Harlem globetrotting

26 Oct

I was in an unusual and uncommon place (for me) this past weekend; boarding the 4 train at Grand Central.  The last time I found myself in a subway station was Labor Day weekend for a “trip” downtown to walk the Brooklyn Bridge (“for mom!”…on my summer bucket list).  Yes, I realize that this was over six weeks ago, and a long period of time in a city that runs on public transportation…but you’re digressing…

Anyway, this past weekend I headed uptown to meet a girlfriend at 125th and Lenox for brunch and a neighborhood scavenger hunt in Harlem.

First up – much to our surprise as there was only a 20 minute wait for a table and we had expected at least an hour – was brunch at Red Rooster.  We lucked out with an absolutely gorgeous, sunny fall day, and the perfect outdoor table for two.  After repeatedly catching pesky bees in our cups of coffee, we refocused our efforts on a pitcher of white peach sangria and warm cornbread with honey butter and tomato jam.  Oh. My. God.

My girlfriend and I were definitely seated next to the most popular table in the place- next to chef and owner Marcus Samuelsson (not that I knew who he was, awkward…).  After watching several people ask the famous chef for a picture, my girlfriend and I finally figured it out (several of you are probably rolling your eyes at me, horrified that I actually had to – gasp! – google Marcus Samuelsson…)

Now, I’m sure that Marcus Samuelsson will agree that even he played second fiddle to the heavenly dishes that escaped his kitchen.  My girlfriend and I contemplated the many possibilities for brunch before finally settling on two dishes to share, both of which were phenomenal: bunny chowder, which was lamb stew on a sesame bun with ricotta and fried egg; and hearth baked mac & greens with gouda, New York cheddar, comte.  Delicious!

By the time we (tried to) finish both plates, and made our way to the bottom of the sangria pitcher, we were in dire need of a long post-brunch stroll.  As we waited to pay the bill, my girlfriend received our first clue from Stray Boots, which coordinates interactive, self-guided scavenger hunts in New York neighborhoods and other major cities.  For the next few hours we were sent clues and challenges, and had to solve riddles, take pictures and answer trivia with our phones.  The clues took us to points of history and interest in Harlem and provided tidbits about the location after each solve.  So off we went to count the number of rings Sammy Davis Junior wore in his picture at the Apollo; to discover the color of the “Nile” fragrance sold by multiple street vendors along 125th; to uncover the name of the artist who created a beautiful outdoor tile mural; to determine the youth sport played on the field at Marcus Garvey park; to check out the iconic Lenox Lounge which first opened in 1939 and is one of the only original art deco buildings in New York City.

Next up, our afternoon of “discoveries” clearly deserved a beer!  We headed over to Harlem Tavern on 116th and Fredrick Douglas Blvd, just four blocks from my first post-grad school apartment on 112th and Fredrick Douglas.  The tavern, and many other shops, restaurants, and condos, were new to my former ‘hood but I still saw remnants of the area circa 2007….but damn, that tavern would have been key!  Oktoberfest for everyone!

Still full from brunch, which was made even worse by several pints of Oktoberfest, I decided to walk my Harlem globetrotting ass home.  I made my way without even realizing it through my other former ‘hood, the Upper East Side.  I felt a slight pang as I made my way across town on 86th Street.  But in case you’re thinking it’s because of that, PUH-lease.  Seriously though, Sephora, Urban Outfitters, H&M, Fairway, Shake Shack, Pinkberry all opened blocks from my UES apartment after I left the ‘hood?!!  I guess some thing really aren’t meant to be!

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