Restaurant Review: Uptown Juice Bar
Written by Bwog Staff
In which Bwog freelancer Kate Linthicum discovers soul food that’s actually good for your soul.
I’ve been a vegetarian since I was four, when my family’s mischievous Labrador puppy attacked my pet hen. Her name was Pearl, and she was the softest, sweetest chicken in the whole world. I stopped eating meat the day I discovered her feathers strewn across the flowerbeds.
Morally, it was the right decision for me. Socially, it kind of sucked. Growing up, I always felt like an outsider at lunchtime, munching quietly on home-packed lunches of carrots and peanut butter sandwiches while the rest of the kids loaded up on chicken nuggets. I pretended to know why people went crazy for Happy Meals, sloppy joes and soul food, but I just couldn’t relate.
But then I dined at Uptown Juice Bar, a little Harlem gem that specializes in vegetarian Caribbean fare. It’s one of the only restaurants in New York that serves soul food that’s actually good for your soul.
Since 1995 the Juice Bar has occupied a narrow storefront on 125th street between Lennox and Fifth Avenue. It’s about a half hour walk from Columbia’s campus. The restaurant is nestled next to a store that sells specialty wigs, and outside men with long dreads hawk reggae cds.
Inside it’s bright and warm, thanks to an army of industrial-looking food lamps that keep watch over a buffet of steaming dishes. Patrons line up cafeteria-style to order. The menu is large and the prices are cheap. All of the chicken, fish and turkey dishes are made out of soy protein or tofu, though mainstays like okra, collard greens and mac and cheese seem prepared in the standard way.
The line at dinnertime is long-ish, but the people in it are chatty. When I asked one man to help me choose what to order, a woman standing next to us piped in. “Honey, you cannot go wrong,” she assured me.
I paid eight dollars for a plate piled with four selections from the buffet. The cooked pumpkin and cabbage were delicious, and the mock duck was divine. My companion, who knows real meat better than I do, said her huge turkey sandwich was not only tasty, but tasted authentic, too.
I didn’t try any of the juices for which the restaurant is named, but based on the fresh fruit displayed in the front window, I bet they’re pretty good. The restaurant also offers a wide selection of vegan desserts.
There’s a dining room decorated with pretty art in the back, and it’s a nice sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of 125th. It’s quiet except for the occasional strain of calypso music that sifts in from the kitchen.
I liked almost everything about the Uptown Juice Bar. The barbecue soy chunks, however, kind of freaked me out. Crafted after chicken drumsticks, they’re as stringy and succulent as I imagine real chicken is. I tried to eat to them, but each time I bit into to a drumstick, I couldn’t help but think guiltily of poor Pearl.