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At famous uptown NYC venues like the Lenox Lounge and the Cotton Club, entertainers such as Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington's big band were sophisticated, and the soul food was scrumptious. The same has been true of the numerous new Harlem supper clubs that have opened since the neighborhood's revival in the early Nineties. These feature live music that's more lindy hop than hip-hop, and menus with lots of Southern-inspired seafood, plus specialties like fried chicken with waffles (created in 1938 by the Wells Supper Club, for late-night patrons who couldn't decide if dinner or breakfast was appropriate).
A menu sent by a reader that listed chicken and waffles, plus a wide variety of other typical Harlem supper club classics (fried shrimp, garlic crabs, hot wings), was the main impetus that lured me to Silqui's, which opened late last year. An agreement between the City of Miami Gardens and the expansive restaurant-lounge, prohibiting DJs but allowing bands — the old-fashioned kind that plays real instruments — was also a draw.
Based on a recent visit, Silqui's stage is progressing nicely, with live music ranging from jazz to Caribbean to R&B, plus spoken-word artists and dance troupes like the South Florida Steppers (who teach sexy Chicago-style couples stepping). Food, though, seems to have already taken a step backward. The interesting menu I'd seen was still there, but, said a server, "I don't know why. We almost never had most of the things on it anyway."
Instead there's a limited list of 14 items, including generic stuff like a burger, a chicken or shrimp caesar salad, a waffle-free chicken breast, and mozzarella sticks. And the listed Buffalo wings weren't available. "No hot sauce," our waitress apologized.
The most interesting starter, New England clam chowder, was packed solid with quahog strips — almost no potato padding and zero celery. The broth, however, was so starch-heavy that a spoon stood up straight in the bowl.
Conch fritters, another appetizer, contained a few conch and chili chunks and had sufficiently savory flavor. Sadly they were intensely greasy. And their six-buck price tag seemed high for seven miniballs barely an inch in diameter.
A whole snapper dinner featured a bones-in deep-fried fish, fairly moist inside its thick cornmeal crust but unadorned by any sauce or topping that might have provided a bit of zest. It was accompanied by two sides from a list of four choices (baked potato, rice and beans, corn niblets, and mixed veggies) that included nothing green — and judging from the taste, no spicing, not even salt.
A shrimp and conch combo dinner was much better. Although the entrée, like most, came with only fries (crinkle-cuts, not housemade from scratch), the conch was tender and the butterflied shrimp were sizable specimens. Both were also, though hardly counting as diet food, more lightly carb-coated than the snapper.
It seems fitting that Miami Gardens, Florida's largest city with a majority of black residents, might host what promised — from its original evocative menu, as well as its varied bill of coming attractions — to be a highly intriguing African-American entertainment venue, one with the class and sophistication of Harlem's historic (and new retro-revival) supper clubs. And with 5000 square feet to play with, almost anything's possible at Silqui's. But it's not going to happen until the supper matches the setting.