American / ★★★☆☆

Soulful or soulless? Amy Ruth’s review

This review of a New York restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage.

Soul food isn’t especially well-known in the UK, but it’s one of America’s culinary delights. Although it’s not well-suited for those of us on a diet, I nevertheless greatly enjoyed my introduction into the cuisine at Henry’s Soul Cafe in Washington DC a couple of years ago. I was therefore looking forward to revisiting soul food during my recent visit to Manhattan.

Amy Ruth’s is a decade-old establishment in the Harlem area of Manhattan, just north of Central Park. Despite its relative youth, it’s well on the beaten track with coach loads of tourists lining up to get a table. Nevertheless, I managed to snag a table at lunchtime. The interior isn’t much to look at – it’s a series of simple, spartan corridors and dining rooms. Besides the friendly and chatty doorman, service is terse and efficient, rather than warm and welcoming.

Since I visited Amy Ruth’s on my last day in New York, and the restaurant wasn’t accepting credit cards that day, I had to pay for my meal using my last few dollar bills which meant I was on a stricter budget that usual which led to some interesting choices. In any case, all diners get a chunk of fluffy, crumbly cornbread which managed to be both nutty and sweet. It’s not quite as intensely moreish as the version at Barbecoa, but it’s still pretty good.

I think I might try making my own cornbread one day.

For my mains I chose one of the cheapest dishes on the menu – fried chicken and waffles which is exactly what it sounds like. Apart from maple syrup, which you drizzle yourself, there’s no sauce or accompaniments so it’s a very simple, if unusual combination. I’ve never been fond of waffles before, but the waffles at Amy Ruth’s are something of a revelation – buttery and fluffy rather than the tasteless, stodgy examples I’ve had before. The fried chicken was a disappointment though – boney pieces of meat with a rather thin, bland coating. I didn’t find it as satisfying as the more buttery, chunky fried chicken at Mary Mac’s Tea Room in Atlanta. At least the maple syrup isn’t too viscous or sickly sweet.

Fried chicken and waffles. Nothing more, nothing less.

I couldn’t visit a soul food restaurant without indulging in sweet potato pie, a dessert that’s quite tricky to find in London. The pastry was a little on the bland side, but the sweet and creamy filling was suitably starchy with a tangy taste that reminded me of molasses. Not bad.

Big chunk o’ pie.

If you’re visiting Amy Ruth’s the morning after the night before, don’t count on the iced coffee to give you the kick of consciousness that you need. It’s very weak and rather watery, only just meeting the definition of ‘coffee’.

Weak.

The Verdict

Amy Ruth’s turned out to be something of a disappointment. The food was simple, but it wasn’t entirely satisfying. The more expensive items on the menu may have better satiated my soul food lust, but it’s a shame if that’s what’s necessary to get a good meal at Amy Ruth’s. In that case, I could’ve gone to recently opened modern soul food competitor Red Rooster instead. Three stars.

Name: Amy Ruth’s

Address: 113 West 116th Street, New York, NY 10026

Phone: 212 280 8779

Web: http://www.amyruthsharlem.com/

Opening Hours: unnecessarily, overly complicated.

Reservations: recommended.

Total cost for one person including soft drink and tip: approx. $20 (approx. £12 at time of writing)

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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