Harlem Shake: great hamburgers with a twist!

Harlem Is Back!

When it comes to culinary creations, the art of executing an excellent hamburger can be more difficult than one would wink. In my quest for the
best burger
I have found that it can be just as hard to locate top notch beef in certain neighborhoods. To that extent, this is a gap which Harlem Shake hopes to fill by combining equal doses of fantastic food and culture. This new restaurant, which as the name indicates is located in
Harlem
features a well-designed menu of hamburgers, fries, shakes, and even locally produced sodas! Naturally, they source their beef from Pat Lafrieda, because really: who doesn’t nowadays? (Seriously, Pat Lafrieda is responsible for the beef which composes most of the city’s best burgers, so this is a great choice for a new restaurant.) Besides a few special hamburger offerings, Harlem Shake’s menu will draw certain similarities to Shake Shack, but after my visit I fully recognize the difference and the food here speaks for itself.

Harlem Shake
100 W. 124th St. (At Lennox Ave.)
4.25 stars out of 5 stars

The Culture:

As someone who focuses on the sensory aspects of the dining experience, I was particularly attuned to the elements of culture which Harlem Shake offers. When you step inside, expect to hear some soulful music (Michael Jackson and 90’s R&B music tend to be the regular favorites.) The ambiance is definitely laid back and comfortable, all elements from the customers to the food are locally driven. There are also many visual aspects that I heard and read about. You will undoubtedly notice the “wall of fame”, featuring signed photos of famous patrons and those they admire including actors, musicians, politicians and athletes. After interviewing the owner, I learned that this is a restored space from the 1940’s with contrasting elements of those times along with updated features such as “Formica-striped wainscoting, chrome, ribbed glass and deep green vinyl covered booths”. This deep connection between culture and food is evident and only served to heighten my experience at this excellent establishment.

The food:

I am a firm believer in researching a restaurant’s menu ahead of time. Perhaps it is because I am blind, and most restaurants don’t offer
Braille menus
but even if I were sighted my approach would be the same. Therefore, I knew exactly what I wanted to order just as soon as I sat down. I was very excited to try one of Harlem Shake’s specialties, which is their BBQ burger: a chopped steak patty cooked with an onion slice pressed into it, topped with a second patty and smash-griddled until crisp, served with melted cheese, pickles and a tangy homemade BBQ sauce. (These are only two ounce patties, so the entire weight is about a quarter of a pound which is very manageable.) I was also able to ask for Swiss cheese instead of American, an option which competition such as Shake Shack and five guys doesn’t offer. The burgers feature a custom blend of short rib, brisket and chuck from Pat LaFrieda’s main supplier Creekstone Farms, which is cooked “smashed-style” on a griddle.

My first bite said it all: expressing a multitude of fantastic flavors, textures, and sensory cues simultaneously. The taste of the well-charred beef seamlessly merged with that of the smoky and sweet BBQ sauce. My taste buds were then greeted with the sweet sauteed onions and mild but tangy Swiss cheese. When all of these flavors are layered together inside of a good old Martin’s potato roll, the entire package is brought together in an outstanding manner! I particularly enjoyed the enticing aroma of the burger, and the fact that my beef was slightly crisp on the outside but still remained juicy on the inside. I don’t say the following often, but this was one incredible hamburger.

The dining experience at Harlem Shake goes way beyond the beef. (For your information, they do offer turkey or vegetarian burgers and hot dogs.) My order of French fries arrived well-seasoned, crisp, and tasting of real potatoes on the inside. I am going on record by stating that these fries are far superior to Shake Shack’s version: hands down! I also enjoyed my sample of their red velvet shake, although I didn’t truly taste all of the ingredients which the menu claims to compose this treat. Another great option here are the locally produced sodas; I can envision myself sipping on one of these while spending a sunny day on their patio which is supposed to open in the summer time.

Conclusion:

Could it be that after years without a go-to spot in this neighborhood, that Harlem is now the place to be for the best affordable hamburgers in New York City? I encourage you to watch my video below, and decide for yourself. As far as my money and taste buds are concerned, Harlem Shake is definitely blind food critic approved!

Daniel