By Sarah Kuras for Uptownflavor
What happens when you mix southern-style cooking, two siblings, and an old café? BLVD in Harlem, of course. This renovated and remixed restaurant reintroduced itself to Harlem on March 15 as a joint project between siblings Joi and Carlos Swepson. By adding a few small touches, the pair turned a standard neighborhood café into a thriving Mississippi kitchen.
My dinner guest and I settled into a booth and were greeted with Executive Chef Carlos Swepson’s While Lily flour biscuits, served with butter infused with Steen’s Pure Cane Syrup from New Orleans, a Spiked Sweet Tea, and Sangria. Our first course was Fried Natchez Okra with Spicy Creole Ketchup, a great crunchy and savory blend of flavors and textures, and the Beef Short Rib Taco.
The main courses – my friend chose the pan-fried chicken, and I had the mac and cheese – left nothing to be desired. “This is the best mac and cheese I’ve had since… I can’t remember,” my friend said between forkfuls of the mouth-watering dishes. We ate our meal in the not-too-dimly lit restaurant, which played a mix of ’80s pop music. Other diners were in their 30s and 40s, young professionals, and neighborhood couples. By 9pm, the restaurant cleared out and we dug into an apple cobbler with cinnamon ice cream.
“First and foremost, we’re family,” says Joi, sitting down to talk with me after we had our fill of the delectable southern-inspired cuisine. “When you come here, it’s almost like you’re family.”
The two siblings decided to buy a corner café and give it new life and new flavor. They wanted to share their mothers’ and grandmothers’ soul food, while still putting their own touch on the recipes by using fresh and intentional ingredients.
“I’ve always wanted to create something that was my own, that was building something that was with my family,” says Joi. “[My brother and I] are lucky that we always got along and we know each others’ strengths.”
Going forward, they plan to alternate in more specials (including more seafood, and more vegetarian options), revamp their outdoor seating, and expand the Happy Hour offerings.
Follow Sarah on social media at @itssarahk.