The Manhattan Sideways team had the pleasure of spending an evening at Solomon & Kuff in the summer of 2017, where we met with the staff and sampled some of their unique dishes. Sitting down with chef Chris Faulkner, we learned that he has been cooking for about twenty-five years and has traveled extensively over the course of his career. Though born in New York, he spent time in West Africa and the Caribbean throughout his childhood, giving him a taste for “rich and spicy food.” After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Chris worked at restaurants around the world, including in Australia, Northern Italy, Switzerland, and parts of Asia.
This varied culinary background is what inspired his selections for the restaurant’s menu, which he classifies as a contemporary approach to Caribbean cuisine. When asked about his favorite item on the menu, he insisted that it was too hard to pick, adding, “It would be like picking my favorite child.” Despite his eclectic nature as a chef, he maintains that, “All the food I cook could very well have been in my home.” In fact, some of his dishes are riffs on traditional meals from his childhood, such as the sweet plantain chili crumbles. He recalled that one of his favorite treats as a boy was a dish that his grandmother would make using ripened plantains on the verge of spoiling, fried in a skillet until the sugar caramelized. He sought to modernize rather than merely replicate the dish by adding chili to the fried plantains, making for the perfect blend of a childhood favorite and an experienced chef’s creativity. “The food I do here really comes from the heart.”
The restaurant’s atmosphere is a perfect setting for Chris’ contemporary Caribbean bent, with West Indian art lining the walls of the industrial-style space and reggae playing in the background. The bar dominating the back of the main room speaks to the other feature that attracts people to Solomon & Kuff: Rum. Karl Williams, the owner, chimed in that the concept behind the restaurant is a simple one - “We celebrate rum and Caribbean culture.” They are proud to boast a selection of over 100 rums in-house. Many of them are Caribbean, but a fair amount of them are from Asia, the United States, Scotland, and South America. Each of their creative cocktails features rum as either a main ingredient, a modifier, or a complement. Karl is responsible for each of the cocktails offered, having built a reputation as a mixologist at his previous restaurants, Orange 67 and The Anchor. “That’s been the cornerstone of what I’ve built - all my bars have elevated cocktail programs,” he told us. We were surprised to learn that this was not his original plan. He studied business at Yale, and the first time he ever tended a bar was in his own establishment. Nevertheless, he fell in love with the craft and has found success in practicing it.
Karl shared that he had had the idea for Solomon & Kuff for a long time. Not only did the concept of a rum hall play to his professional interests and strengths, but its Caribbean theme is also close to his heart. Although he grew up in New York, Karl's family is from Saint Vincent, and therefore his childhood was filled with a heavy West Indian influence. Later on, he spent a short time in Spain and then Puerto Rico for two years, which only added to his appreciation of Latin culture - an appreciation he tries to highlight in Solomon & Kuff. “I’m proud of the fact that everything I do represents who I am.”
Karl also attributes a large part of his inspiration to the restaurant’s location. Solomon & Kuff sits right by the Hudson River in a part of the neighborhood that has many young people, particularly Columbia college students, who are drawn to the restaurant's unique flavors and unparalleled drinks. As we discussed the changes in the neighborhood and the challenges that he has faced as a businessman, Karl still concluded, “I love Harlem; I wouldn’t trade it.”
When the Manhattan Sideways team visited this fire station, the firemen were proud to inform us that Ladder 30, fondly nicknamed the “Harlem Zoo, ” has been serving the area for over one hundred years. Although they were not sure of the origin of their team’s nickname, they were happy to share some of the highlights of their history. For example, the members of Ladder 30 were among the emergency responders at the Collyer Mansion following the brothers’ death in 1947. We were fascinated to learn that the Collyer brothers were hoarders. Therefore, it took the police and firemen at the scene several hours to dig through the contents of the house to locate them. The incident became so famous that the term “Collyers’ Mansion” is now used by firefighters to refer to any house that is made unsafe due to excessive hoarding.