From Crab-Cakes to Cupcakes, Harlem is the New Culinary Heart of the City

By Lisbeth Perez and Deanna Paul

With its pristine brownstones and wealth of cultural history, Harlem is quickly becoming a desired residential location — the signs of gentrification are obvious. Still, some restaurateurs stay true to the neighborhood’s origins, sticking with the old and incorporating the new. Many have been able to do so with the help of Harlem Park 2 Park, an organization that supports small businesses and entrepreneurs who are committed to preserving the core of the community.

Lolo’s Seafood Shack, located at 303 West 116th Street, Harlem, NY (Photo taken by Deanna Paul)

Locally-owned, locally-operated seafood shack, serving Caribbean and New England flavors

Lolo’s Seafood Shack: 303 West 116th Street, Harlem, NY

Jose Cruz (left), manager at Lolo’s Seafood Shack; inside of Lolo’s Seafood Shack (right) (photos taken by Lisbeth Perez and Deanna Paul)

Owned by executive chef, Raymond Mohan, and restaurateur, Leticia Young, the idea behind Lolo’s Seafood Shack originated in Anguilla, where they both lived. The couple wanted to bring the island concept of the “Lolo” to the island of Manhattan. A Lolo is a community-based structure for locals to gather and taste freshly-prepared cuisine.

(Video by Deanna Paul)

A 12-seat chef’s table located in Central Harlem

Belle Harlem: 2363 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard, Harlem, NY

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Darryl Burnette, 45, dreamt of owning a restaurant. He started off his professional career as a line cook and worked his way up to a sous chef position. Prior to opening Belle Harlem, Burnette worked as the executive chef at Bergdorf Goodman’s cafe, BG.

While at BG, he began to rethink his kitchen experiences and decided that he wanted to open an intimate restaurant, instead of a large, traditional space. Burnette and his wife have since opened Belle Harlem, which is a few blocks from their apartment.

“That’s how it kinda came about,” Burnette said. “We found this space and realized that we could set up a kitchen atmosphere where it will be more like having three or more dinner parties a night.”

Belle Harlem, located on 2363 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard, Harlem, NY (photos taken by Lisbeth Perez
“I realized that whether I was wearing a formal chef’s hat and coat, I was still the same person in shorts,” said Burnette. “I didn’t think you really had to have a formal setting to serve good food or provide professional service.”

A home-run bakery with a spiked dessert

Blondie’s Divine Desserts:

Blondie and her banana pudding cupcakes (photos taken by Lisbeth Perez)

When one of Blondie’s clients paired her signature banana pudding cupcake with a shot of Jack Daniel’s Honey Tennessee Whiskey, she decided to incorporate it into the — originally non-alcoholic — recipe itself. Now, many older Blondie’s Divine Desserts clients request the “adult-version” of the dessert.

From the beginning, Blondie received mixed feedback on whether or not her baked goods would succeed.

“You can’t do it, it’s not gonna work, you don’t have the money,” Blondie said.

Her son is where she finds her motivation to keep her in the kitchen.

(Video by Lisbeth Perez)
“You do what you can and, fast forward from where I started from, I am in a great place right now and it’ll only get better from here,” she said.

Hand-made ice cream from an Iowa farm-boy and his wife

Sugar Hill Creamery: 184 Lenox Avenue, Harlem, NY

(Photo by Deanna Paul)

Located on Lenox and 119th, Sugar Hill Creamery is Harlem’s first family-owned ice cream parlor in over 30 years. As Harlem residents, the Larsens are focused on honoring the neighborhood’s energy and history while regularly giving back.

(Audio by Deanna Paul)

Sugar Hill Creamery’s ice cream, which is made in-house, uses ingredients from local vendors, such as cake from Make My Cake and jam from Ida Preserves.

The owner of Ida preserves, Adria Bell, and the Larsens connected through Harlem Park 2 Park. Bell began making jam while growing up on a farm in Arkansas.

“It’s something my mother and I loved to do together. My mother’s name is Ida, that’s why I named the company Ida preserves,” said Bell.

The Larsens also plan to exhibit local artists’ work at the ice cream shop.

(Audio by Lisbeth Perez)
(Photos by Deanna Paul)

In the last few years, Harlem has seen a dramatic resurgence in large businesses and brand-name stores, specifically in the food industry. Harlem Park 2 Park fosters a sense of community for many family-run companies, enabling them to remain in the area and preserve its history.