Harlem's restaurant row continues to explode with new eateries and bars, from high end sushi to chef-driven spots like Marcus Samuelsson's Streetbird Rotisserie, which opened recently on the corner of 116th Street and Frederick Douglas Boulevard. Next door to Samuelsson's flashy party spot sits Bluejeen, an understated yet by no means boring new restaurant from chef Lance Knowling, a Kansas City native who has cooked around the country and operates two eateries in Montclair and Maplewood, New Jersey. With Blujeen, he's looking to recreate the foods of "generations of home cooks, 'the ladies' who understood the importance of maintaining tradition while growing from your roots."

That begins with the decoration of the dining room, with rustic breakfronts for servers' stations, a cream and navy blue color scheme and mismatched lamps that evoke a matriarchal sitting room. The artwork channels the neighborhood's history in founding the jazz movement, as well as familial touchstones like a reinterpretation of the Morton's Salt logo.

From the kitchen, Knowling sends out a blend of comfort foods from his Southern roots, mixed with soul food staples and classic Americana dishes. At a recent press preview, an app of Root Beer Jerk Chicken ($10) arrived as two dainty chicken legs lacquered in a sweet root beer reduction with a drizzle of mint sauce, served with a fresh spring pea salad. The chef's version of Mac & Cheese ($6) comes nestled in a ramekin, its mustard-scented cheeses oozing in and out of elbow noodles. Additions like bacon ($2), lobster ($8) and broccoli hearts ($2) can be added, but the flavors are on point even without them.

Knowling doesn't hold back with the entrees, where the portions are the kind Mama might serve to feed a growing boy, so to speak. Given his background in barbecue, Knowling can't resist a dish of Kansas City BBQ Ribs ($20), a family recipe that produces fork-tender meat in a vinegary sauce. Knowling told me the meat for his Fried Young Chicken ($17) sits in an herbed buttermilk bath for a day or two before its dredged in flour and deep fried. The resulting bird is succulent and juicy, the meat full of the flavors of thyme, with a super crunchy crust adhering to perfectly crisp skin.

2143 Frederick Douglass Boulevard, 212-256-1073; website

Blujeen Menu