There’s something magical about a good buffet. Maybe it’s the fact that you can serve yourself with a spoon the size of a children’s tennis racket. Or maybe it’s that feeling of endless possibility you get when you see all those dishes just sitting there like musical notes waiting for you to arrange them into food jazz on your plate. If you want to know what we’re talking about, check out Jacob Restaurant.
This is a buffet in Harlem where you serve yourself and pay by the pound, and it’s a very useful spot to know about if you’re nearby. It’s quick, convenient, and great for the price - and we appreciate the fact that you can stop by and fill up a container of good food with precise portions of exactly what you want, in whatever combination you deem necessary.
The buffet setup here consists of two large islands with roughly 20 trays each, and you’ll find everything from macaroni salad and quartered avocados to a mound of oxtails and some baked salmon covered in a sauce the color of the Grand Canyon. It’s a big selection with lots of potential for self-expression in terms of what you do you with your plate, and it leans heavily toward soul food - which happens to be the best stuff here. The fried chicken is crispy and well-seasoned, the mac and cheese comes topped with a thick layer of melted cheese, and the yams are rich, creamy, and sweeter than an acoustic version of “All You Need Is Love” at a beach wedding in which both participants seem genuinely interested in one another. We also like the smoky collard greens with just the right amount of acidity.
Once you’ve made all your selections, bring your styrofoam box to the register where a cashier will weigh your food (it’s $6.49 a pound) and ask if you’re staying or going. Choose to stick around, and you can hang out in a dining room with a bunch of plain wooden tables and a flatscreen TV playing the news, or, if it’s nice out, you can eat at a table on the sidewalk out front. Unless it’s a weekend when there’s live music, it’s pretty easy to find a seat - because a lot of people here just take their food to go.
It doesn’t matter if you stay or go - what’s important is that you experience the lawlessness and infinite possibility of Jacob’s quality buffet. We also think it’s important that you throw a rib on top of whatever you get - but, seeing as how Jacob’s is all about free will, self-determination, and big styrofoam containers of food that you choose for yourself, we’ll let you decide whether or not you want to do that.
When you arrive at the fried chicken, you’re going to feel a tingling sensation at the base of your skull. That’s your brain telling you that you want this - and you should listen. The chicken stays surprisingly crisp in its big metal tray, and it’s a great way to improve any weeknight (or brunch).
These ribs come covered in what tastes like your average store-bought barbecue sauce, but you’ll forgive this fact once you notice how the meat falls right off the bone. Throw one on top of whatever else you’re getting.
If you want something less sweet (but equally as tender) as the pork ribs, go for the beef short ribs. Some pieces can be a little fatty, but we don’t dislike that.
The oxtails are good, but a little tough for our liking. So unless you’ve been thinking about oxtails for several days (and there’s only one way to remedy the situation), you can go ahead and skip these.
Is this the best mac and cheese in the world? No. But it’s a perfectly good version of mac and cheese with an aggressive amount of cheese on top, which means that you should get a big scoop.
These collard greens are juicy and well-seasoned, with the perfect amount of vinegar, and, given the opportunity, we’d eat an entire bowl as if it were cereal.
We knew these yams would be sweet, but we weren’t expecting them to taste like molten sugar. That said, we very much enjoy them (in moderation, as molten sugar should be enjoyed).
The potato salad is also pretty sweet, but all the sucrose doesn’t really work here. Skip it.
“Sweet Buttered Corn” is a very good and accurate name for this dish, and we don’t have much to expand upon. Get some if that sounds good.
There are a lot of things we like at Jacob Restaurant, but the banana pudding isn’t one of them. It’s too gelatinous with lots of artificial banana flavor, and the vanilla wafers are pretty dry. So maybe just get a big scoop of yams and call it dessert.