Morningside foodies already know that Harlem holds plenty of delicious restaurants. Thanks to the rise of local, farm-to-table restaurants in the neighborhood, dining in Harlem is becoming politically rewarding, too.
This trend was on display at Tuesday’s Savor the Season—Uptown tasting event, put on by winner of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters Marcus Samuelsson and CEO of Harvest Home Farmer’s Market Maritza Wellington-Owens. The event showcased 10 top restaurants north of 110th Street.
The food was delicious. Especially memorable were the perfectly tender beef brisket sliders from Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and the chilled summer vegetable ragu with teff noodles from Samuelsson’s restaurant Red Rooster, which is often credited with jump-starting Harlem fine dining. For dessert, Levain Bakery’s double chocolate cranberry cookies, moist and dense, hit the spot.
But the event was about more than just good eating in Harlem—the festivities also served as Harvest Home’s first fundraising event. Harvest Home is a nonprofit that organizes 17 different farmers markets and hosts cooking demonstrations in low-income neighborhoods around New York, including Harlem.
Savona Bailey-McClain, the executive director of the West Harlem Art Fund and a consultant for the event, described the interconnectedness of the Harlem food scene.
“They’re trying to connect farmers to neighborhoods, to restaurants, so this is the first professional food tasting event to show that Harlem has great restaurants. Many of the restaurants sourced from the farmers that are connected to Harvest Home,” Bailey-McClain said.
Lack of access to healthy food is a serious issue in low-income neighborhoods throughout the U.S. Many farmers markets and specialty markets are expensive and tend to cater to high-income shoppers.
Harvest Home is different. All of its markets are in low-income neighborhoods and cater to recipients of government assistance. According to Wellington-Owens, shoppers can pay with food stamps and youth bucks—two-dollar coupons redeemable at Harvest Home farmers markets. Youth bucks are part of an initiative started by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to promote healthy eating among children.
The markets and restaurants also bring in new jobs. “It is very important that we began to attract restaurants to West Harlem because not only do we have an opportunity to have, you know, good food selections and variety ... but it also helps us economically,” said Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, chair of Community Board 9. “Restaurants provide employment opportunities that don’t necessarily require individuals having secondary degrees.”
Morgan-Thomas emphasized the importance of producing local jobs. “It gives us an opportunity to have individuals in our community employed right near where they live, and so it increases our economic base,” she said.
Visiting a Harlem restaurant, then, can mean supporting local farms, nutrition, and jobs—and giving Morningside taste buds respite from Morningside tastes. Not bad for a 10-block walk.