Harlem seems to be ever changing, much like New York City in general. Sometimes on our daily trail to and from work, we can witness the change slowly, and sometimes it’s a big reality television home improvement show reveal when we find ourselves in unfrequented areas. Whether welcomed or not, change is a constant.
Sometime over the summer on one of my walks around Harlem, I stumbled upon the gray facade of a new restaurant on St. Nicholas Avenue. There was no signage yet, but it looked promising. It would soon become the latest French bistro in the neighborhood, Maison Harlem (341 St. Nicholas Ave. at 127th Street, 212-222-9224, www.maisonharlem.com).
I heard rumors of its opening, specifically the bar that sits in the front part of the restaurant and how convivial and fun it is. With a fully stocked bar and a good bartender, I didn’t imagine it to be a bad time. However, I didn’t hear about the food, which compelled me to try it out the first opportunity I got … wait, I mean the second opportunity I got.
My first opportunity to try Maison Harlem came on a sunny, cold Sunday morning when a friend and I were going for brunch. As we walked over at 10:30 a.m., we thought we might have to wait. Turns out we would have, as the buzzing staff was preparing to open for brunch at 11 a.m. I was a bit flummoxed by the late opening for a new eatery and disappointed over the failed attempt.
As we walked out of Maison Harlem en route to Plan B (whose brunch service began at 9 a.m.) and the not-so-hospitable server literally locked the door behind us, I began to think there would have been a better way to handle that situation. When you are a new business, more specifically in a changing established community, you take every opportunity to make new clientele regular clientele. We could have been invited to warm up over a hot cup of coffee in the bar area until service began. That says, “Thank you for coming!” and “We are excited to serve you!”
Some Sundays later, with a severe craving for a burger, my friend Jason and I decided we would eschew our tried-and-true spot and give Maison Harlem another try. It was 12:30 p.m. so I now knew we would not be turned away.
We sat immediately at a table overlooking 127th Street and began to peruse the paper menu placemats. The design is true bistro style: wood floors, subway-tiled walls, French-paned windows separating the kitchen. It is very rustic, comfortable and familiar.
As dictated by our cravings, we ordered burgers ($10.50, plus $1.50 to $2 for each add-on). I also decided to pair my meat dish with a good Bloody Mary with all the right and flavorful ingredients. When I asked my server if they make the mix in-house, she offered to bring me a taste. Perfect problem solving! Glad I did because I asked for some black pepper and Worcestershire sauce to doctor it up–the latter of which our server never heard of before, didn’t clarify and brought hot sauce instead with the drink. I politely suggested that the bartender would know what I am talking about, which garnered the correct condiment. Little did I know this liquid would start a fire…
I am preparing for an end of year wrap-up and desperate for your Harlem culinary winners for the year. It can be a food, a dish, a restaurant or eatery or a person. Please email, Facebook or tweet me with your nominations. Use #BestofHarlem2012.
Enjoy, get eating and thanks for reading!