MANNA'S SOUL FOOD RESTAURANT | 54 E 125th St. (Bet. 5th & Lexington Aves.) + Various Locations | 646.613.7100 | | | | | Mannas Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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I GREW UP IN HARLEM. It will always be my home. And I've been more nostalgic for my home neighborhood lately, for no small reason because it is one of the last neighborhoods of Manhattan that still maintains—and thrives on—its original character.

And because I grew up in East/Central/West Harlem, soul food was also my original base knowledge of food. I literally had it every day.

So often in fact that it didn't become a cuisine of novelty until years after I left the neighborhood(s). Sure, I began broadening my culinary horizons and gaining a vast education of the foods of cultures from the far reached of the world.

It didn't dawn on me until several years ago that the local food of my youth would be of rarer availability—in the food capital of the world, nonetheless!—than a bimimbap, bánh mí, or bouillabaise.

Harlem is presently enjoying a new "renaissance" of sorts, and a fresh slate of new eateries have opened up to great fanfare and success over the last few years. Many of them have the word "Harlem" in their names, but didn't evoke the homey-ness of the meals I grew up eating in these areas. (And I still on principal alone refuse to spend $28 on two pieces of fried chicken at Red Rooster, although I respect and appreciate the viability and legitimacy of business and cuisine the restaurant brings to the area.)

So it is with happiness that I finally sampled the cooking coming out of the very small chain of extremely local Manna's, which has been serving, buffet-style, the soul, southern, and Carribean staple and common dishes that I used to eat every day.

And as I have to explain to my friends (of different races, mind you) who now live in the area, I am happy to find food like this—and like at CHARLES'S PAN-FRIED CHICKEN or FAMOUS FISH MARKET—not because I expect it to be Michelin star-caliber, but because it genuinely is (as opposed to trying to be like) the soul food that fed, nurtured, and comforted me. The food that I sat in hot tenement and "projects" apartments smelling for hours before it was time to sit down and eat.

The food at Manna's reminds me completely of the food I've had maybe thousands of times within blocks of any of its locations, and is as good if not better than some of it as well.

(It will and cannot ever be as good as my late father's, who was a cook and chef his entire life and, being from South Carolina, always stayed true to the southern roots of all of his dishes.)

And like the great, family-cooked meals that I inevitably would take home as leftovers that I would enjoy for a couple more days, that experience I did and can revisit as well as Manna's is essentially a takeout place, where with just a quick trip on mass transit—and a reasonably nominal price (per pound)—I can bring a little bit of "home"...home!


Macaroni + Cheese | Manna's

Fried Chicken | Manna's

Hot Plate Platter | Manna's

Bun Apple Tea!


MANNA'S SOUL FOOD RESTAURANT | 54 E 125th St. (Bet. 5th & Lexington Aves.) + Various Locations | 646.613.7100 | | | | | Mannas Restaurant on Urbanspoon