It’s only the first equinox of the year but the sun is hot enough to burn skin and that, combined with its glare from the sidewalk, makes me feel like it’s mid-summer. There are men hanging around the blue-green IRT station railings, bobbing like fighters to the rhythms of their jive talk, dozens by the curb at the crosswalk over 125th Street but not too many gliding to a landing at either place, hence the ample sidewalk surface allowing the sun to heat things up.
A blind man stops and quietly asks of no one there “Can someone please help me across the street?” two or three times before I take actual heed and offer my service. He is Malik and asks that I take his arm to escort him to the front of Cohen Optical on the other side of Lenox.
His gratitude comes as a recommendation for the best soul food in Harlem. “Come a little bit closer, hear what I say: Charles’ over on Eighth Avenue at 131st Street, which, in the mornings, is the sunny side.”
That’s how I learned about Charles’ restaurant. Lots has changed. He became famous. He closed that location, then opened two more – one uptown and one downtown, on west 72nd Street. It doesn’t have the ambiance that attracted me, but the food is well, maybe better. The same soulfulness kept sharp – maybe because of a major competitor right across the street – Dinastia.
An embarrassment of riches.