Sunday, January 25, 2009

Birth of Soul and Cool

Sylvia's Restaurant of Harlem (Lenox and 127th Street) has been selling soul food since 1962. What started as a small neighborhood restaurant has grown to a large business visited by tourists from all over the world and Nelson Mendela, Stevie Wonder, Bill Clinton, and Magic Johnson have all had some sort of fried food here. Even the falafel-loving prick Bill O'Reily ate here, even commenting on the restaurant as would be expected of him. Today, Sylvia's occupies most of a city block and seats 450 people.

It appeared members of the Woods family were working at the restaurant; you could tell them apart because they were the ones wearing head-to-toe shiny gray suits and 4" high heels. Also, many large photos of owners Sylvia and Herbert Woods and their family adorn the walls.

What we absolutely loved about Sylvia's was that we got to choose our two side dishes to accompany our entree from a great and long list of side dishes. We ordered this white meat fried chicken with a side of garlic mashed and okra and tomato gumbo. The fried chicken was not "wow" like we were expecting from Sylvia's but it was good. The okra and tomato gumbo was delicious, as was the mashed potatoes.

Their fried pork chop was absolutely moist, tender, and perfect, and it was made even better by dipping it in Sylvia's hot sauce (although the sauce was labeled as extra hot, it wasn't spicy at all, in fact, it was more tangy than spicy). The mac and cheese was also perfect. We also loved that the side dishes were HUGE. There is no portion control at this restaurant. Don't even think about coming here if you're not a big eater.

Breakfast items include corn beef hash and eggs and salmon cakes and eggs, although most people were ordering Sylvia's thick waffle and fried chicken combo. Appetizers include chicken livers and catfish fingers. Other side orders include collard greens, black eyed peas, buttered corn, and cowpeas and rice. Their daily specials include stewed chicken and dumplings, as well as oxtails. Their mixed cocktails include "Devil in a Blue Dress" and "Waiting to Exhale." And of course, they sell Harlem's own Sugar Hill beer (which we oddly tried for our first time at Whole Foods in Union Square). Next time we'll have to try their ribs nicely coated in BBQ sauce and yams (we were drooling as we saw the waiters bringing them out of the kitchen). We'll also try their peach cobbler and sweet potato pie. We just can't forget to wear loose clothing (there was definitely sly unbuttoning of the pants going on at our table).

This evening gown was at the entrance on the diner side of the restaurant. Why didn't Michelle wear this gown on inauguration day (especially since she has a penchant for one-shoulder gowns)?

One block up from Sylvia's is The Studio Museum in Harlem on W 125th Street between Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd. and Lenox Avenue. The Museum is currently hosting Barkley L. Hendrick's first career retrospective, Birth of Cool. (The Museum also presented his first major solo show in 1980).

Birth of Cool showcases Hendrick's life-size portraits of stylish African Americans from the 1960s and 70s. The vibrant colors and the stylization take these portraits to another level. The one below right with the Superman shirt is titled "Icon for my Man Superman - Superman Never Saved Black People)." There were also some great self-portraits like his "Slick," a 1977 portrait of himself in gold-rimmed shades, with a toothpick in his mouth, in a cool all-white suit against an ivory background. The only other person that could have pulled that look off was Marvin Gaye.

These were our favorites. Smooth, suave, fly, cool . . .

The Studio Museum of Harlem was founded in 1968 to exhibit work by black artists and to promote local art. It's highly recommended to go on a Sunday when it's free, called Target Free Sundays (thanks to Target). Otherwise, the suggested donation price for adults is $7.

This is the Museum's project space, and this installation is from artist Shinique Smith.

In short walking distance from Sylvia's and the Studio Museum in Harlem is the famous Apollo Theatre (on 125th St. between Adam Clayton Powell and Frederick Douglass Blvd.). Who didn't love watching Amatuer night at the Apollo? My favorite parts were when the oddball underdog got on stage and people started booing before they even sang and then blew them away to the point of a standing ovation. Ella Fitzgerald was one of the first Amateur Night winners and other icons have been on its stage early in their careers like Billie Holiday, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and James Brown, hence their saying "Where Stars are Born and Legends are Made."

Also nearby on (55 West) 125th Street is Former President Bill Clinton's office. Not surprising that he wanted to be near fried chicken.