Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Harlem for Southern/Caribbean comfort food.
For a big chunk of Kevin Morrison's life, working in a restaurant "felt like punishment." Twenty years ago, when he was 10, Morrison and his family made a big move, from Jamaica to Harlem, and his dad proceeded to open a series of eateries in the neighborhood. Nothing fancy or overly ambitious, but each requiring lots of hard work. Morrison, of course, just wanted to spend his youth hanging out with friends, but dad made him wash dishes, prep and cook food, mop floors, everything that's required to run a food business.
So even Morrison was a bit surprised when, a little over a month ago, he found himself opening the doors to Greedy Pot, a counter-service, steam-table spot on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard that he runs with his wife and fellow chef Serena Benjamin. Morrison's father passed away four years ago, but he told me he now feels the man's presence back there in the kitchen every day.
The couple are keeping things simple at the start, with a short menu of Southern/Caribbean comfort food classics that changes daily. There are four stools at two wide counters (they could easily fit a couple more seats in here), and a bench outside, but otherwise this is clearly more of a take-out joint. The only decor are some small framed photos of iconic Harlem spots like M&G Diner and Willie's Burgers, a few colander lamps hanging from the ceiling, and a muted television set. Morrison, Benjamin, and another gentleman who took my order on Friday night are all exceptionally helpful and amiable people.
Every meat entree at Greedy Pot comes with two sides, and there are four to six to choose from. The best main dish I had was the Jerk Chicken, which was fiery and full of flavor, the bird itself juicy and falling off the bone. I only wish they hadn't run out of their Jerk Sauce before I had a chance to splash it all over my meal.
Also very good was the BBQ Beef Ribs, with tender meat covered in (but not overwhelmed by) a lively, baked-on sauce. I could have eaten four more of these, but that's pretty much always true. The Oxtail had a few bits that were too tough, but most of it was soft, gamy, and well-fatted. The only real disappointment over the course of two visits and four heaping plates were Morrison's Turkey Wings, which, though well-seasoned, were too dry to really enjoy.
The sides were all first-rate, including the best Collard Greens I've had in years, studded with chewy turkey and nailing that sweet-bitter balance. The Baked Mac & Cheese did its job well, and, like the vast majority of the tens of thousands times I've eaten this dish, was improved with hot sauce. The Potato Salad, which they make with mayonnaise and egg, was also a fine addition. Rice n' Peas didn't disappoint, the Cabbage Salad is served warm and firm, and the chunks of Candied Yams are sticky with a cinnamon sauce.
Benjamin right now only makes dessert on the weekends, and last Sunday her Banana Pudding, laden with Nilla wafers, really hit the spot.
Eating at Greedy Pot feels a little like as if you were fortunate enough to have Morrison and Benjamin as your friends, and you went to a party at their house, and on your way out they gave you a plate to take home. It's not polished, and not a destination (mostly because there might not be a place to sit), but as a neighborhood go-to, it totally satisfies.
Greedy Pot is located at 1944 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, between 117th and 118th Streets, and is open Tuesday through Friday, and Sunday, from noon to 9 p.m., and on Saturday starting at 11 a.m. Closed Mondays. (917-675-7676)