139th Street Barbecue
corner of 139th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard
no phone number
$25 for a whole rack of pork ribs
Amidst the condo buildings going up as fast as you can say gentrification, there still remains the open drums on the streets used as makeshift grills to sell home-marinated barbecue in Harlem. The Dr. and I stopped by earlier this year when we saw the smoke coming out of a corner street shrouded in scaffolding. We still haven’t figured out who runs the show, but as far as we know, a big black lady sitting down is the one who repeats everyone’s orders to the more-able “staff” around her: an older lady who spoons the sides in a container, an older man who slices the ribs apart and another who mans the grill. She is also in charge of how much to charge her customers because no one really knows how much the food really is, especially when it comes to people who look like us.
During our first visit, four ribs with a small tub of potato salad and two slices of white bread were $10; a second visit with an order of a whole rack without any sides, even bread, was $25. A third visit cost us $70 for two racks, four sides and a giant watermelon. We’ve caught the big lady giving the older man a look when they calculate our totals.
The ribs are really, really good. They have a tangy taste to them–a North Carolina style using cider vinegar. The meat doesn’t fall off the bones, but is tender enough to pull when you give it a bite. And in this rapidly changing neighborhood, very satisfying.