A'dar Cafe and Lounge is now MO NA HOOKAH LOUNGE
I was hungry and cold when I noticed A'dar, a brand new addition to the corner of 116th Street in early 2017. Standing behind the counter, Laila greeted me with her beautiful, sweet smile and invited us to sit down, as she immediately began making us a cup of tea. Laila then presented the Manhattan Sideways team with a few of her sweet and savory pastries - there were Pastilla filled with either chicken, beef or shrimp, mini quiches, sandwiches, croissants and scones. Everything made by Laila.
I was totally taken by this woman and her story, not to mention her adorable little boy, who sat quietly playing in his stroller while his mom worked. Laila came to New York to study accounting in 2010. "This was my dream," but while here, she reconnected with Monir, whom she had known as a young girl in Morocco. A few years later, they were married and she joined the family business across the street.
Monir came to the States in the 1990s, and had been running The Kiosk, a Moroccan restaurant, when he met Laila. According to Laila, her mom did not understand why her daughter needed to spend her money continuing to go to school. "You should cook and bake, because that is what you love," her mom protested. Laughing, Laila went on to say, "I love to do too many things." To me, it seems that she has found the best of both worlds. She is able to run the family business by doing the accounting, and to bake her wonderful treats and serve them to her eager customers.
A'dar is the perfect coffee shop to either stop in and grab a quick bite, or settle down with a laptop or a good book. The Moroccan theme is carried throughout the space with tiles, fabrics and artwork hanging on the walls, as well as the coffee mugs, which are handmade in Morocco.
It was not until I walked into the adjoining room that I discovered another large area that Laila told me is the lounge, which has been open for four years. She proudly pointed out that the artwork on the walls belongs to her brother-in-law, and that her husband made the couches and other seating. According to Laila, the word A'dar means "house," and with the brand new redesign of the space, she and Monir are hoping to make people feel like they are "coming home."
My first encounter with Amy Ruth's, a Southern style restaurant in the finest tradition, was during my walk while documenting every place on 116th. The street is enormous, with many delis, convenience stores, hair salons and barber shops, but tucked between these are some marvelous hidden gems. Amy Ruth's is certainly one of them, although, "hidden" is debatable given that the restaurant usually has a line out the door. Once inside, I discovered that the space is endless. There are some smaller nooks, an upstairs area that is open on the weekends, and then a large catering hall for private events. The second time I visited Amy Ruth's, late on a Saturday morning, I brought my husband and friends, as I needed them to enjoy the same experience that I had had. I loved every aspect of this restaurant. From the star-shaped paper lanterns hanging on the ceiling to the murals portraying well known African American figures - including President Obama, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Serena and Venus Williams - to the variety of ages and cultures sitting at the tables, and, of course, to the excellent Southern cuisine, the restaurant offers a memorable dining spot for everyone. The opening of Amy Ruth's in 1998 was inspired by Carl Redding's time spent down south visiting his grandmother during the summer months. He chose to stand by her side day in and day out as she prepared meal after meal for her adoring family. Years later, he decided to pay tribute to this wonderful woman by opening up his own restaurant and naming it after his beloved grandmother. This warm family feeling is transmitted to guests as soon as they arrive. Waiting to enter, we began speaking with some of the patrons who were raving about the food. I learned that they queue up almost every weekend for the chicken and waffles - and every other waffle combination imaginable. Needless to say, our meal also consisted primarily of waffles, most of us opting for the variety of fruit toppings, and it was perfect.
Crepe Master opened in November 2017. After a trip to Japan, owner Fumi wanted to bring the uniqueness of the country's crepes to Harlem. Unlike French crepes, Japanese crepes are traditionally served in a cone. They are a classic street food dish in populous cities throughout the country. Top recommendations include Chocobana, a sweet crepe comprised of banana, crushed chocolates, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, custard cream, and almonds, the Suzette, a simple butter, sugar, lemon crepe, or any savory crepe with tofu.
Bright colors abound inside the semi-covered market on West 116th Street - and it has been this way since 1994 when vendors gathered under one roof to sell their African wares. From traditional fabrics, and handmade clothing, to jewelry, accessories, and wood carvings, to native instruments, the collection at Malcolm Shabazz represents numerous countries including Nigeria, Senegal, Gambia, Ghana, Mali and Kenya. I found the experience to be exhilarating as I strolled through the stalls carrying on conversations with the vendors. There is a true camaraderie amongst them that is palpable.