Empanada Boy and I moved out of our Harlem apartment last week. It was our crazy sublessor and our tiny apartment, not the neighborhood we were eager to leave. In fact, we’ve enjoyed many things about getting to know Harlem. We were grateful to be there to witness history as Barack Obama was elected president. As we packed up to leave and emptied our refrigerator, we were also grateful for the excuse to eat some tasty fried food.
Fried food was on the menu for both of our last two nights in Harlem. We tried to go back to Charles’s Southern Style Kitchen, but it was disturbingly closed on a Thursday night. We hoped it was just a sign that Charles was hard at work getting his new buffet ready. Instead, we walked down Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. to Sam’s Fish Market. Sam’s is a small storefront with a walk-up counter where a single fry-cook (Sam, perhaps?) plunges pieces of whiting, porgies, catfish, shrimp and clams into the oily depths. On the recommendation of two old timers who came in before us, we tried the whiting (no bones!). EB got it with a thick slice of white bread, and I got it with French fries. After waiting patiently for Sam to prepare them, we carried our cardboard baskets back to our somewhat dismantled apartment. We doused the fried wedges with Louisiana hot sauce. The fish was moist, but the crust was too salty and didn’t have the lightness and crunch I was craving. It was, sadly, no replacement for Charles’s.
We spent our last night rearranging the furniture, scrubbing things clean and removing the last of our possessions from the apartment. It was after 10 pm by the time we were ready to drive out to Uncle Second Breakfast’s house in Brooklyn. On the way, we decided to stop off at a place that advertised the Southern traditional pairing of chicken and waffles. Little did we know, that place was Wells’s Famous Home of Chicken and Waffles. Wells has been around since 1938, although the original location closed down. It’s still run by Ms. Wells, and it’s credited with bringing fried chicken and waffles to New York.
EB ordered a fried leg quarter and a waffle. It came with Wells’s homemade strawberry butter, which looked a bit disgusting to me. The waffle was way too sweet for my taste, but the fried chicken was tasty. The crust was crisp and crumbly, and the dark meat melted in my mouth. Ms. Wells and friends know how to make fried chicken, but the crust still wasn’t quite as light, and the meat wasn’t quite as flavorful as Charles’s. In addition to the requisite fried chicken, I tried sides of candied yams and okra and corn. The yams were sugary and had too much cinnamon. (The traditional sweetness of soul food is obviously not always to my taste.) But I loved the corn and okra, which blended mellow and tart flavors into a delicious savory sautÃ©. My dish came with an excellent homemade corn muffin made with coarse cornmeal. EB stole a big chunk of it, much to my chagrin. When we had cleaned our styrofoam plates, we said goodbye to Ms. Wells and headed out of Harlem. The restaurants of Washington Heights await our stomachs and this page!
Sam’s Fish Market
2528 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.
New York, NY 10039
Wells’s Famous Home of Chicken and Waffles
2453 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.
New York, NY 10030