A couple of years ago, I was on real soul-food kick, and would spend the weekends eating at every place I could find in Harlem: diners, hole-in-the-walls, high-end establishments and even church dinners. Most of the food was passable, but one place was truly worth the return trip: Charles’ Southern Style Kitchen. It’s a small place with an all-you-can-eat buffet, and boy is it good. He’s got oxtails, deviled eggs, potato salad, collard greens, mac and cheese, cole slaw and some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten. And he fries it up the right way: in an iron skillet with lard. You can taste how finely it’s been prepared—the crust is crispy and flaky with just the right amount of spice and the chicken is juicy and tender—even the white meat, which is no mean feat. A couple of months ago, Charles opened a place further downtown on Broadway and 109th Street, Rack & Soul, which he collaborated on with pitmaster John Wheeler. I was curious to see how his fried chicken would transfer 40 blocks down, and I was also eager to try this new bbq chef’s smoked meat. The place did not disappoint.
The restaurant has about 4 times the number of tables than Charles’ place uptown, in a cheery casual atmosphere with red vinyl booths and black-and-white photos of old Harlem. There’s also a stack of wood near the back of the house—a reassuring thing to see in a bbq place. When you first sit down, they bring you biscuits, and these are delicious—much better than the highly praised BLT Fish’s cheese biscuits. These are flaky, buttery, taste of honey and they melt in your mouth—two were not enough. I ordered the fried chicken, which came with a quarter rack of babyback ribs, and two overflowing side dishes of collard greens and macaroni and cheese. First the fried chicken: it made the trip downtown without any incident, and was as bone-gnawing and finger-licking good as it ever was; I couldn’t tear my mouth away from the bone. The ribs were fine. The meat was tender and tasted of smoke, but they basted them with too much sweet sauce, and I like them sauceless. The macaroni and cheese wasn’t that good—it was too soft and didn’t have enough cheese. But the collard greens were perfectly spiced and tender, and succulent with yummy pork delight. I couldn’t stop eating them and if I hadn’t been so full, I would have ordered another bowl.
Rack & Roll will leave you stuffed with plenty to take home. The portions are huge and the prices are very reasonable. It’s not as cheap as the all-you-can-eat buffet in Harlem, but if I don’t feel like going all the way uptown, I’m happy this place exists. I’m just glad it’s still 100 blocks away from me, otherwise I’d be there all the time, which might not be the best thing for both my heart and my waistline.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Posted by Lisa Fain (Homesick Texan) at 1:44 PM