Harlem Buffetaissance: Lunch at Charles Southern Kitchen

Meet David and Rebecca. David is an actor whose show “Mama’s Knishes” features him in your kitchen, dressed as his great grandmother cooking knishes for you and telling stories from the past. You can read about it on his website, Knish.org. (Check out the praise from The Wall Street Journal–it even has a cartoon of David!) I’m trying to convince him to perform it for me and my classmates. If he does, I promise to tell you all about it.

He and his friend Rebecca met me today at Macy’s on 34th Street where we boarded the D train and headed up to Harlem. David and Rebecca are big fans of the site and they wanted to take me somewhere I’d never been before. David settled upon Charles Southern Kitchen, reputed to have the best fried chicken in New York. I said I was game and up we went.

Here they are, David and Rebecca, in front of CSK:


David knew a great deal about the area. We were near the old Polo Grounds he said. “Oh, where the Dodgers used to play?” I asked.

“No! The Giants!!” he responded calmly.

Inside Charles, there’s just a few tables, a TV playing soap operas, a fridge with sweet tea and lemonade and this buffet:


The menus are matted to the table and are pretty straightforward: lunch buffet, all you can eat, complete with drink: $10. A good deal if I ever heard one!

I loaded up my plate and got some sweet tea. It was great to have sweet tea—that’s in my Top Five things I miss most about Atlanta. And here’s the plate I made for myself:


Starting at 12 o’clock we have collard greens treated with smoked turkey. I didn’t care for it–it was a truly unusual flavor–but I appreciated its unusualness. Then, at 2 o’clock, my hands-down favorite: the candied yams. The yams weren’t soaked in sweetness, they were just sweet with hints of spice to them. They were terrific.

The chicken was top-notch. It wasn’t hot and that takes it down a slot for me, but in terms of New York fried chicken it’s among the best I’ve had. (Ok, I haven’t had much fried chicken in New York, but still…)

The mac and cheese was maccy and cheesy. We all enjoyed it.

The atmosphere was friendly and unique. We laughed as a soap opera played overhead, though one of the waitresses watched it with rapt attention. When Rebecca went to the bathroom, a man held the door for her and said: “Welcome to the bathroom!”

On the walk back to the subway, we saw a dead cat. That was depressing. Otherwise, I enjoyed some of the sites of Harlem. Like Jackie Robinson park—that’s a neat complex. On the train back, an Asian woman came on with a Bible and told us it was Good Friday and that Jesus died for our sins and that we should follow his word. I mulled it over.

No, the Asian woman didn’t convert me on the train. But the fried chicken? And the candied yams? They may have done the trick. Praise Da Lord! And thanks David and Rebecca for taking me up there!

Pasty White Jews in Harlem: Dinner at the M&G Diner

Tonight—more theater, more eating.

Lauren’s here to do some election grieving. I invited her along to our second-night of theater going: “The Gospel at Colonus” at The Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Classmate Molly got the tickets and classmate James said, “Let’s all eat at the M&G Diner before the show.”

Lauren came in from Penn Station late so we came late to dinner. We took the C train up to Harlem–my first time. I expected dingy streets and slums and dangerous types walking around snapping their fingers like in “West Side Story.” Instead, I got Old Navy. Lauren had mentioned that Harlem was gentrified, but I had no idea. It was actually quite charming, in a gentrified Harlem sort of way.

We made it into M&G and my classmates were already eating. We found a table and promptly ordered. A jukebox played Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City.” I began to groove to the rhythm. Lauren said, “Stop.”

Soon, our food arrived. I ordered the fried chicken breast with candied yams and macaroni and cheese and corn bread:


The fried chicken was fine–I’ve had better in Atlanta. The candied yams were delicious. The mac and cheese was ok; I’d forgotten that I hate cheese. But the greatest was the corn bread. It was soul-shatteringly good. They basically made little corn muffin things, sliced them in half and FRIED THEM IN BUTTER. And it just tasted wonderful. Goes into the pantheon of Corn Bread Adam Has Ingested.

Lauren had smothered chicken:


Don’t you love her sweater/shirt combo? I complimented her several times.

After dinner, we made it over to the Apollo theater. It was amazing. It was so great to be in there. So much history and such a great vibe to it. It still feels vital.

The show was a gospel version of “Oedipus at Colonus.” Charles S. Dutton played The Messenger and The Blind Boys of Alabama played “Oedipus.” I thought the book was pretty slow (meaning the speaking non-singing parts) but, really, how can you fault the writer when he’s SOPHOCLES? As for the music, it was rousing and wonderful. There’s a number in there that opens the movie “Camp” (a pretty bad movie) called “How Shall I See You Through My Tears?” It’s beautiful. I actually prefer the version on the “Camp” soundtrack so check that out. And here’s a pic from the show that I took illegally:


If any of my readers have thought Harlem too dangerous to venture out to, you’re really missing out. It’s one of New York’s great cultural havens. If you don’t go, you’re RACIST. Seriously. Can I get a hallelujah?