Harlem Shake (Harlem, NY)

Our last stop in NYC was a fairly relaxed burger shop on Lenox Ave called Harlem Shake. Kitty corner from our previous reviews of Sylvia’s and Red Rooster, Harlem Shake seemed like a good place to grab a light lunch on the way out of town.

Basically, Harlem Shake is your classic 1950s-style burger diner: a modest art deco interior including a semi-functional diner counter (while it’s got the row of classic spinning stools, there’s little room at the counter itself for eating), with a little bit of an edgier, modern music selection (indeed, the autographed signatures on the wall include P.Diddy and A$AP Rocky), but one look at the menu board confirms that this is classic diner fare: a selection of burgers, patty melts, fries, milkshakes, fried chicken, and the like. There are also a handful of interesting items on the menu, like jerk chicken, hot honey chicken, and even a few unexpected twists like the Red Velvet or “Double chocolate bacon” milkshakes. But the twist here is that they are trying to really do these diner classics well: the burgers are made from Pat Lafrieda patties (as are fully half of the “craft” burgers in the city), the ice cream is from Blue Marble, and most of the sauces and toppings are made in-house. Despite the invocation of the phrase “craft burger”, these aren’t the typical half-pound-plus $20 deals sold at entirely too many restaurants, either, but the classic retro-style burger with two ~2 oz patties seared to a crisp on the griddle and served up on a toasted bun.

I ended up going with the Hot Mess burger: pickled cherry peppers, a red pepper relish, chipotle mayo, onion, and bacon. This actually worked really well: the two patties, both smashed on the grill with a good crisp and then sandwiched around a single layer of cheese made for an experience similar to the classic Jucy Lucy: a light layer of oozing cheese, but maximizing the amount of crisped beef. But the real attraction here was the really good red pepper relish, which added a very pleasant red-pepper and tangy sweet note that combined with the fresh onion made for a very refreshing burger (although quite true to the name “Hot Mess”, since it was a dripping, well, hot mess). And with only a quarter pound or so of beef, this was a lighter burger, one that didn’t leave me feeling overstuff. Served up with some competently executed fries, and this was a pleasant, light lunch, and an example of a retro-style burger executed very well.

Overall, I really like Harlem Shake. A few years ago Shake Shack reinvigorated the basic burger stand, and it’s been really neat to see other places like Harlem Shake take the concept and run with it. It’s definitely a good, lighter burger and fries in a pleasant diner environment. I’d love to come back and try out some of the other menu items like the bacon milkshake.

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