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Restaurants

Harlem Underground

Posted by Bryce Daigle / Reviewed on March 24, 2010 / review policy

Harlem Underground Restuarant TorontoHarlem Underground is the latest addition to chef Anthony Mair's soul food mini-empire, taking over the space from his previous Irie Food Joint and joining Richmond Street's Harlem Restaurant on the scene. I went by with some friends to satisfy a Sunday evening craving for something rich and comforting, and we weren't let down.

Catfish LafayetteWe started by sharing a plate of catfish Lafayette ($9), breaded and deep fried morsels of catfish served with barbeque sauce and jerk scallion mayonnaise for dipping. Catfish is about as mild a fish as you can get, so this dish is really about dipping deep fried breading, though the catfish did add some light, flaky texture.

Corn BreadHarlem Underground TorontoThe mains at Harlem Underground are all served a la carte (i.e. sides are ordered separately). We dove in and ordered a whole pile of them -- because having to choose between corn bread and deep fried pickles is a decision I hope I never have to make.

The corn bread ($4) was mildly sweet, dense and good. Deep fried dill pickles ($3.50) provided another opportunity to dip into some of that tasty scallion mayonnaise but were crunchy, sour and great on their own at a very reasonable price point. Big slices of candied yam ($5.50) were starchy and sweet, with awesome little bits of chewy caramelized sugar around the edges. We also tried the bacon mac and cheese ($6), which was creamy and satisfying. We split a bowl, but doing so strained the civility at our table as we got down to the last few bites.

Fried Chicken and WafflesFor our mains, we couldn't resist trying Harlem Underground's take on fried chicken and waffles ($15), a dish so brazen in its contempt for health that it should come with an insurance rate hike. The fried chicken was perfectly executed -- juicy, tender meat covered in a thick, crispy batter -- served with some top-notch white chicken gravy and coriander-lime maple syrup. The waffles were a little on the cool side by the time we got them, so they didn't match the standard set by the chicken. Still, there's something about topping fluffy waffles with crispy fried chicken, gravy and syrup that is so wrong, and yet so very right.

Fried Chicken and Pulled PorkThe meat-and-waffles section of the menu also includes a pulled pork option ($15). The pork is served in a bowl with a liberal supply of caramelized onions. While the overall flavour was good, the meat was fatty and the bowl we received had a few bits of bone in it, which didn't make for a great overall experience with the dish.

Really Tasty JambalayaThe jambalaya ($19), on the other hand, was a third-deck home run. Man, it was good. The rice was packed with huge flavour and a spicy punch, not to mention the big chunks of crab, shrimp and chicken. The plate is topped with a filet of blackened catfish and four plump, tasty mussels, while vibrant red pepper and greens add texture.

Aside from a few qualms, our meal at Harlem Underground was full of big, bold, delicious food and friendly service. And while all that deep frying and gravy may not be great for the heart, it sure is good for the soul.

Deep Fried Dill PicklesHarlem Underground - InteriorMenuHarlem Underground - TableHarlem Underground

Discussion

24 Comments

M-PC / March 24, 2010 at 11:19 am
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these guys are pretty good for brunch too. eggs benny (different kinds) on flapjacks and some really good waffle dishes (ginger-pecan, etc). but then the lunch food ordered by people at surrounding tables had me drooling, so i'll have to go back.
Bryan / March 24, 2010 at 11:44 am
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My roommate and I head to Harlem Underground for brunch almost every Sunday and Tito has to be one of the best waiters in the city, always friendly and willing to do custom dishes.
tony / March 24, 2010 at 02:35 pm
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I found Harlem Underground to be quite mediocre. Our server was friendly but forgot about us after she plopped our food down and left. We couldn't order more drinks, which may have made us enjoy the SUPER salty hush puppies a bit more. I really wanted to like this place a lot more than I did.
freddie / March 24, 2010 at 07:10 pm
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I've had the same problem with terrible service, but it was right from beginning to end. The food was good but didn't blow my skirt up.
Mike / March 24, 2010 at 07:15 pm
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First, being some one born and raised in Texas, let me say that this place doesn't serve soul food. It's more like standard southern food. The main difference being true soul food uses mostly pork and organ meats such as liver, kidney, tongue, brain etc. And collard greens & onions and giblet gravy would be served with every dish. Having said that, i must also say that i enjoyed all the food i ate there. It was a modernized version of eating at my grandmothers house. And the staff was just as inviting and friendly as my Grandma. (and grandma was very friendly and inviting) Other than the miss-representation of the food genre, i would say the only negative thing about the place was that it was so loud that having a conversation was all but impossible.
Mark / March 24, 2010 at 09:24 pm
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I've been here for brunch once. It was a Sunday morning. The server was friendly but hardly prompt. I had a feeling it was more to do with kitchen preparation than his service abilities. He kept walking back to the kitchen to get things that had been forgotten..like the 'biscuits' that came with my breakfast. I also had to ask for ketchup, which in my opinion is a breakfast staple in Canada and should be available to me without request. Although it did come out in a cute little white dish, it took 5 minutes by which time my eggs and sausage were cold. The biscuits, which I was looking forward to, were tasteless, and the sausage, dry. All the pictures in this post look fantastic I must say, but not representative of my visit. Perhaps it just wasn't their day when I walked in. Given the number of superior breakfast venues in this city (BOOM, Daybreak, Le Petit Dejeuner, Le Select and many others discussed by BlogTO) I can't say I will be back.
wherethesoulfood / March 24, 2010 at 10:57 pm
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I have lived in Meridian Mississippi when i was young, and this is no soul food i have ever seen. Waffles and chicken for 15 dollar, wow. No thanks.
KR / March 25, 2010 at 01:37 pm
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I have eaten at Harlem, on the East Side, and it was great. Awesome chicken. Went to this new joint for breakfast and ordered eggs benedict. It was absolutely disgusting, and I only ate half of my meal. This is the first time that I have ever had "inedible" eggs benny. I suspect that part of the reason for the dislike was that they may have used about ten times the usual amount of butter. I like butter, but this was disgusting. Then again, maybe they were cooking with lard. Whatever the case, I live in the area, but won't be going back for brunch.
parkdaler / March 29, 2010 at 08:20 am
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I went earlier in the year - this review doesn't sound like my experience. cold food, poor service (totally agree about service qualms at this place) and the owner seems totally bent on simply "ensuring you order lots of food" with little regard to quality..although quantity isn't an issue there.
Jodi / April 30, 2010 at 10:23 am
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Last Saturday at Harlem, my date and I sat for 30 minutes with nothing on our table. No water, no drinks, no menus. And no one had come to take our order. I had to get up and get menus myself. I finally flagged down a waitress and we ordered our food and drinks at the same time since we had had ample time to look at the menu and we figured it might take awhile given the service so far.
Our drinks took 15 minutes to arrive. And I had seen them sitting on the bar and had to flag down a waitress to ask if I could go grab them. We sat for another 45 minutes. No one came to check up on us. No one asked if we wanted another round of drinks. When someone finally came over, she informed us that she had forgotten to put in our food order. At this point, we decided to leave and go elsewhere. I was so disappointed and the whole process wasted nearly two hours of our night and put a damper on our plans for later on in the evening. Not to mention the fact that by this time, we were starving.
I have never in my life experienced service this deplorable. I was a waitress and bartender for 7 years and I know it takes two seconds to scan the room and see if anyone is sitting there with nothing on their table.
The worst part about it is this: I emailed them the next day with this list of complaints and they never even bothered to respond to my email. Goes to show how little they care about their patrons.
carribe / May 8, 2010 at 04:16 pm
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I think this place is still having some growing pains.

Pros
- nice vibe to the place. relaxed, comfortable atmosphere
- very friendly staff
- portions are large

Cons
- seriously slow service
- somewhat expensive

The food was average. It's worth trying but not good enough to go back for more. I'll check out the brunch one day, though, and I'll probably go back and try the dinner menu again in a while.

I'm not sure what the deal with the service is, it might be novice staff or just not enough of them.
wow these people dont know what they're talking about / September 20, 2010 at 08:58 pm
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ok these people that your hearing from dont know soul food. Its the best damn soulfood restrant in Toronto. The service is good it takes 15 mins before you get your food, there is nothing salty, its spicy but deffently not salty. if your looking 2 pay for better service go pay 100 bucks on king street and wait longer 2 get your food. if you think poppeyes is better then go pay 30 bucks for chicken that takes 25 mins and no service at all. who are these people that think Texas and Mississippi has soul food? I went to Texas and all i got was a fatplatter for 10 bucks. Its like you guys praise obesity. Sorry but its a free country in Canada we can speak our mind so if you wanna go 2 kfc and eat shitty grease go right ahead.
S2tm replying to a comment from Mike / October 3, 2010 at 10:33 am
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"mike" thank you for that insightful feedback. I particularly enjoy it when someone highlights a food genre against the "true - origination" form. I don't know soul food but based on your feedback "collard greens, onions and giblets would be served as a side on every dish" sounds like something from someone who does. It's often those quirky ways that identifies a particular place.

Having said that, I fully expect that what this establishment ha done is rendered a new take on an old staple ex. "like my grandmas place" (what a huge complement!) which is fully expected and desired in my eyes.

I am thankful for your review and others like it. Now it's time for me to experince it first hand! : )
Life is short. Live big.
Amy / October 31, 2010 at 10:07 am
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I came here last night for dinner with a friend. I actually read this review before settling for this restaurant. I thought the Catfish Lafayette was really good, and it complemented the duo dipping sauce extremely well. The sweet potato fries were incredible; perfect texture and flavour. I was however a little disappointed with their Smokey Jalapeno BBQ Ribs. They didn't have much flavour to them, and they were not warm enough. Our waiter was really nice, but he seemed a little bit inexperienced as he took a long time to write down our order and mixed up the order for the table beside us. The service is slow, as we waited around 40mins for the food (although I did expect that because I read the comments here before heading there). It's also a bit difficult to get the waiter's attention; I had to bring the bill to the front in order to get our change. I probably wouldn't go back again for dinner, but will most likely try out their brunch menu.
lauren / November 13, 2010 at 04:01 am
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I've been a few times with a friend who really loves the fried chicken, and though the food is good most of the time I always find the service very slow and I do think the prices are high, when you add up the a la carte mains/sides. The other funny thing I have found each time I've been there, though the dining room is mostly empty I am always asked if I made a reservation, like they don't have the space or something. Seems pretentious.
Cathy Smith / April 15, 2011 at 05:35 pm
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A Soul food place with slow, soul-less service.
I was excited to try out Harlem with some friends on Saturday night. Sure, it was a packed night but that doen't excuse how terrible the service was. We sat there for 30 minutes before the waiter come over. Not even a drink order before then. Through the meal, the waiter lacked any personality and we felt rushed.
When the bill came, we figured out why the service was so terrible. There is a 15% gratuity charge automaticlly for groups. The server/owner does't care - they get a tip no matter how bad the service is.
Sugars / June 19, 2011 at 12:36 pm
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I must say that this is the worse meal I have had in a long time. We got there in time for dinner. Our waiter started off pleasant. We ordered our drinks and from there it went down hill. He forgot what we ordered. For apps we ordered jerk chicken quesidillas (sp)... seemed like they forgot to put the chicken in; I complained and they brought us a new one, much better and it tasted OK... nothing to write home about... but hey. We also ordered Harlem Crisps
Avocado-ginger hummus and spiced walnut paté with Harlem Crisps. Tasteless... it had a frozen bit in the middle and tasted bland ... complained, they brought us the spring rolls... some burnt and again, no taste. I was tempted to leave, but decided to try the mains.
Braised Beef Short Ribs - Seared and simmered in a rich thyme-molasses-scotch bonet pepper and vegetable stew. Served with collard greens and option of coconut rice and peas and Southern Fried Chicken - Crisp, tender and full of flavor. Served with collard greens and Mac-n-Cheese with a side order of coleslaw and corn bread. Everything was tasteless... no seasonings, no salt or even black pepper... the entire meal was awful. I got pure fat instead of meat from the braised ribs and the rice n peas tasted like we got the bottom of the pot and seemed like our food was microwaved as we tasted different temps through the food. The corn bread was tough and the coleslaw had mayo and cabbage, nothing else. I'm still waiting on the collard greens, although i did get carrots. I didn't even bother with dessert. Anyways, they gave us our food and pretty much forgot about us after. We went to pay the bill and i complained about the food some more and got a whoppin 10% off. No tip was given and the guy who ignored us, sorry, served us litterally BEGGED for a tip... I wasn't paying for bad food and tipping someone who pretty much ignored me. I've tried a few places from this review site and so far it's been sad... Imma have to ask friends for advice on where to have dinner... NEVER AGAIN HARLEM. A tip for HU... a lil salt goes a long way

Kareena / June 17, 2012 at 08:10 pm
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Not a very good sould food restaurant...no offense...but the chefs were like indian or pakistani immigrants, how can you expect them to make authentic soul food?...the fried chicken is better at KFC then it was here, not good at all, no fresh taste, and highly priced
jason / July 25, 2012 at 08:34 pm
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so were do i start well bin craving fried chicken and waffles for at least a year. finaly i foud this place on the net.long story short drove there with in thirty mins walk in sat down at the table stains all of the table cloth order there famas fried chicken and waffles lofl.reheated dirt chicken no spice deffenitley no soul involved waffels were shit surprise surprise let down buy yet another shit resterant why even bother sering that fuckin shit no joke iv had a beter meals at k.f.c and we could of saved fifty bucks
the people / July 25, 2012 at 08:47 pm
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just came from harlem underground were the fried chicken is supposed to be the best in toronto who the fuck wrote that review what an ass whole the worst slop i have ever eaten in my life strait reheated i bet they have at least three microwavs in the kitchen the owner should be ashamed of himself. should have known when i went in at seven oclock dinner rush and there was not one fucking person in there smarten up and get your fucken shit together the people have spoken
Tara / February 16, 2013 at 08:58 pm
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We reserved a table for 12 of our friends for my boyfriends birthday. Before our food arrived a projector fell on our friends head! Another 2 found hair in there food. We barely had an apology. They didnt really care...didnt charge us for a couple plates. ..The thing that pissed everyone off the most is not caring that they ruined a birthday...or cared that 12 people think the place sucks and will never reccomend this place to anyone ever.
Summerlicious / July 18, 2013 at 04:04 pm
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I came here with friends for Summerlicious and had the worst restaurant experience of my life. We made reservations in advance which were screwed up multiple times by the staff - should have been a tip-off in my opinion. We showed up, waited at the door for quite some time before we were greeted. We requested to sit at the back but they told us it was full. Mere moments after they seated us in the front, they sat a table of 4 at the back. At this point, I was trying hard to not be judgmental.
After waiting for about 10 minutes, the server came over to ask about drinks. It was a very, very hot evening and my entire party was parched so we requested water. The waiter - a twenty-something girl with dark hair - pushed us to purchase alcohol. As a group, we resisted and requested the water again. Needless to say, it took 10 more minutes to arrive and came in the smallest cups I have ever seen at a restaurant. Being very thirsty, most of us finished drinking our glasses in two sips so we obviously wanted more. Throughout the meal, they only refilled our glasses three times. We requested refills upwards of 10 times from multiple staff. At one point, after begging the busboy, he promised to go tell our waitress. I watched him walk over and tell her. She looked at our table and did nothing but stand at the bar. After about 10 minutes, we flagged down a third staff member who finally refilled our glasses. As he was doing it, she walked over to our table and said, "Oh great, you got some water." I was flabbergasted.
The entire meal went this way. My cornbread took 25 minutes to arrive which would have been understandable if it weren't cold when it arrived. It's impossible for me to even describe the quality of the food because the service was so atrocious, it wrecked my appetite. We asked for our bill as our dessert arrived and it still took over 20 minutes to appear. The whole meal ended up taking two and a half hours which was completely unacceptable.
Our waitress sent over another staff member to deal with our bills (most likely knowing what would happen) and for the first time in my entire restaurant experience - I didn't tip and neither did anyone else in my party. When I asked for change, the waiter was outraged. Another person in my party gave two twenties for a $28 bill and the same waiter asked him multiple times if he was sure he wanted change. A 45% tip for that meal? Is that a joke?
Save yourself a trip - this will be the most awful restaurant experience you will have in Toronto. The worst part? I read reviews on Yelp prior to going and saw that they had received bad reviews but thought I'd give them the benefit of the doubt. BIG, BIG, BIG MISTAKE.
su / June 7, 2014 at 08:25 pm
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Food takes a long time don't waste your time and money go to Alberts.
彩繪藝術 / August 13, 2014 at 02:19 am
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so good~~

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