Yesterday I wrote about the hamburger at Maison Harlem, one of my new favorite Harlem hangouts.
Why is it a favorite? Largely because the service is at a level that you don't see anywhere else in the neighborhood. By my second visit the very French owner (everyone here is French) and bartenders had already remembered my name, came by to chat about the neighborhood, and knew that I liked mayo with my fries and Diet Coke in addition to my wine. By my fourth visit, they gave me a table on their outdoor patio and brought a bowl of ice water over for the dogs before I even made the request.
They've learned the first rule of interacting with customers with pets: if you want to make a patron happy, be good to their dogs.
While the dinner and brunch scenes are lively every night and weekend, when I find myself working from home on a weekday, lunch at Maison Harlem makes for a nice quiet break. There are no office buildings in the neighborhood, so chances are you'll get most of the dining room or bar to yourself, and the sandwiches are some of the best things on the menu.
The Merguez Sandwich ($12) is my favorite. The spiced lamb sausages are made in house, cooked until crisp with a decisive snap, and served simply with roasted red peppers stuffed into a split baguette. They're juicy and flavorful enough that no other condiment is necessary (though I end up smearing in some of their homemade mayo anyway).
Poulet Ratatouille ($11) is also nice, with slices of roasted chicken breast and traditional ratatouille vegetables—peppers, onions, eggplants, and zucchini—roasted with plenty of olive oil. Some tangy goat cheese finishes it off, and both sandwiches come with good skinny fries or a lightly dressed salad.
Like I said, it's not the greatest or most strikingly original restaurant in the world, but as a friendly neighborhood hang, it's a welcome addition to the blossoming Harlem food scene.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.