East Harlem / Spanish Harlem, NYC — Tucked into an intimately quaint slice of restaurant space in East (Spanish) Harlem returns the homegrown food and ideology of Spaha Soul, a classic and modern soul food spot owned and run by talented chef Artist Thornton who had great and loyal success at the original location of 1st Avenue, just a block away from where the new place sits now.
The new spot boasts a long straight hall, as opposed to the tony dining area of the previous incarnation. Warm wood-topped tables replace glass table tops and are lined along a cushy banquet flanking one wall of the restaurant. The other wall is buttressed by a long counter dotted with upholstered high-back stools. It's a nice addition of soigné to the visual ambience.
Where change was not necessary is in Artist's menu, which still boasts a lot of familiar southern and soul food dishes and flavor profiles in highly accessible iterations. A grilled pork chop needs nothing more than a nuanced touch and some seasoned TLC to impress with tender juiciness, homey charred edges, served with hearty black beans peppered with red pepper, and a scooped of aromatic seasoned rice. Chicken breast get marinated then patiently roasted to firm, tasty meat that runs clear with liquid essence and get boosted by a signature mango salsa that Artist makes fresh every day just prior to dinner service. And flaky tilapia filets get a curry sauce treatment that excites the tastebuds without overwhelming the fish itself.
The chicken and fish and served with a jasmine coconut rice, which is doubly rewarding when there are several plates among many tables and the whole room transports each diner to a happy spot just from the aromas alone.
The place could easily be called Spaha Heart & Soul, as chef Artist brings a variety of personal and culinary backgrounds and experiences skillfully and genuinely to his dishes. To know his food is to know him, which you'll get to do with more insight as he also plays floor manager, and you're more than likely to meet him yourself when he comes out of the kitchen to check on your dining experience.
Putting that much heart into what you do is always good for the soul.
Spaha Soul | 2294 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10035 | (347) 463-7387