Boozin, Brisket & Brunchin': An Afro-Fusion twist at The Cecil Harlem.
It was an absolutely PERFECT, cloudless day, the sun was shining and I started my day with an amazing class at Bikram Yoga NYC. So after sweating up a storm and getting myself all “namaste-d”- I ventured out to Harlem for a brunch date with my lady friends.
Can I tell you how much I love Harlem? As I stepped off the 6 train at 116th street, also known as Spanish Harlem, I couldn’t help but feel like I was somehow back in Miami. As I walked down the streets, I had to laugh at the amount of “hollers” I received simply walking down the streets. It took me back to walking down the streets in Miami. “Oye Mami”, or “Que Dios Te Bendiga”! The music jamming from cars as they drove by, the children laughing and the beat up yards, that somehow told a story.
As I continued on my journey to The Cecil (a 15 min walk from the train), I fell in love with Harlem a little more. It’s no surprise either. Harlem is quickly becoming gentrified. You can see that in the blatantly obvious stores popping up around town, such as Wholefoods, MAC Cosmetics, Starbucks and endless new upscale restaurants, like Red Rooster (which I visited last year).
Harlem is also becoming a popular for celebs like Neil Patrick Harris, who have recently made it home.
The brownstones, the picturesque street that is Lenox Avenue and the diverse culture, really made me feel like THIS was the real New York: a myriad of cultures, languages and a melting pot of diversity, from the people, to the food.
The Cecil, is located in the heart of Harlem, and the second you walk in, you are transported. From the décor, the music, and the crowd, you know you’ve been taken back. The menu is a mix of ethnic flavors, dating back to African favorites, paired with southern staples and blended with a unique modern day twist.
Owned and operated by restaurateur Alexander Smalls, The Cecil is the sister restaurant next door, Minton’s. Over the years, Smalls has traveled the world studying varied cooking techniques and the ways of the African migration, leading up to his creation of The Cecil.
But the man behind what you eat is Executive Chef, Joseph “JJ” Johnson (also a James Beard-nominated chef) and he has really done something special with the menu.
From traditional mac & cheese, to Duck Confit Waffles, your taste buds will thank you.
Johnson is no stranger to the kitchen, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he’s perfected his culinary skills at some of New York’s most recognized restaurants including: Centro Vinoteca, Jane, and Tribeca Grill. To make this menu as authentic as possible, Johnson spent a month cooking in Ghana at the country's leading boutique hotel, Villa Monticello, studying West African cuisine and exploring the country's exotic markets. Ummm, chef, where do I sign up?
On to brunch selections. We started with the Mac & Cheese casserole, a skillet covered in rosemary, caramelized shallots & pepper ham. Pure Perfection.
Now, we're a bunch of fatty's, so we each ordered different plates off the menu, so we could try everything. I went with the thick cut Smoked Brisket & Eggs. The savory brisket is served over Sweet Fried Rice, Hoisin BBQ and topped with two fried eggs. This has got to be one of the most unique brunch dishes I've had in a while.
Also on the order was the traditional Country Breakfast, which consisted of Maple Chicken Sausage, Scallion Grits, Herb Cheddar Eggs and the Cornbread, which was to die for. And we also ordered the shrimp in chile-tomato sauce. For sides we ordered the Sweet Potato Hash with caramelized onions and brown sugar and the Chili Scallion house cut fries. Because, fries.
And for dessert, we shared the Caribbean Toast, smothered in toasted Coconut, Rum and Soaked Candy Apples.
What I love about The Cecil is their unique Mimosa Bar. This is not your traditional cheap champagne with overload of sugar-filled OJ. You get a bottle of champagne, and three different housemade, natural flavors for mix-ins. From rosemary infused with blue berries, to grapefruit, this is quite the spin on bottomless mimosas.
And, on Saturday's, the Cecil offers fabulous live music by Tony Terrell's Caribbean Jazz Quartet. Tony Terrell is a steel pan player, that has performed extensively around the Tri-State. His jazz-influenced playing style gives the group a distinctive sound while still maintaining a traditional Caribbean flavor.
The Cecil has done an amazing job of taking African history and culinary tradition and combining it with modern touches to create a unique menu they like to call “Afro-Asian-American” cooking. It is without a doubt a restaurant that honors the extraordinary contribution of African ancestors.
The Cecil is located at 210 West 118th Street in Manhattan on the corner of West 118th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.
This is west of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard (7th Avenue) east of Frederick Douglass Boulevard (8th Avenue). For more information or to book a table, visit: www.thececilharlem.com
Of course, no trip to Harlem is complete without a drive-by of the famous Apollo Theatre.
And as if it was not enough, I had to stop at "Piece of Velvet" for a slice of heaven. I took home a slice of their famous red velvet oreo slice, which is a modern twist on a classic.
Red velvet layers consumed by icing that has crushed oreos marinated in buttermilk them combined with the signature piece of velvet cream cheese frosting and finished with chocolate chips. I needed to take home some sweets, you know, just in case.
Until next time Harlem, Que Dios Te Bendiga!