Somehow this summer flew by with a whirlwind of weekend getaways, rooftop brunches, and last minute client deliverables. Before I knew it, it was already Labor Day weekend and I still had so much unaccomplished on my summer bucket list. With an upcoming European vacation, I made the adult decision to stay in New York City for the holiday weekend and relish those last fleeting moments of the season. My boyfriend Andrew and I resolved to take advantage of the seemingly barren city to snag some coveted restaurant reservations and explore new pockets of the Big Apple.
As a celebrity chef fangirl, Marcus Samuelsson’s Southern hot spot, Red Rooster in Harlem, had long been on my to-brunch list. I hadn’t spent much time in Harlem previously so we headed uptown for an afternoon of brunching and biking above 100th Street.
Red Rooster doesn’t take reservations for brunch so we mentally prepared for a decent wait time. However, we were pleasantly surprised by a half-full restaurant with plenty of patio seating on a sunny day and were seated immediately. The vacancy was likely due to our ambitiously “early” brunch time (11:30 a.m.) and the Labor Day beach migration of New Yorkers.
We settled in and ordered a round of brunch cocktails. While waiting an extraordinarily long time for our libations to arrive (our starters arrived well before our drinks), we took turns exploring Red Rooster’s interesting interior. Red Rooster is impeccably curated with relics of Harlem’s rich heritage and neighborhood heroes. In fact, the eatery is named after a legendary Harlem speakeasy located nearby. The ambiance is laid back and inviting, with a real neighborhood feel. We crept downstairs to sneak a peek at Ginny’s Supper Club, an intimate lounge that frequently hosts live performances during the evening.
We returned back to our table and our appetizers arrived. We heard that the cornbread was a house specialty and after splitting this starter, I understand why. The cornbread was served warm and practically crumbled at the touch. I slathered my cornbread with the accompanying honey butter and tomato jam. I hesitated to try the savory jam, but it unexpectedly complemented the bread.
Andrew and I are both suckers for deviled eggs and were intrigued by Red Rooster’s offering, which features chicken skin mayonnaise. That sounded a bit intense (and kind of gross) so we had high expectations for bold flavor. However, the dish was a rather bland and could use a dash of red pepper or a spritz of citrus. This is one starter worth skipping.
At this point in the meal, our cocktails finally arrived. There were so many unique craft cocktails on the menu that we strayed from the typical mimosa or Bloody Mary, which proved to be a great decision. I selected the frozen drink of the day, the pink lemonade, which was refreshing and alcohol-forward. It wasn’t too sweet so it was easy to drink on this warm afternoon. After much deliberation, Andrew chose the Sag Harbor Hills, a mix of Hendrick’s gin, mint, cucumber, and Benedictine. He declared that his cocktail was perfectly light and well balanced with fresh ingredients.
We had an extremely difficult time selecting our entrees; everything looked so good! Our friendly server highly recommended my final outcome, the shrimp and grits, but I struggled to choose between the grits, the Bloody Mary eggs, the mac & greens, and the fried yard bird. I’m usually not much of a grits fan, but fresh seafood sounded particularly appealing. I’m not exaggerating, but these were probably the best shrimp and grits I’ve ever had in my life. The grits had a thick consistency, the shrimp were cooked perfectly, and the entire dish was topped with a rich, complex salsa verde sauce. The sauce was extremely flavorful and gave the entrée the perfect amount of spice, amplified by fresh vegetables and herbs. I must note, the all-star dish comes at a price, $27 to be exact. This is a steep amount for a brunch entrée (hence our fancy-pants price rating), but worth every penny in my opinion.
Andrew connected more with the lunch side of the menu and had the BB Roo chicken sandwich. This was another recommendation of our server, who hadn’t steered us wrong at this point. The entrée had a unique spin on the typical fried chicken sandwich and featured a simple mix of apple slaw and Red Stripe barbeque sauce atop the poultry. Andrew found the fried chicken, another house specialty, moist and crunchy, just how he likes it. The zippy barbeque sauce was a flavorful addition to the dish. The side of house made potato chips was perfect for munching and we dipped them in my leftover salsa verde sauce.
By the conclusion of our feast, we couldn’t wait to get up and burn off our brunch calories with a bike ride back to the East Village. Our bill was a neat $100, but to be fair we ordered a few starters and cocktails in addition to our main courses. We felt that the price was deserved with the high quality of food and cocktails.
The Bitches say: A-. Impress your parents or a date by suggesting brunch at this funky, trendy eatery. The combination of a celebrity chef and an off-the-path neighborhood has an instant cool factor, and the food is pretty darn good.
310 Lenox Ave.
New York, NY
Red Rooster serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.