Swell up in Harlem.

Despite eating a lot of peanut butter and jelly lately, I still have secret designs on finishing the 2005 list on which this blog has been based.  So when I found myself in the Bronx for a Yankees game yesterday afternoon, there was no question that I would hop off the D train on the way back home to check out the culinary environs of western Harlem and, hopefully, at least one of the two restaurants on the list that are on Fredrick Douglass Boulevard.

Harlem is, as ever, an interesting place.  I thought I had seen a lot of weird juxtaposition of burned out hulk-buildings and new condos in Brooklyn; as it turns out, my borough has nothing on the area between 125th Street and Cathedral Parkway, where tired brownstones and new development stare uneasily across the street at one another.

List entry Roti Plus has crossed from one side of the gentrification divide to the other, it would seem.  The cell phone business that, according to Sietsema, was once located in the front of the place is now gone – replaced with an island-ish décor and a lot of tables.  Pretty sure the staff and most of the customers are the same, though – the lady taking orders demonstrated a considerably developed sense of resignation combined with sass when the folks placing the orders got out of line.  You should have heard her say she was going to knock a customer (not me!) out; it was magical in a way that could only be re-created in Hollywood by Vanessa Williams on valium.

The classed-up environs could, I’m sure, explain why the cost of a roti is higher than I’d paid in the past in Bed-Stuy or Flatbush.  $5 will buy you a potato and chickpea-filled roti skin there, and each additional ingredient drives the price up further (some rotis on the menu cost up to $10).  I’m sure that most of the rotis could feed two, if you’re really concerned.

Even for $5, though, and despite coming not long after the usual ballpark array of hot dogs and peanuts, I quite enjoyed the roti.  Many of the locals ordered their rotis ‘separated,’ which may or may not be the equivalent of a ‘buss-up shot,’ or broken roti skin with the contents piled on top (seriously, I don’t know).  I ended up with the standard filled variety, though.  The skin was freshly prepared (had to wait five minutes, even) and relatively stronger than the usual dough without sacrificing that lovely grit-n-stretch texture, and the interior had been adulterated at my request with some kind of addictively vinegary hot sauce.  It was a standout flavor, for sure – maybe scotch bonnet?

I would have asked after the hot sauce if I still had been in the restaurant by the time I consumed it, instead of on the corner of 125th and Fredrick Douglass.  By the time I finished it, I was so full that I decided to take a walk to shake it off; I ended up hoofing it all the way down to the Fredrick Douglass circle (also under renovation).  I was too full, unfortunately, to check out Florence’s, an African restaurant located on that strip, but I promised myself a return visit as soon as possible, with a possible detour to check out that enormous European-style cathedral located a block over.  Not what I was expecting from Harlem, for sure, but then, precious little of what I saw (including Roti Plus) was.

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1 Comment

Filed under NYC

One response to “Swell up in Harlem.

  1. Incidentally, this place closes early (around 7 these days), so show up early.

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