Because of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday today, I stayed for an abridged schedule at the literary agency where I work in Harlem. Many of the area's stores closed for the holiday, including the Original SoupMan, where I eat. I eat here not because this is a franchise of the shop portrayed in my favorite TV show, "Seinfeld," or because I particularly relish soup. I eat here because it is the only good-looking eatery in the immediate vicinity of 132nd Street and Lenox Avenue. If there is a reader who can correct me, I would love it.
My friend Ruth and I, spurned by our soup craving, shopped in the neighborhood Associated Supermarket for lunch goods. Lunch for two cashed in at under ten dollars, which is roughly what a "combo meal" for one--large soup, grilled panini, and a fountain drink--would have cost at SoupMan. The combo meal is pretty good. I have tried an Italian wedding soup--little pearl noodles, meat dumplings, spinach--which I usually love (especially at P&W's Sandwich Shop near Columbia University) that was grotesquely over-salted. I almost felt I could not drink for three days lest I bloat like a balloon and pop. But SoupMan flavors its butternut squash soup with freshly grated carrots and orange zest, and the grilled cheese panini is passable. Less so the fruit and bread that accompany the meal. The banana might have been sitting by the boiler in a bodega for two weeks, so soft is it, while the bread is so hard I could sign my credit card receipt on it. The woman who owns this franchise is nice but rings customers out at a rather lethargic pace.
So it is not as if I experience Le Bernardin and today had to make do with Blimpie. But Blimpie is just about what I got at the neighborhood Associated Supermarket. I did save money there--on 99 cent whole wheat pitas, flip-top cans of Bumble Bee tuna (because we couldn't ascertain if the agency had a can opener), small jar of Hellmanns, Vlasic dills, and two bananas. My friend keeps kosher, so alas we could not spring for the Oscar Mayer salami.
I have heard that development is happening in many parts of Harlem. I would say that not a ton is going on around 135th Street near Harlem Hospital, although apparently Make My Cake around 139th Street serves a wicked red velvet cake that beats canned tuna any day of the week, especially holidays.