Harlem’s culinary cred has been on the rise for years now, but you don’t have to seek out the sleek bistros and cocktail bars to eat well. There are dozens of special little casual spots near the B Train stop at 135th St. and St. Nicholas Ave. — like these three — serving great food.
Michael Cole likes to say his business is “bigger than just a scoop of ice cream,” and he means it. Cole, who opened the first Mikey Likes It Ice Cream in 2014 near his home in the Lower East Side, puts so much thought into every layer of his ice cream business, it’s hard to know where to begin. There’s his super-smart branding, with merch made in his store colors of royal blue and white; his desire to train and empower his staff and others to become entrepreneurs; and his attention to detail when it comes to his food.
Cole serves only a few flavors at his two scoop shops — currently all made in Harlem by Cole and one other trusted staffer — which are thoughtfully composed and often named after the hip hop and pop culture Cole grew up on. Think Foxy Brown, mocha ice cream with Oreos, sea salt, and caramel; D’oh, a seasonal Simpsons-themed scoop with glazed donuts, strawberry frosting, and chocolate-peanut butter candy; or Ice Ice Baby, Cole’s triple-vanilla-ed vanilla.
Those go into a curated list of shakes and sundaes, including the hot waffle ice cream sandwich called the Mac Daddy ($ 8), or the Ebony & Ivory, an extreme hot chocolate made from a brew of Mexican chocolate, cocoa powder and white chocolate ($ 5.50).
Mikey Likes It Ice Cream: 2500 Frederick Douglass Blvd. near 134th St., (212) 690-2500
Real-deal Southern food
Charles Gabriel, the owner of Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken , has set the solid-gold standard for fried chicken in this town for more than three decades. He cooks his birds in a skillet, rather than a deep fryer, just as he was taught to do growing up in Charlotte, N.C.
But think of the chicken — which is perfectly cooked, perfectly crispy and sold for $ 1 to $ 2.50 a piece — as a starting point. Gabriel’s no-frills, takeout friendly restaurant could just have easily been named Charles’ Country Smothered Pork Chops, Turkey Wings, Lima Beans, Candied Yams and Biscuits. In other words, the rest of the food — Southern favorites that are cooked and seasoned as they would be in North Carolina — is just as good as that chicken.
Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken: 2461 Frederick Douglass Blvd., near W. 132nd. St.; (212) 281-1800
When Fatou Kine Mar and her husband Samba Niang had to move their Senegalese restaurant Africa Kine a few blocks north in 2015, they didn’t need to worry about losing their customers. Mar’s chops in the kitchen had already earned her fans willing to travel from all over the city.
Like many West African restaurants, what’s available for lunch changes daily. Mar usually makes just a handful of traditional Senegalese stews with enough food for two, like lamb and okra in tomato sauce ($ 12), or chicken yassa ($ 12), where bone-in legs and thighs are smothered in a sauce of soft-cooked onions spiced with lemon juice and green peppercorn. It comes with a whole cooked Jamaican pepper that serves as both hot sauce and garnish, and a small tower of rice.
There’s also a short menu of $ 8 “appetizers,” which are both large enough for lunch and a nod to the historical influence of immigrants from Vietnam and Lebanon in Senegal. Nem are beef and vegetable egg rolls; fataya are savory hand pies filled with fish or meat; and chawarma is the Senegalese version of the Middle Eastern lamb sandwich.
Africa Kine: 2267 Seventh Ave., near W. 133rd. St., (212) 666-9400