With all of this snow, ice and cold we’ve been having, a quick last-minute island escape would be beyond divine. It would be heaven. Enter your schedule, funds and commitments and poof! There goes the dream. Thank goodness spring is just around the corner, but if patience is not your strong suit, there’s a ray of sunshine right on West 116th Street filled with all of the trappings of island life called LoLo’s Seafood Shack (@LoLosSeafood, 303 W. 116th St., 646-649-3356, www.lolosseafoodshack.com).
I first stumbled upon the space that would be LoLo’s when I noticed the once old-school Chinese takeout spot had posted a “FOR RENT” sign in the window. Envious of the opportunity and slightly dubious of whoever would take over the space in our quickly changing Harlem, I continued to walk by it for weeks. Enter Harlemites Skai Young and her husband and executive chef, Raymond Mohan. The space that was once dark and uninviting was reborn as a light, cool breeze on a hot day.
Together, Young and Mohan each have many years in hospitality and food service all over the world, but it was their year living in Anguilla and vacationing in nearby St. Maarten that inspired this first brick-and-mortar business. With all the great places to eat on both islands, the couple found themselves often at little beach barbecue huts enjoying chicken, ribs, the freshest seafood from the nearby waters and, most importantly, the sense of community and togetherness. These spots are locally owned and locally operated, and therefore colloquially known by their acronym, LoLo.
When making the move from Brooklyn to Harlem, the couple saw the same “FOR RENT” sign I saw and decided that Harlem needed a LoLo, for more reasons than one. Seven months later, they opened LoLo’s Seafood Shack, “the original Cape Cod and Caribbean mashup!” The reason for the quick opening was their smart use of the space, their resourcefulness and what Young calls “a feat of menu engineering.”
The couple used the space as it existed but opened it up, literally and figuratively, by providing access to seating in the back of the eatery and in their backyard, too. They changed the signage, of course, but the bright Caribbean colors, accessories and reggae music help to invoke the sense of freedom and easiness you find when on a beach vacation.
The most significant non-change was the reuse of the kitchen, woks and all, and creating a menu that would utilize the contents to the fullest. Together with Mohan’s knowledge, sustainable resourcing and talent, a delicious menu blossomed featuring seafood steampots
(the nod to Cape Cod) of shrimp, snow crab legs or crawfish with one of their four house-made sauces; sandwiches served in their homemade bread called “bake”; snacks featuring my favorite Belizean conch fritters, with lime zest remoulade; and a diversity of veggie sides, including the new best fries of Harlem, the LoLo’s fries with cotija cheese, pickled jalapeno and herbs, plus wok-seared cauliflower with garlic crema and the simply delicious Johnny cakes with honey butter. No time to mention the house- smoked wings and ribs? Damn! LoLo’s ain’t playin’!
I could go on and on about LoLo’s, and I will. Check out my extended interview with owner Skai Young on my blog, www.talkingschop.wordpress.com, where we get into the nitty-gritty of opening LoLo’s, the new Harlem Renaissance and the irony of bringing the downtown scene uptown. Until then, LoLo’s invites you to come and “take an all-inclusive holiday” on West 116th Street. #OneLove!
Happy eating and thanks for reading!
Kysha Harris is a food writer, culinary producer, consultant and owner of SCHOP!, a personalized food service offering weekly and in-home entertaining packages. Questions? Comments? Requests? Feedback? Invitations? Email her at kysha@iSCHOP.com, follow her on Twitter and Instagram @SCHOPgirl or on Facebook www.facebook.com/SCHOPnyc. For even more recipes, tips and food musings, subscribe to her blog at www.talkingSCHOP.wordpress.com.