Gluten Free Mike decided to get his soul on and made the trip up to Sylvia’s in Harlem. I have always wanted to try this restaurant given its long and established history. Hey, if you are around since 1962 in a city filled with great dining options you are clearly doing something right.
Now, as this was my first time at this restaurant there was a bit of leg work to be done. I always like to go online and review menu options so I can at least come up with a rough game plan for what looks to be safe options for me. These can then be verified by talking with your server or the chef to ensure your meal will be uneventful in the allergy department.
Sylvia’s is a haven for traditional soul food and it certainly did not disappoint. The first thing you notice upon walking in is that the dining rooms are split by a full service counter where diners can also choose to eat. My partner and I were warmly greeted and quickly ushered to our table. No reservations for smaller parties here but even though the restaurant was hopping for a busy Saturday lunch diners were quickly seated. The restaurant is actually quite large and there were even a few large parties going on. The restaurant is a fitting homage to Sylvia Woods with awards and photos of its famous clientele strewn throughout the restaurant. We were, perhaps fittingly, seated in the Liza Minnelli corner which made us both smile.
Having done my research before my visit, I had pretty much decided what I would be ordering. Fried foods would be out as would anything that could come into contact with shellfish. What is great about Sylvia’s is that there are certain dishes and sides that are only available on certain days. I had my eye on the roast ham and paired it with the famous collard greens and pickled beets. I confirmed with my server that I would be okay on the gluten front and was good to go. My partner indulged in the famous combo of sauced ribs and fried chicken with the collard greens and black eyed peas. We washed it all down with sweet tea (when in Rome) and my partner later sampled a local microbrew from Sugar Hill. The table was presented with baking soda biscuits paired with jelly and butter which my partner enjoyed very much.
The ham was delicious – no fat to be found here. The collard greens are the best I have come across flavored with smoked turkey and just the right balance between salty and the bitter bite of the greens. The pickled beets were great as well – earthy and just sour enough to give a bit of a kick and were strewn with onions that remained crisp adding another dimension to this side. I sampled the black eyed peas as well which were cooked to perfection and firm not mushy. My partner said the ribs were extremely tender and had just the right amount of Sylvia’s famous BBQ sauce. The fried chicken was crisp, moist, and tender and was as peppery as it was salty which made for an interesting taste sensation according to my partner. The portions were very good value for dollar without being a ridiculously-sized amount of food.
Alas, what would a review be without dessert? Well, I was far too full to indulge, though there was a gluten free option among the temptingly gluten filled cake selection – ice cream. Hey, I am happy just knowing that if I wanted something sweet to round of the meal, I could have it. My partner sampled the red velvet cake iced with a cream cheese icing which he raved about and was too full to finish the very generous slice given to him. Perhaps the nicest thing about the service (and experience) was that we were never rushed and the service was unobtrusive yet friendly. One minor note: GFM rarely indulges in the use of salt so in all honesty the food came off extremely salty. While it did not really take away from the food itself it was quite noticeable to me and my partner.
I would definitely recommend this restaurant to both Celiacs and non-Celiacs alike. If you are coming to the City (or reside here) it is a quick hop on the subway to the various 125th Street stations. The famous Apollo Theater is located nearby and in just a month or so the premiere of the national tour of Dreamgirls will be kicking off. GFM will definitely be stopping by Sylvia’s on his way to the theater this fall. You can visit Sylvia’s online to view their menus or visit the product site to order some of her sauces and seasonings.