Neighborhood: Central Harlem
Venue: Fast Casual Restaurant
Foursquare Check-in: http://4sq.com/13XYfnt
Rating: 3 Stars
Harlem Shake is not your typical burger joint–at least not a typical one from this century. The Harlem Shake on the corner of 124th and Lenox Avenue resembles something of a 1960′s malt shop and diner, complete with your grandmother’s decorating touch and hairnets on the heads of some of the venue’s cashiers. I honestly felt like Marty McFly in “Back to the Future,” including the notion that I was being picked on–but I’ll get to that in a second.
As for the food, my saying is, “when in Rome…” So naturally, I went with the Classic Harlem Burger. Having walked into what was, for lack of a better term, an atmosphere that was a bit understated, I was mildly surprised by just how awesome my burger was.
Made with two sirloin patties, onions, cheese and a special sauce, the burger reminded me slightly of a Shake Shack Burger, only this one was a tad bit bigger and the sauce was noticeably different. Like the Shake Shack Burger, the Classic Harlem Burger is incredibly juicy, has a bit of a salty-kick to it (for those of you who like that kind of thing), and the special sauce makes it stand out from the other gourmet burgers, since chefs in Manhattan seem to think adding any and all strong flavors to a burger is a crime against humanity. Well, in this case, it certainly wasn’t. The slight caramelization on the Harlem Classic, combined with a fluffy bun makes sure the sauce isn’t too powerful but still adds a tastiness to the burger in the same way that the right amount of barbecue sauce empowers a well-cooked rib.
I also had the fries. Those were nothing to sneeze at either. I actually didn’t want them at first, but I was so hungry, my choice came down to ordering the fries or getting a second burger. I may or may not have made the right choice health-wise, but from a satisfaction standpoint, the fries did not disappoint.
Sadly, I did have one slight problem with Harlem Shake–albeit, nothing new to Harlem. The service there was absolutely subpar. I went on a Saturday afternoon around 2pm–which is not exactly “Rush Lunch Hour.” Still, they had a number of people to serve, and they were dropping the ball everywhere. There weren’t enough seats, despite there being a decent amount of available space. When tables did become available, there wasn’t anyone really making the effort to clean the tables, so guests were cleaning the tables themselves. I also did not think the cashier was patient or friendly, and as a first-time customer trying to get a feel for the menu, I felt unjustifiably rushed to make an order, even when considering the number of people in the restaurant.
Last but not least, Harlem Shake really struggled with getting the orders out on time and in an accurate fashion. Two people before had to come back because the cooks got their orders wrong. And I wound up waiting 25 minutes for my burger and fries as individuals and families that ordered after me collected their food. One of the cashier woman (not the care-free one that took my order), actually noticed me standing their so long that she thought I was waiting to make an order. She eventually prevented me from waiting for another 25 minutes by going to the grill to check on my order, only to find out that they had somehow skipped past it. In Harlem Shake’s defense, she did offer me a drink while I waited and another one on my way out. But because I’m watching the calories (as I write about the burger joint I just went to), I declined on both accounts.
Because this is a place I recommend giving a shot (despite the bad service), I do want to end on a positive note. Namely, I (and I suppose all of my neighbors in the Central Harlem area), now have not only a spot to get a decent burger, but we now have a spot open late at night (closes at 2am on Fridays and Saturdays) where we can get food before stumbling home. My typical pitstop home after a long night out is Popeyes, and while grilled burgers aren’t exactly a caloric improvement over fried chicken, I’m happy to have some variety on my late night menu.