Sigh. I really wanted this to work. 


I was hungrily strolling along 116th St. with my friend and my daughter, and we had to choose between Harlem Tavern and Streetbird, a restaurant that we could have sworn was not there a few months ago. We chose the new joint because we wanted to see what they had to offer, and I was craving chicken and waffles. Surely it was on the menu.

When I stepped in, I was enchanted by the decor, a bright hodge-podge of distressed objects, vintage signage and wild prints. I was urged to check out the bathroom, which I did. And then after snapping a few pics, I realized that something about this place rang a little false. The throwback hip hop pics were too carefully picked, repeated, and ripped. The ‘graffiti’ was forced. Every thing about what I was looking at just gave the appearance of trying too hard to keep it real. It was as if someone had tried to reimagine the inside of a New York City dive bar, without ever having set foot inside one.

And then came the food.


Skip that reddish sauce. It does nothing for the chicken.

So, my daughter picked out a trusted selection of chicken tenders and fries. I was dead set on what I wanted, so I ordered the red velvet chicken and waffles by recommendation of another patron. The order came quickly, and I dove into my plate. My daughter, on the other hand, was less than excited about her dish. The tenders looked like the large french toast rectangles they give you in an elementary school cafeteria. The breading was just too much, and the flavors of the chopped chicken within the sticks just didn’t resonate with anyone at the table. The sauce that came along with my plate was a bit too spicy, yet had a muddy flavor. It’s really hard to mess up two classics, but both of these dishes missed the mark.

This morning, I looked up the restaurant and was sad to find that Streetbird is the brainchild of Marcus Samuelsson, famed Top Chef winner, and owner of Harlem hotspot Red Rooster. I wanted to like the restaurant even more, but sadly, it failed me on several fronts. Sometimes, it’s better to just keep classics, classic, and stop trying so hard to be different for the sake of being different. Because the end result comes off contrived, less than stellar, and fake.

Streetbird will be a hit with Harlem visitors, but urban dwellers will know better. Nice try though.

Streetbird – 2149 Frederick Douglass Blvd at 116th St., NYC
Ph: (212) 206-2557