It’s Sunday morning in Manhattan, and you’re hungry for something more substantial than a bowl of organic granola or a fresh fruit platter. But where to go for food that’s hot, filling and served with soul? Jumping aboard the A–Train to 125th Street, you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for in the table-bending weekend feasts on offer in historic Harlem.
Rise and shine at Amy Ruth's
If you can’t wait until 11am for a table (when most places open), head to Amy Ruth’s (113 W 116th St), which opens on Sundays from 7:30am, and serves up some of the city's best chicken and waffles. It's less frequented by out-of-towners than Sylvia’s (below, which, admittedly, sees the occasional tour bus pull up for lunch), and delivers many crowd-pleasers, including a smothered pork chop with fried eggs and grits, along with its much loved 'Rev. Al Sharpton,' a vast plate of fried chicken and waffles. Pace yourself and plan to loosen your belt a notch or two before the meal is through.
Sylvia's: with added gospel
Tucked discreetly in a workaday shop row on Lenox Avenue, Sylvia’s (sylviasrestaurant.com) takes credit as Harlem’s most famous soul food address. Sunday brunch here sees gospel singers serenading diners as they put away sinfully large plates of southern-fried chicken and sweet potato pie, all washed down with massive jugs of iced lemonade. Open on Sundays from 11am, reservations are recommended since there’s nothing quite like a tortuously snaking queue and the sweet scent of honey-roasting ribs – outside a restaurant which seats, at a push, just 35 or so – for building up an unholy hunger.
A fashionista favorite
You'll find the best-dressed crowd and some of Harlem's most innovative cooking at the uber-trendy Red Rooster (310 Lenox Ave). This hot spot is run by Ethiopian-Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson, who laces upscale comfort food with a world of flavors. Brunch hits include watermelon and tomato salad, blackened catfish succotash and Helga's meatballs (served with lingonberries, braised cabbage and buttermilk mashed potatoes). Dress your best for the Gospel Sunday brunch and go early (no reservations accepted). If the crowds are too much, there's also Samuelsson's more casual, rotisserie chicken spot, Streetbird.
Miss Mamie’s Spoonbread Too is decked out like an old American diner, with cheery red-and-yellow tile floors and ruffled curtains. You'll find belly-filling comfort fare that has drawn past guests such as Bill Clinton (before he became a vegan of course) for its family hand-me-down recipes. And vegetarians need not feel left out of the Southern fun: choices for the piled-high veggie platter include oozing mac 'n' cheese, candied yams, collard greens and a helping of good old-fashioned mashed potatoes.
Finally, as if all that weren’t more than enough to tide you through ‘til lunch, the now legendary Dinosaur Bar-B-Que (700 W 125th St) opens its Sunday doors at noon to provide patrons with the rib-sticking tastes of the south. Start off with fried green tomatoes and Creole-spiced deviled eggs, then try to muster up the appetite for a massive plate of pulled pork or brisket, rounded off with sides of barbecue beans and simmered greens.
A divine flourish
A fine accompaniment to the Sunday feast is a visit to one of the historic churches in and around Harlem. Praise the Lord for your brunch at the Cathedral of St John the Divine (1047 Amsterdam Ave at 112th St), just outside Harlem, where worshipers have gathered since the late 1800s and are still going strong. Soak up the stained glass windows at the majestic Riverside Church (490 Riverside Dr), or catch the gospel choir in action at the Abyssinian Baptist Church (132 W 138th St, services 9am and 11am on Sundays). This famed congregation, now more than a century old, is the number-one spot for foreign travelers (hence the separate tourist-seating section).
This article was first published in 2011, and last updated in October 2017. Regis St Louis also contributed to this article.