2153 Frederick Douglass Boulevard, New York NY 10026 (between 115th and 116th; map); 212-866-4500; harlemtavern.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Nothing special but nothing to complain about. Their lamb burger is juicier than the regular. Worth it for the atmosphere.
Want Fries With That? Sweet potato are actually crisper than regular
Price: HT Burger, $10; Spiced Lamb Burger, $12; cheese and specialty toppings, + $1-2
I grew up in Harlem, but it wasn't until recently that I could think of many convincing reasons to get my downtown friends to make the trek up past 110th street and make a night of it. These days, lower and central Harlem are booming, and it's an exciting time to be here. Nowhere more so than the short strip of Frederick Douglass Boulevard between the park and 125th street, an area dubbed by HarlemCondoLife as Harlem's "Gold Coast."
A recent walk down the strip revealed an excellent cocktail bar, a hipster butchery complete with excellent sustainably raised beef, little vests, and mustaches, and no fewer than two new beer gardens. Harlem Tavern between 115th and 116th is the larger of the two, featuring a sprawling canopied outdoor seating area and an equally large brick-and-wood interior.
Like much of Harlem these days, the clientele and atmosphere is a cultural mishmash still rooted in Harlem's jazz culture with live music performed most nights in its main hall.
The food, however, is more upscale pub (think: fancy Applebee's) than anything else, with an entire section devoted to burgers.
The standard HT Burger is large at 8 ounces and comes on a slightly-too-fluffy bun with good crisp lettuce, fresh tasting red onion, a surprisingly decent mid-November tomato, and briny pickles on the side. The beef is advertised as "Black Angus," but really, as a branding strategy, the term means very little these days (heck, even Burger King sells black angus burgers).
The burger was delivered precisely medium-rare as I'd ordered it, but they need to seriously upgrade their beef if they want to compete with the best burgers in the city. As is, it's nothing to complain about with mild beef flavor and a modicum of juiciness, but certainly not a burger worth going out of your way for.
I'm generally a purist when it comes to burgers, but their Spiced Lamb Burger with goat cheese and a mint pesto was actually significantly better than their regular burger, this time oozing with juice, the goat cheese adding a pleasantly tangy, creamy element to the sandwich. The smokiness and char of the grill serves the lamb well.
I'd order this one over the regular.
Fries also proved to be surprising: the sweet potato fries were significantly crisper than the normal fries, and correspondingly tastier.
Is this a burger worth making a special trip for? Well, not on its own. But add a decent beer selection, plenty of space and reasonable prices, live music, and a different scene to the mix and you've got something that's pretty special. It's about time.
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