When your soul needs food, what better place to go than Toronto's home of all Soul and Southern food: Harlem. The restaurant is inspired by the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, with their owners Carl Cassel and Ana Silva combining food, music, and art in a trifecta of throwback.
The restaurant is a small, dark room but is filled to the brim with character. Its walls are covered in local art, the sound system is blaring jazz, and the atmosphere lends itself to the compulsive desire to sit back, pull out a pipe, and gorge on deep fried glory.
To start, we order the Catfish Lafayette ($9), a deep fried dish featuring seasoned morsels of catfish and served with a sweet chilli hot sauce and mango mayonaise. Catfish is a light, airy fish and thus relies heavily on its flavourings to help a brotha out and Harlem's batter doesn't disappoint. It's slightly spiced and pairs wonderfully with the sweet sauces, but still light enough that eating the whole plate isn't a problem. Our other side, Candied Plantain ($5) is another story. It's ripe plantain sauteéd in in a brown sugar caramel sauce and therefore, understandably overwhelming after the first few bites.
Left to right: Catfish Lafayette ($9), Candied Plantain ($5)
You can't eat soul food without trying Southern Fried Chicken and Waffles ($16.95), another (surprise!) deep fried dish that fulfills its namesake and is served with a sweet scotch-bonet-corriander-lime syrup and gravy. Although the dish loses its warmth rather quickly, the waffles are still soft and fluffy and the chicken is crisp. It's fully flavoured with a multitude of layers – sweet, spicy, tangy, and overwhelmingly delicious without being too overwhelming.
Southern-Fried Chicken and Waffle ($14)
Harlem is traditional Southern food that never quite crosses the line into Soul, but their shortcoming is made up with their atmosphere. Its menu is saturated in deep fried dishes so it's not the place to go when your New Years resolutions are still in full swing, but definitely worth checking out once you've (inevitably) fallen off the wagon and need some good ol' Southern comfort.