Red Rooster chef and die-hard Harlem advocate Marcus Samuelsson will open his latest project, the casual and funky Streetbird Rotisserie this Thursday. The restaurant, which has been in the works for four years, is an homage to the neighborhood, drawing inpsiration from Harlem's diner culture, neighborhood cookouts and 1970's hip hop. It smacks of Samuelsson the moment one walks in the door.
The space is as much an interactive art exhibit as it is a restaurant. Nearly every inch of space is covered in graffiti art done by Def Jam Records founder and street artist Cey Adams, vintage photos, and hip hop posters. Doors to a section of the kitchen come from a 1980's era subway car, with the original graffiti still left on. A drum set hangs from the ceiling, remade as a chandelier, church pews were recovered for the booths, and Samuelsson's vintage sneakers line shelves around the space, stuffed with rosemary, which by Samuelsson's account might be an improvement for them instead of smelling like the kitchens he's worked in. Mounted on one wall is the restored sign from Harlem's famed but now gone M.G. Diner, where Samuelsson and his wife had their first date.
The menu (below) focuses on rotisserie birds of course, but otherwise doesn't pledge allegiance to any one cuisine. The chicken, which is rubbed with brown sugar and salt and served with a choice of sauces like a Jamerican jerk, is paired with everything from Chinese noodles to Ethiopian injera. The common tie is that it's inspired by the neighborhood. "There's always been Chinese restaurants in Harlem, and Latin food...right here, we're in little West Africa," explains Samuelsson. "I'm inspired by the community that was here before but also what's here today." That food will be available in house and as grab and go options, with delivery coming soon.
Samuelsson's projects are consistently packed and he's already preparing for a line. A stack of mounted boom boxes near the entrance have outlets where guests waiting can plug headphones in and listen to everything from to accounts of the neighborhood back in the day to playlists put together by chef friends like Morimoto.
To get things started, the restaurant will be open for lunch and dinner, but Samuelsson says he would eventually like to be open all day, like the neighborhood diners. He also hopes to add some outdoor seating once things warm up. Check back later this week for a full tour of the space.