A soul food restaurant in Harlem is as common place as a theater on Broadway. Copeland’s…Sylvia’s…Amy Ruth’s; soul food is big business uptown. So why open another soul food restaurant in an area filled with restaurants specializing in Southern cuisine? The answer for Joseph H. Holland, founder and owner of Gospel Uptown, aka “GU”, and Executive Chef Kenneth Collins was a simple one, opulence and opportunity.
Joseph H. Holland is a Harlem-based entrepreneur, attorney, public servant and ordained minister with twenty-five years of experience working in prominent organizations in law, business and government. “I came to Harlem from Harvard Law School in 1982”, Holland says, “I had some opportunities to work on Wall Street and other places, but I had a vision and a commitment to give back to the community.”
Along with Joseph Holland’s other development and community building projects, “GU” is the realization of his vision. “GU” is located on 2110 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. in the heart of Harlem. This impressive 12,000 square restaurant and entertainment venue is broken into a main dining floor and several intimate VIP-styled spaces and state-of-the-art sound stage. The lighting and décor present an intimate, “grown and sexy” aesthetic with various colorful artworks on the walls, some of which were created by Chef Collins.
Palettes of color is one of many ways in which Kenneth Collins expresses his artistry, but he is best known for creations that pleases his patrons’ flavor palettes. “I tell a quick story,” Chef Collins says about his start in cooking, “I love clothes and shoes. [When] I was fourteen-years-old, my mother told me basically that she was buying my clothes and to go get my own job. So I got a job so I could buy my own clothes and shoes and it turns out it was something that I love to do. I started out as a bus boy. I love food and started cooking.”
Since its opening in August 2009, “GU” has established itself as the premiere venue in Harlem for great food and entertainment. The cuisine is described as “multi-ethnic nouvelle” and includes Caribbean, Latin and Asian influences. Another feature of this cooking style is the result makes for a healthier take on traditional Southern cuisine, which makes “GU” the only restaurant in Harlem that can offer its clientele “guilt-free” soul food.
For an appetizer I suggest Sweet Potato Ravioli in a chive butter sauce with nutmeg for an appetizer. It is delectable jumping off point for your foray into soul food fusion. In lieu of a soup or salad, I suggest the Cajun Style Tuna with curried plantain, micro greens, tomato papaya salad and cider wine vinaigrette. Your mouth will burst from the flavors of this dish and is one of my favorites on the menu. For an entrée, I suggest the Beer Braised Barbecue Short Ribs. Trust me when I tell you FAMERS, there is nothing short about the flavors in this dish. It is served with triad potato salad, collard greens and an orange BBQ glaze.
One minor drawback of “GU” was the original name of Gospel Uptown. The name may have suggested to some that it was a restaurant that fused religion and food. Aware of the importance of branding, the owners have made an effort to stress the initials of the restaurant/entertainment venue. “GU” does not only feature Gospel performances, but Jazz, R&B, Opera and comedy shows as well. “GU” is a welcomed change from traditional soul food restaurants because it focuses on the overall dining experience, not just the food.
“Gospel really means good news,” Holland says, “The emphasis for me has not been so much on any kind of religious or specific musical genre, but more on the good news and what it means to have a place that has elegant ambiance, fine dining and great entertainment and have it in the heart of Harlem. That is what the good news is all about.”
GU Beer Braised Short Rib
Recipe prepared by Chef Kenneth Collins
Braised Short Rib
2 pieces about 6 inches
Dry Rub Ingredients
Beer 2 each
Onion Powder 2 Tbls
Smoked Garlic 2 Tbls
Smoked Paprika 2 Tbls
Ancho Chili Powder 4 Tbls
Smoked Black Pepper 2 Tbls
Dried Oregano 2 Tbls
Kosher Salt 3 Tbls
Brown Sugar 3 Tbls
Thyme 2 Tbls
Cilantro 2 Tbls
Ginger 2 Tbls
Lemongrass 2 Tbls
Mix the dry rub ingredients together and apply them to the cleaned Short Ribs.
Massage a generous amount of dry rub into the meat, to achieve the desired flavor.
After the rub marinates for about 2 – 6 hours grill the meat to sear in the spices and juices.
The longer the meat marinates the stronger the flavors.
After searing, place the ribs face down in a hotel or sheet pan and pour the beer over the ribs.
Cover the ribs with foil; perforate the foil so the smoke penetrates the meat.
Place ribs in a smoker for about 4 hours at 275 – 325 degrees, if you do not have a smoker, the same applies in your conventional oven
After 4 hours remove from the smoker (or oven).
Serving suggestion: If you want to slice allow the meat to cool, if not, you may serve straight from the oven with desired sauce.