior. The owner did an excellent job capturing the art inspired Harlem Renaissance aspect of Harlem, NY.
I had the delightful impromptu opportunity to sit down and chat with owner and chef Carl Cassell.
|Owner/Chef Carl Cassell|
Shuga: What is the inspiration behind Harlem Restaurant?
Cassell: Harlem is the evolution of another restaurant I owned named Irie. Harlem is more inclusive of the entire diaspora. At Harlem we can provide an inclusive menu of Southern and Caribbean style of cooking. The people from the south cook food similar to the way we [Caribbean people] do. Like collard greens which would be our [Jamaicans] version of callaloo.
Shuga: How long has Harlem been in existence?
Cassell: We have been opened for 7 years.
Shuga: Why did you choose Harlem as the name of restaurant?
Cassell: Harlem is instantly recognizable. I wanted to evoke a response in people that they'll never forget it. Positive or negative, I wanted it to leave "you" with an impression. That's what I wanted to do, "kick the door open."
Shuga: What is the inspiration behind the decor?
Cassell: The decor is inspired by the 1920's. The original name was Harlem 1920. As you come through the door you will see the phonograph. It's kind of a 1920's art deco feel. The deep red....gives it a bold feel.
Shuga: I understand you have weekly live entertainment.
Cassell: Yes. That was kind of our mantra. That's what created Harlem in a sense. When I had Irie, which has been converted into a Harlem as well, it kind of became the place to meet people. I've been in the city [Toronto] for a while and half of my friends are artists, actors, musicians and Irie became like an impromptu music venue. So when this place [Harlem] opened the idea was to create an artistic space which we provide with a stage upstairs.
Harlem Restaurant has two floors, both of which feature dining rooms with candlelit tables. The top floor has a stage where weekly entertainment is presented.
|Top floor stage|
After my Q&A, it was time to taste the delicious food. The menu was mounted on a vinyl record which a found to be quite clever. It really tied into the rustic chic theme. There were so many lip-smacking choices. I had a difficult time choosing. Thankfully Carl Cassell provided some excellent suggestions, and oh was it extraordinary roller coaster ride for my taste buds.
|Harlem Kool -Aide|
|Mac- n - Cheese|
|BBQ Jerk Chicken|
|Coconut rice and peas|
|Chicken and Waffles|
The signature dish of Harlem is Chicken and Waffles. First, the presentation of the dish was the best I have ever seen. I have been to many restaurants that serve this dish and Harlem's presentation is the most attractive. I love that the chicken came with three dipping sauces - sweet and sour, maple syrup, and scotch-bonet-corriander-lime gravy. The chicken was exquisitely prepared --juicy, tender meat, covered in a thick, crispy batter. One bite and I feel under it's sinfully delicious spell. The waffles were fluffy with a tasty buttermilk flavor.
|Mango Chiffon Cheese cake|
My meal concluded with a signature slice of Mango chiffon cheese cake. The delectable dessert was velvety light and heavenly extraordinary.
The dinner was accompanied by a comedy show presented by one of Toronto's top comedians +Quinn Martin. He was very entertaining and a great complement to a satisfying evening.
|Quinn C Martin - Comedian|
Overall, my experience at Harlem Restaurant was filled with appetizing foods, gracious portion sizes, friendly service and excellent entertainment. The restaurant provided a great taste of the traditional South with new twists of flavors. I truly had a marvelous time and look forward to returning in the future. So, next time your in Toronto, stop on by Harlem Restaurant for a roller coaster ride your taste-buds will never forget. Harlem Restaurant -East