Harlem’s Sisters

1 Mar

I remember having dual purposes in bringing our group to Sister’s Caribbean Cuisine. It met our criteria as you will read below and I also had been assigned to review it for a weekly New York-based magazine. I felt slightly guilty about reviewing it. Would my coverage of Sister’s in a major glossy destroy the authenticity we seek out for our group? Read my postscript  below to learn the answer.

Sister’s Caribbean Cuisine
47 E. 124th
Harlem

With a few notable exceptions (overpriced Turkish food in remote Sheepshead Bay—thanks Gerry) our group has had little difficulty in meeting our criteria of a $20 per person maximum tab, drinks excluded. Many of our choices have been much less than that; the Old Poland Bakery from earlier this year possibly being the record low. But it’s not only about price with us, it’s also about atmosphere. For our group the ideal atmosphere is no atmosphere. Paper plates and utensils are a good sign. Wobbly tables are encouraging. Friendly waiters and/or owners whom we have to converse with using hand signals due to language difficulties is usually a plus. And, of course, the food must be exciting and genuine. It can’t be dumbed down for a “crossover” clientele. We want what “they” are having; “they” being those who live or work near the establishment usually of the same ethnicity of that particular restaurant.

In many ways, Sister’s Caribbean Cuisine, located in the middle of Harlem across from Marcus Garvey Park, epitomized what we search for. The restaurant was small and much of the business was takeout, but it was sparkling clean and along with a few paintings of Caribbean scenes, curiously and to Eugene’s delight, there was a large photo of the 1980’s Boston Celtics playing on the parquet floor of old Boston Garden. Good R&B from the ‘70’s was playing. Our table was not wobbly, nor did we need sign language to converse with the affable Marlyn, host/owner of Sister’s. But we did eat off paper plates and the menu seemed genuine.

 

 

The food on the menu was primarily Caribbean, though not from one particular island. Marlyn, was from Guyana and her country was represented on the menu by masala curry chicken, chunks of chicken on the bone in a thick, dark brown curry fragrant with Caribbean and East Indian spices, her cooks were from Trinidad and that island’s specialty, roti, curried chicken, beef or vegetables wrapped in an Indian-spiced flatbread was available, as was Jamaican jerk chicken, here minus the smoky flavor from a genuine jerk pit, but tender and fragrant with a mild bite of heat. Salt cod, known as “saltfish” in the Caribbean was stewed in a piquant tomato-based sauce. Marlyn was impressed with our tenacity when we went above and beyond by ordering yet another dish, the oxtail stew, served in the same tomato-based sauce as the codfish.

It wasn’t that the four of us, Zio was absent, back in Glastonbury doing his part in ridding eastern Connecticut of a variety of pests and vermin, could not handle the entrees, it was what came with them. Each entrée was accompanied by a paper plate with two sides that exceeded the size of the entrée. We had piles of rice and peas, the rice speckled with kidney beans and infused with coconut milk. We had callaloo, the Caribbean equivalent of collard greens, here mixed with okra. We had curried chick peas and potatoes, and cabbage and carrots, and string beans, and collard greens, and macaroni and cheese, and corn bread. And, of course, we ate all of it and added three desserts as well; carrot cake, pecan pie, and despite Gerry’s vague “I just don’t like it,” referring to our last choice: red velvet cake. For all that food, and a few drinks, including sweet homemade sorrel and lemonade, our tab was a lowly $45. So, as far as our experience at Sister’s Caribbean Cuisine, in the words of our ignominious commander-in-chief, “mission accomplished.”

 

I now live not far from Sister’s and I am happy to report that despite my review, it remains exactly as it was in 2005. Even the photo of Boston Garden is still on the wall. Though in my recent visit, I chatted with a man working the orders behind the counter. He explained that Marlyn had “retired” but soon her sister (one of the three “Sisters” of Sisters) was about to resume her lead role in running the restaurant. And when she did there might be “some changes.” I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad, but I planned on finding out.

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