Harlem / Live Music / Restaurant

Red Rooster’s Gospel Brunch, Harlem

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After five months of crushing (sort of) NYC, we decided to get down to our roots and investigate the much lauded and, quite frankly, underappreciated gospel brunch scene.  Our latest adventure led us to Red Rooster in Harlem for some quality bonding time – we hadn’t seen a show together in three weeks – and to some amazing food by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson.

Tip: arrive early.  We did our research and learned that the best thing to do is get to the venue right when the “gospel brunch” begins.  Thus, our journey began at 11:25AM when we both descended upon the joint with our bellies empty and our souls in need of some inspiration.

Alicia is a chef-wannabe, so her main focus was the food and she was slightly distracted by the adorably petit-in-stature-only gospel-singing Boncellia Lewis and her amazing voice.  Boncellia and her band set up in the front of Red Rooster and as we found our seat, we discovered that Boncellia was about to roam the restaurant and interact with the patrons.  During her 20-minute trip to the back of the venue she sang one song – The Wizard of Oz’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  That’s right, imagine this song as only a world-class gospel singer would cover it – every note lasted 10 seconds and every tiny inflection of her voice had ten different emotions.  She was amazing on so many levels.  We don’t think she sang many gospel songs (her up-tempo “Wade in the Water was a favorite) – but that’s ok – her music took us to the church of Marcus Samuelsson and his biblical food.

Alicia’s a veggie-conscience meat eater (meaning she loves to eat meat, but recognizes the health and satisfaction benefits of vegetarian cooking and tries to eat that way most of the day), and went whole-hog with the jerk pork and fried eggs.  Rachel – being a full-blown vegetarian for years (but just learned egg rolls contained pork) went for the bloody mary eggs with grits and both were completely satisfied and walked out with enough food for tomorrow’s lunch.  During our feast, Boncellia stopped by our table and chatted with us microphone in hand.  We’re not sure if she thought we were an odd pairing, or if she was infatuated with Rachel’s amazing hair, but neither of us had much to add to her show and she quickly moved on.

All in – the music was the perfect accompaniment to the symphony going on in Samuelsson’s kitchen.  Even when Boncellia took a break, crooner Michael Young performed a few songs for the crowd.  Yes internet, we’ve found our Mecca – a perfect mix of good food and music.  Gospel brunch – we will be back.

Alicia’s takeaway: Even though we got there at 11:30, they don’t serve alcohol until noon.  Our waiter, while nice, wasn’t attentive, and when we asked to put an order in for our bloody mary and belini to be ready by noon, he said he would forget and asked us to remind him.  By the time he came back for us to remind him – our brunch was eaten and it was 12:30…”annoyed that we waited to get our drink on” wasn’t only a tweet – it was a mantra.  Fix this Marcus…please!!!

RCS takeaway: I’m still laughing from Boncellia pressuring me to tell her where we were from. She wasn’t satisfied with my go-to answer of, “here,” and decided to push further.  “Here where?” “Harlem!” “Harlem where?” “…157th…” “OK, because I was gonna say you don’t live on this street, I would know!” I felt at home and like a complete stranger in my own city at the same time. Loved it.

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