My first encounter with Harlem Shake was that one time when I needed a hug so very badly and wept into my homegirl’s glorious bosom and had coffee and rambled and nibbled on a few of her jerk fries, which, no.
I’ve been struggling to describe exactly why the jerk fries don't work for me. The most I can come up with is that the seasoning situation reminds me of how chip making mofos go super hard to endow a single potato chip with the full flavor profile of a Meatlover’s pizza or Thanksgiving dinner. As Lady Laurieann “No Inside Voice” Gibson would say, “Too muuuch, too muuuch.”
The second time was with a friend and his fine-ass coworker for lunch. I had fries. And a skrawberry milkshake. No fireworks. With the fries, that is.
One Saturday night, while watching old dancehall videos with a friend, we communicated with Harlem Shake via the ancestors and demanded that two Hot Mess Burgers and fries be delivered to us within 30 to 45 minutes. Oh, we demanded macaroni and cheese, too, just because it was on the menu. No expectations. Fuck it.
The Hot Mess Burger is their classic burger topped with pickled cherry pepper and bacon relish, American cheese and smoky chipotle mayo. My friend raved about it. Okay, fine.
I used to be into spicy stuff, but lately, I’d rather taste my food. A few weeks ago, I attempted to plow through my friend’s gorgeous seafood pasta, as I do with everything, and was greeted by more jalapeños than my spirit was prepared for. Look. It's hard enough making it home nightly without being trampled by a wayward Eugene on a motherfucking Citibike. Battling mouthfire? For why? It was muy yummy, but I couldn't finish it.
I'm now the friend who asks, “So, like, how hot are these wings?”
Ain't no hot sauce in my bag.
I don't have time.
I say all of that to say, I was skeptical about the pepper situation on that burger. I trusted that my friend wasn't setting me up for misery because I didn't want to have to set his apartment on fire.
Even smushed inside the wrapper and biked over the river and through the woods of Harlem, it was good. Good as a motherfucker, in fact. There was heat but nothing sinus-clearing. It got a little messy, but that was part of the fun. Thankfully, ze bun is a potato bread bun.
The fries, having traveled and wilted, were inconsequential at this point. But having just murked that burger, I was more than fine.
It came time to try the macaroni and cheese. I was hesitant, because there was a sole burnt spot on top, which told me:
This situation was unlovingly broiled merely for cosmetic reasons.
(after research) That American cheese burns this way.
I called those motherfuckers up to confirm my suspicions, having been traumatized by the American cheese-based horror at Junior’s.
Uh. Yes. Hi. Would you happen to know what cheeses are in your macaroni and cheese?
Uh. Could you please ask someone who knows?
(She asks someone who asks someone else, returns 30 seconds later.)
Cheddar and American.
Me: *sucks teeth* Okay. Thank you.
I took a calculated risk and tasted it anyway. Somehow — and I hate that I know this — they managed to recreate the taste of Cheese Whiz, that spreadable cheese substance that, brushed across a cracker, was part of a well balanced struggle snack. This is not a good thing. And they were selling it to the masses with nary a smidgen of guilt. I need not elaborate beyond this except to note that they broke a major tenet of macaroni and cheese preparation:
CHEESE IS NOT A MOTHERFUCKING SEASONING.
Anyhow, I only took a second taste to confirm my cheese wiz suspicions. My homie, a Jamaican from the Land of Macaroni Pie, didn't see much wrong with it, and that's all I'm going to say about that. But that burger saved the damn day.
My third encounter with Harlem Shake was for another Hot Mess Burger and a peach milkshake, which was everything I needed in life at that moment. Te lo recomiendo.
Have you ever been thisclose to passing on that scratch-off card, but you were like, “Aw what the hell,” and bought it and wound up winning $10?
Or you were circling the block for a fortnight looking for parking, and right when you were about to give up and park on the sidewalk, ticket be damned, you turned one more corner and found a bombastic parking space?
That is the joy I felt after I ignored that inner voice — the one with my waistline's best interests in mind — that told me to skip the sweet potato cheesecake on my fourth visit and say NO to sweet, delicious ecstasy. Had I been sensible, I would have missed my blessing. Never again. Fucking being sensible.
You must have it.
If I impress anything upon you today, it's this:
- When in doubt, always get the cheesecake.
- Sharing food is overrated.
Holler at my foodie page, @AlexGottaEat.
New York City-based food-lover Alexander Hardy is the dance captain for Saint Damita Jo Jackson’s royal army and co-host of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. He is an essayist, freelance copywriter, cultural critic, chicken enthusiast, lupus survivor, mental health advocate and educator who has written for EBONY.com, Eater, Courvoisier, Esquire, The Root, CNN, Gawker, The Huffington Post, Saint Heron, and Very Smart Brothas, among other wonderful outlets. When not writing on TheColoredBoy.com, he enjoys cheese grits, power naps, sweet tea, and all things chicken-related. Alexander does not believe in snow or Delaware. More Alex: The Colored Boy | Twitter | Instagram | Writing Portfolio | Mental Health Work