Easter, Part 2: Marcus Samuelsson and the Miracle on 116th St

Easter – April 5, 2015: Harlem

(Disclaimer: The following story, as are many that I’m telling, is probably a “had to be there” moment: it likely has no application to your life, will probably not encourage or inspire you or make you laugh or have any other positive benefit to you in any way. In fact, it really only fits under the heading “Random Cool Things That Happened to Me.”  You’ve been warned.)

After a morning with friends and an afternoon wandering the city, when I arrive back at the apartment, Aaron and Caty are ready for dinner.  Since I’ve left them for the day, they’ve had plenty of time to deliberate on that all-important restaurant choice for Easter dinner, and the verdict is: Streetbird.

Streetbird is a new rotisserie chicken restaurant in Harlem just 1,600 feet from Aaron and Caty’s place. It’s owed by chef Marcus Samuelsson, who is not only a celebrity in the culinary world, he’s also a bit of a modern Harlem legend.  Aaron’s been getting into cooking more and more over the past few years, slowly buying fancy cooking accoutrement, taking a cooking class here and there, and binge watching Top Chef with Caty – so he’s like, really into Marcus, like not quite fanboy status, but pretty much right at the line.

We arrive and put in a takeout order, with just a 10-15 minute wait time.  Perfect!  We’ll be eating in no time. IMG_4498

10 minutes in:  We take a few photos to pass the time..

20 minutes in: Caty’s not feeling well, so she heads home.

40 minutes in: Food is nowhere to be seen.  The lobby and seating area are packed, so we’re starting to get concerned that we may have gotten lost in the shuffle. But THEN –

42 minutes in: A  server emerges with a tray of plastic cups.  Anyone want to sample a lemon drop?

Do we want to have some free alcohol? I’m sorry, I mean FREE ALCOHOL?! Of course we do! People giving me food is my love language.  I know that might be un-lady-like to admit, or might liken me to like, a seal or a pigeon or some other animal basically known for eating anything you give it, but whatever.  Free food is one of the clearest paths to my heart.  Which is why it’s great when-

46 minutes in: The server re-emerges with more lemon drop samples and offers us another!  Plus Aaron decides he doesn’t want his after all, and passes it to me.  So many free tiny drinks, all of a sudden! Yesssss!

Thinking: “I’m so happy about this free food!”

52 minutes in: Manager apologizes profusely about our delay and acknowledges that they accidentally gave our food away.  So then she comps our entire meal!  A $50 dinner suddenly becomes $0 dinner!  Heart is about to burst from all the free food that just went down!

53 minutes in: Manager offers to throw in free macaroni and cheese on top of our order! Just so we could try. WHAT!? YES!!

58 minutes in: A man walks by us, and Aaron turns to me quickly: Megan…that’s Marcus Samuelsson!  And Marcus stands RIGHT BY US and starts directing his staff – put this there, move this light there, and don’t ever leave a broom in front of the counter like this, please.  Aaron and I just delightedly watch Marcus in restaurant owner mode, just an arm’s length away.  Because he’s clearly busy, we don’t want to stop him for a photo, so I start taking my own stalker photos of him so we at least have something.

Stalker photo of Marcus. He’s right there!!!

A group recognizes him and asks us to take a picture, and another group right after.  We oblige, but still refuse to ask Marcus for anything.  Though we’re watching his every move, we’re hoping to be the cool fans that don’t bug him and make him stop working.  Even though we I did take photos and video of him, which is probably not cool, but still.

At this point, Aaron updates Caty:  Marcus is here!!!!   SPRINT BACK HERE NOWWWWW! (emphasis mine).  We’re crossing our fingers for her, and within a few minutes (the girl runs marathons, she’s got this) Caty’s back, and we make our move:

Aaron: Hi Marcus, we know you’re really busy and don’t want to bother you, but…we’re also big fans and are hoping you might take a picture with us.

Marcus agrees, we do it, and keep talking – about Aaron and Caty living here in Harlem, how they love his other restaurant but can’t afford it all the time because they’re teachers (ALWAYS a good thing to mention), Marcus’ original intention to make his other restaurant as casual and accessible as Streetbird, how he partners with school to train kids on cooking.  In total, it’s 90 fantastic seconds of conversing with a seemingly down to earth, nice guy.

Minute 60:  Our food’s up, so we walk out, arms full of chicken sandwiches, cornbread, mac and cheese, and even with the wait, we can’t help but walk back to the apartment in agreement that this is the very best meal we could have hoped for tonight. I couldn’t help but dub it an Easter Miracle.

And that’s all there is, no good conclusion, life lesson, interesting or insightful observation, etc.  It was just an incredibly awesome time with a bunch of delicious free food.  Best Easter dinner ever!  The END!

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