About a month ago, former Time Warner chairman and CEO unveiled The Cecil in Harlem, paying homage to the African diaspora with a menu created by executive chef Alexander Smalls and chef de cuisine Joseph “JJ” Johnson. But even as Parsons opened the doors there, he was hard at work on a major restoration project next door at Minton’s (206 118th Street, 212-243-2222), a low-country fine dining lounge slated to open Monday, that aims restore some of the former glory to a building that once hosted legendary jazz greats on a regular basis.
“Minton’s was really the home of be-bop and jazz legends like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis,” explains the spot’s chef de cuisine Banks White, who did time in Michelin-starred restaurants on the west coast before moving here for this project. “The building has been vacant for quite some time; Richard Parsons and Alexander Smalls took the initiative to revamp the space.”
The team gave the place a glamorous makeover, outfitting it with plush banquettes, gilded touches, and wood-paneled walls bedecked with photos of the musicians that first made the place famous. This is a white tablecloth spot meant to recall the Harlem renaissance, and as a real throwback to the past, jackets are required for men.
Smalls envisioned the menu as a list of southern revivalist fare, which White translates to low-country cooking, deriving its influence from South Carolina and the Georgia coast. Dishes are arranged into a $90 four-course prix fixe, which begins with a series of re-imagined classic passed hors d’oeuvres delivered directly to your table. “The hors d’oeuvres starts a low-country journey,” White explains. “There’s a celebratory oyster, caviar, deviled eggs, smoked trout, a crab fritter, a South Carolina rice dish, and stuffed crimini mushrooms. They’re little tiny bites, but it’s a progression. You start with spice and smoke, and it’s rounded off with creamed collard greens.”
After that first course, tables will get butlered buttermilk biscuit service followed by a soup or salad course–think she-crab sherry soup and winter apple salad–then an entree selected from a seafood- and game-heavy roster (Maine lobster and venison both make the syllabus), and, finally, dessert.
The restaurant will run three seatings for that menu a night, each of which coincides with a jazz set from Minton’s house band, many members of which, says White, hail from Minton’s glory days. “It’s really great to listen to their stories about playing with Miles Davis, and being friends with Billie Holliday and John Coltrane,” says White. “It’s really an amazing treat.” Less hungry–or cash-strapped–patrons should note, too, that you can stop by on the first seating for a $50 two-course tasting, an effort to include more of the surrounding community, says White, in the crowd (the bar also serves that purpose–ordering dinner there is not required).
And while Minton’s debuts with dinner service only, White notes that plans are in the works for an early Sunday supper. “Alexander and I share similar childhood memories as far as food goes, and Sunday supper is about spending time with family and friends,” he explains. “It’s a gathering time for people around the table. We want to emulate that at Minton’s.”
No word yet on exactly when that will roll out, but you can stop by for dinner starting Monday at 5 p.m.