If you walk into Home Sweet Harlem, a restaurant located across the street from City College of New York at 137th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, the first thing Donna Lewis, the owner, will offer you is a cup of coffee. Growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, Lewis drank her first cup of coffee in her grandmother’s home. Lewis’ grandmother always offered coffee to people who came to visit and had a pot of it ready on the stove. Lewis also remembers going to Cincinnati’s Findlay Market and visually savoring the fresh fruits and vegetables sold by the vendors there. Everyone in Lewis’ household, including her brothers, participated in food preparation and this is how she became passionate about the “alchemy” that is cooking. This is the sort of environment that Home Sweet Harlem recreates, not only with the food, but also with the exposed brick walls that displays local art.
Home Sweet Harlem specializes in fresh food made ready to order. Lewis’ food falls in line with the slow food movement, dedicated to biodiversity in the food supply, taste education, and rediscovering the pleasures of sitting at the table with family and friends. This means that you cannot come to the restaurant if you are in a rush, as the food is brought to your table made-to-order with the love and care local ingredients deserve. Lewis says, “I won’t serve anything I wouldn’t eat.”
She sources all of her food locally. Her sandwiches, for example, feature Harlem baked organic bread. The vegetables and fruits she uses are grown locally and her staff is all Harlem based.
When Lewis moved to Harlem, she found restaurants that offered delicious macaroni and cheese, grits, and other items, but nothing with any texture. Lewis was determined to bring to Harlem food that had some “crunch.”
The salmon Benedict reflects a West African approach to preparing fish. A patrons desire for a filling vegetarian sandwich gave birth to the hummus avocado sandwich. Hummus binds together freshly grated carrots, beets and fresh romaine lettuce and is nestled between two slices of whole grain organic bread.
Home Sweet Harlem features a weekend brunch that incorporates some of the foods that lack “crunch” such as shrimp, grits and a homemade biscuit. She hopes to resurrect a community table dinner tradition that would feature a visiting chef so that she could participate in the food community with her customers. Lewis strives for quiet community development. She wants people to come to Home Sweet Harlem and, Lewis says, “share their thoughts, ideas, contractors, and babysitters.” Ultimately, she wants people to get together and take the time to eat. Home Sweet Harlem provides the perfect forum to do just that.
Home Sweet Harlem
1528 Amsterdam Avenue