As my cousins were visiting New York City for the first time, I decided to take them to try Red Rooster in Harlem. I myself had never visited. Considering that I am cooking my way through Marcus Samuelsson’s cookbook The Rise, it seemed fitting to visit his landmark restaurant.
Check out my vlog and read below to learn more about my experience at Red Rooster Harlem!
Dining at The Red Rooster Harlem
Because indoor dining closed in the city on December 14, I made a 6pm reservation for outdoor dining on Christmas Eve. It was a rainy Thursday, and we held out hope that the seating would hold up against the cold, wet weather.
Thankfully, it did! The beautiful outdoor seating area was tented, well-heated, and decorated nicely. We honestly could have forgotten that we were outside if not for the patter of raindrops and noisy car horns. This is natural, as the Red Rooster is located near the busiest intersection in Harlem: 125th & Lennox Avenue.
When we arrived at the restaurant, we were seated immediately and the hostess provided us with hand sanitizer spray. We were then directed to the menu, which was accessible by a QR code located on our table.
The Red Rooster opened its doors ten years ago and has become a Harlem landmark. It stands out because it does something a little different with soul food cuisine. While it offers traditional dishes like fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, Marcus Samuelsson puts his own little twist on each of these mainstays. This makes sense given his own background: Ethiopian-born, Sweden-raised, and largely trained in American kitchens.
The fried chicken is topped with a hot honey butter reminiscent of Nashville Hot Chicken. The macaroni and cheese is mixed with collard greens to produce “Mac ‘N Greens”. There are also more global offerings like Haitian-inspired accra fritters and a roasted squash salad topped with a citrus-berbere dressing. All of this makes for a very interesting dining experience, even for those very familiar with Southern food.
We ordered the following starters: Cornbread with Roasted Tomato and Corn Butter ($9); Uptown Guac with Accra, Avocado, Pineapple salsa, and fried garlic ($9); and YEP! Chicken & Waffle with Maple Hot Sauce ($14).
The cornbread was sliced in a way that resembled pound cake and tasted quite similar to the dessert. I personally prefer sweet cornbread, and the salty tomato and corn butter was the perfect complement.
The accra fritter, made from a tropical root vegetable known as malanga, was good as well. While it could have been crispier, the guacamole and salsa gave a great flavor boost that almost made up for the lack of texture.
My favorite appetizer hands down was the chicken and waffle. It consisted of two SUPER crispy pieces of dark meat (my favorite!) atop a pillowy, vanilla-flavored waffle. A drizzle of the maple hot sauce and–chef’s kiss–it was so good. Definitely the highlight of our meal.
One of my cousins ordered the Crispy Bird Sandwich and Fries with buffalo chicken, cheddar, charred onion, and pickles ($18). She loved the chicken and toppings but felt that the sandwich was a little dry. It needed sauce.
My other cousin is vegan, and she had a difficult time finding an entree that fit her dietary needs. I originally chose the Red Rooster Harlem because out of all the soul food spots, it had a plant-based entree: Charred Glazed Cauliflower with roasted tomatoes, bean puree, and cilantro-yogurt sauce ($19). However, our server told us that past vegan customers were not happy with the meal when the yogurt sauce was excluded.
For this reason, my cousin chose to order an appetizer for her main course instead: the Roasted Squash and Brussels Sprout Salad with pecan dukkah and citrus-berbere dressing ($14). She was disappointed as the squash was al dente instead of roasted and tender. The texture issue caused her not to finish her salad. I hope that this restaurant works to improve their offerings for vegans. I understand that it can be difficult, but a lot of people are moving toward meatless diets. Even one vegan entree would be a huge draw for such customers.
Because I was so pleased with the chicken we had for the appetizer, I chose to order the Hot Honey Yardbird chicken thigh ($6) with a side of Mac & Greens ($9). The mac was creamy and flavorful, and the acidity of the collard greens was perfect for cutting some of the richness. I was not a huge fan of the breadcrumb topping though, as I prefer my mac to have a crispy crust solely from more time in the oven.
While the food was largely a home run, the service left quite a bit to be desired. I had to consistently attempt to flag down our server, often to no avail. She would visit other tables but not ours.
We were never checked on to see if our food was okay, if we needed a refill on our waters, or if we wanted dessert. It took about 30 minutes just to get her attention so that we could finally get the check. I understand it was Christmas Eve and quite busy, but it began to feel as though our server was actively avoiding us. The lack of customer service left a bad taste in our mouths.
Although I would return to Red Rooster Harlem for the delicious food, I hope to have a better service experience next time. 4 out of 5 STARS.
For more Black-owned restaurant reviews, check out my review of two Midtown Manhattan restaurants here.