I’ve been meaning to go to Red Rooster up in Harlem since it opened last year. But somehow the trek uptown always seemed too daunting when it came down to it and I ended up eating at the usual suspects in my neighborhood – Freeman’s, Prune, Peels, Spitzer’s Corner – instead. So this past weekend I finally mustered the energy and resolve and set off with my cousin Diana on a journey to Manhattan’s hinterlands above 125th Street.
Red Rooster is the latest venture from Marcus Samuelsson, the half Ethiopian-half Swedish chef and entrepreneur who used to run Aquavit in midtown. Aquavit is a chic, rather staid and very refined restaurant so Red Rooster is a bit of an about face.
The restaurant is nestled in a block across from a big, boxy mall building advertising Marshall’s, Staples and Planet Fitness, around the corner from the requisite McDonald’s and Popeye’s, and, inexplicably, next door to a French bistro called Chez Lucienne.
Feeling a bit claustrophobic in the indoor dining room – which has the personality of a chain restaurant in a suburban mall (think Applebee’s or Ruby Tuesday’s), and on the day we visited featured too loud and slightly random live music – we opted for a table outside on the oversized sidewalk.
We then devoted our full attention to the menu, which is a mish mash of Southern American and Swedish comfort food. We mostly stuck to the American side of things, except Diana’s Lenox Smörgåsborg which came with Serrano ham, gravlax and a smoked trout bagel. I chose the Fried Yard Bird (aka chicken), served with white gravy, some spicy red sauce and “shake”, a mixture of spices that arrived at the table in a do it yourself canister. The chicken was very fried – I would have preferred a little more soft crunch and a little less burnt.
We fared better with our sides: Mac and Greens came in a small cast iron dish with big macaroni baked in three kinds of cheese and topped with crunchy bread crumbs. And the cornbread with honey butter and tomato jam was moist and delicious.
All in all the food was okay, but not worth the hour long trip from downtown. In future, I’ll be sticking a big closer to home … At least for comfort food brunch.