Surround Sounds: Cafe Haarlem
“Soul food in Amsterdam?” I thought. “Food, Music and More!” proclaimed the red script font. Intrigued and two months into my Netherland stint, I squeeze into the tight double doors, schoolbag in tow. Squeezing in, is frequent in Amsterdam. Doors are often skinny, a throwback to the city’s original taxation on width of property, not length.
De La Soul plays on the speakers inside. I breathe easier. Good music earns points with me, striking like blows from a bat laced with good taste. If only the food tastes as amazing as the music sounds.
Multi-colored pillows atop the wooden benches invite. I choose one near the far wall below the gray slate chalkboard, listing the beers on tap. The table’s yellowed-pine shows sign of old candle wax spills. I like this, it means people stay late and drink passionately. I order a Duval least I ruin tradition.
Scanning the menu, the “Jamaican Jerk Chicken Nachos” jogs memories of my newly added traditions. Recently, Roman goddess Camilla and I sealed a pact to find a bit of L.A. in the best nachos in Amsterdam. Jerk chicken nachos? Sounds fantastic!
Surveying the room, I’m the only one with dreads, though the DJ’s now playing early Jimmy cliff. Maybe there’s a recipe for jerk chicken nachos made plain by playing “The harder they come backwards.” Either way, I’m excited.
I question the bartender about the nachos. “Amazing,” he proclaims. Trusting his suggestion, I sign on, then ask who driving the wagon of good musical taste.
“The whole staff,” he laughs. “And we push to make the selection even better. You have to play music both you and the customers like. They trust us to have great taste, in music and in dining.” He welcomes me to Amsterdam, and pours me an Amstel Light.
The nachos arrive prepared in an earthenware dish, still steaming from the oven. No disappointment. It is all goodness derived from crisp lightly-salted tortillas, buried under sharp cheddars, Monterey Jacks and Colbys. What’s new is the kick of the peppery-spiced jerk chicken, balanced by a honey-drizzled glaze lending a sweet touch to counter the spice.
The guacamole is sweet to the taste, as well, whipped and fluffy; a first for me. The menagerie of onions, chili-peppers, garlic, and subtle sweetness, sending messages from mouth to brain stating “We are glad you’re steering the ship.” This plate rearranges my perspective of where to situate nachos in the hierarchy of my food kingdom.
The plate succumbs to my hunger, and the bartender suggests the tremendous full plate for next time. I like his suggestion.
There is no disappointment at Café Haarlem, my friends. Explore the menu, so you too, will miss your dining experience when you return home. I count down my own return to Amsterdam on Queen’s Day!
Café Harlem Haarlemmerstraat 77, 1013 EL Amsterdam, Netherlands +31 20 330 1498