Sylvia's is a restaurant that, when you enter, draws you in -- it simply smells like very very good food. And that is exactly what the place serves: good, consistent, soul food. And it is soul food both in the sense of food that comforts the soul (at least that was its impact on me) and in the sense one finds in reference sources -- food traditionally associated with aspects and regions of African American life. (Want a definition? Click here.) Packed -- both inside and outside -- on a Sunday evening, with tourists and locals, this famous restaurant was a great place to visit. (We went to the Lenox Avenue site; there are others.)
Dining options (and we were there for a Gospel Sunday, thus it is not perhaps as full a menu as other times) included fried catfish, fried and/or baked chicken (the server asked: white or dark? Rumor has it the charge for the white meat is a bit more than for the dark), and smothered or fried pork chops. I had the pork chops -- and I ate one of them. There were two and they were not small! Each entree comes with a choice of two sides. And I, well, I had the pork chops because I love pork; I had the mac and cheese because I love mac and cheese, and I had green beans because I had a (very) brief moment of thinking healthy. The mac and cheese had soft elbow macaroni and cheese and I enjoyed it (though I admit it was not the most perfect ever). The chops were nicely done -- and the dog that ate the second one the next day likely enjoyed it too! I was not too adventurous, I have to admit -- and did not have chitterlings. Nor did I have the black eyed peas, collard greens, or even the mashed potatoes, for example.
What did I have to drink? A drink called a "devil in a blue dress," continuing my theme of blue drinks. In fact, this was the bluest ever -- a heaping dose of blue curacao. Not too bad! But I admit I also ordered it because I like the song. Some of the folks at my table had a "Waiting To Exhale." Not sure what it was, but it looked fruity and they certainly drank them! And another had a "virgin" pina colada.
One disappointment: Many of us wanted to try the red velvet cake but by the time we finished dining a) we had out stayed our welcome as it was well past their colsing time of 8 pm (or 20:00) and b) they were out of it. Not that any of us truly needed anything else to eat.
What else? In addition to smelling good, the ambiance was warm (figuratively and literally) and inviting. Our waiter was kind and humored us a bit, despite our noisiness. We watched them sing Happy Birthday to a table near by. And, we perused amazing photographs on the wall, embarrassing ourselves by not recognizing people like Beyonce but definitely recognizing Liza Minelli and Aretha Franklin.
For me, some of the fun was getting there -- and getting from there to our next stop. On the way from Penn Station I had a very chatty taxi driver with the best, waxed and curled moustache ever. He was quite clear: fried foods are bad for you. Did I listen? Yes. Do I agree? Yes. Did I get fried food? Yes. He chitter chatted as we drove along the edge of Central Park, saw one of those old fashioned bicycles with a large front wheel and a tiny back wheel, and drove along or past streets named for Adam Clayton Powell, Malcolm X and others. Yep, Harlem at its best. On the way back, as well as a quick stop at a Barnard residence hall, we passed the historic Apollo Theater where so many greats got their start. Think amateur night. (And yes, there is a Smithsonian exhibition on the Apollo . . . More info here.)
Want to try Sylvia's products? Click here.
For wikipedia on Sylvia's click here (and then ask yourself: how many restaurants have a wikipedia entry? I have no idea. But this seems. . . well, to mark something.)
For info on the Gospel brunch and a picture of Caroline Kennedy and Al Sharpton eating at Sylvia's click here. Wanna read 162 reviews (including some for the gospel brunch)?Still not sure? Check out urbanspoon on Sylvia's.