A neighborhood classic in the making, Harlem Shake is serving up high quality diner eats from some of the warmest, friendliest staff in the area.
I am in the business of building cities. I think about streetscape and program and districts and plans on a daily basis all for the sake of investing in a better city, so it’s no surprise, really, that the most inspiring part of a restaurant to me is its ability to build a neighborhood. Food, drink, and hospitality aside, it is ultimately the special gift of a restaurant to create the uniquely intangible vibrancy and dynamism that come to define a community.
In urban planning, we use the word “node” to describe a focal point or a center in the city, one that can be both regional and local. Walking from the subway along 124th Street, there is a subconscious draw to this nearby corner with flower boxes under a long, shady striped awning, and upon arrival, there is no doubt that Harlem Shake is the locus and the node of this neighborhood.
This is a restaurant that has invested in its community, providing deeply comforting food better than mama makes, and the community has responded in turn. Tables are full of mothers chatting while their children eat hot dogs, couples enjoying a casual date together, and even a diner or two eating alone, because the opportunity for a meal this fulfilling can’t be passed up.
Diner classics come with a few twists here, making the burgers like the Harlem Classic with two lean sirloin patties topped with American cheese, onions, pickles, and a special house sauce something to crave again and again. The Harlem Jerk burger, however, might be even better. Topped with jerk fries and a jerk mayo, the spice blend adds a rich and slow heat to the thin, juicy patties sitting on the fluffy potato bun, which manages to stay sturdy against every bite.
Because Harlem Shake is a diner, and one that evokes the nostalgia of the characteristic, local, American eating that we look for in a regular neighborhood destination, there are eats on the menu that pack together decadent, fat-rich foods to present the ultimate comfort food indulgence. The Fatty Melt is one of these, featuring two thin patties with melted cheese, onions, and pickles, sandwiched between two grilled cheese sandwiches. Somehow it’s not uncomfortably greasy, and it leaves room for enjoying the namesake Harlem Shake, a red velvet milkshake made with Blue Marble ice cream.
When a restaurant is a success, the impression and experience of a neighborhood become tied to the restaurant itself. It’s impossible to think of Gramercy Park without thinking about Craft or Gramercy Tavern, Bushwick without Roberta’s, Union Square without Union Square Café. This is what I love the most about restaurants, and it’s what I love the most about Harlem Shake.