NYC Caribbean Food Worth Traveling For: Freda’s at 109th & Columbus Ave

Date February 15, 2010

It’s me. Your sense of adventure.  The reason you moved to New York City.  I’m your craving for new experiences and I’m hungry! Starving!   No more excuses.  Just get off your ass and do it! NYC Food Guy is making it easy for you.  It’s time to explore uncharted territory with your feet and your fork.  Go to Freda’s at 109th Street and Columbus Avenue and eat Caribbean food. Spicy jerk chicken.  Tender, fall off the bone chicken stewed in a tangy brown sauce.  Yams which are more caramelized than candied (and may alone be worth the trip).  So read this review and quit wasting our time, feed me!

Freda's NYC Food

Thank you Dave Cook for leading me to Freda’s by way of your site Eating In Translation.  Freda’s Caribbean & Soul Cuisine is the type of restaurant every neighborhood needs: fairly priced with rib-sticking home cooking in an inviting setting. No entree is more than $12 and all include peas and rice plus choice of two sides.  It’s a labor of love for owner Kai and his mother Ellie, both of whom call Freda’s a second job, and who if asked, will put together a sampler meal of entrees and fresh vegetarian sides.  The passion is shared by Guyanese chef Elsie, who prepared my meal.  Elsie only works after 7pm on weekdays but is behind the stove all weekend.  I can’t vouch for skills of Elsie’s daytime fill-in so you may want to call ahead to see who’s in the kitchen.

Start with the typically spicy jerk chicken ($7.99), a Caribbean staple.  The heat is manageable here, nowhere near “lip-numbing” as Kai promised, even with a dip in the concentrated, salty jerk gravy.  Watch out for little shards of bone as you pick the chicken apart.  The coconut-milk flavored rice and beans and the cheesy, casserole pan mac and cheese (which Kai intends to improve with a better cheese blend) both provide a little sweet to balance the jerk’s heat.

Freda's NYC Food

The milder brown stew chicken ($7.99) falls off the bone after simmering in its tangy, tomato-based sauce.  Make sure to request a side of brown stew gravy, a little dip of the chicken into this finger-licking sauce offers some welcome acidity.  Combine a gravy-covered bite of chicken with candied yams for one of the best bites of the meal.

Freda's NYC Food

Moist curry chicken ($7.99) provides flavor but not fire.  Chef Elsie and owner Kai recommended curry shrimp (which at $11.99 is the menu’s 2nd most expensive item after $12.99 Red Snapper) for my next visit.

Freda's NYC Food

The all vegetarian sides ($2.50 each or $6.50 for a platter of 4) impressed.  Freda’s version of the Trinidadian staple callalloo (below, left), featuring okra, spinach, coconut milk and garlic, is light, airy and sweet.  It paired well with the jerk and the brown stew chicken.  The earthiness of the clean-flavored, crisp collard greens (below, top) shined without the presence of meat.  Curry potatoes and chickpeas (below, right), like the curry chicken, provides moderate flavor without offering any heat.

Freda's NYC Food

The true revelation are the candied yams (above, bottom) which are coated in a caramelized sauce of sugar, nutmeg and a little butter; the definition of “simply delicious.”  The yams alone are reason to travel to Freda’s. These are just as well-suited as a side to spicy, sauce-coated chicken as they are drizzled atop a scoop of vanilla ice cream or buried in a pie crust.

Freda's NYC Food

The restaurant’s strength is Caribbean food so it’s easy to forget the “soul cuisine” aspect of the restaurant’s name.  That may be for the best since the soul food is a work in progress, particularly the fried chicken which is reportedly being honed.  Dessert was also easily overlooked, featuring slices of cake from Harlem’s Make My Cake and small sweet potato pies from a company in New Jersey.  Get your sweet fix from the candied yams.

Freda’s Caribbean & Soul Cuisine

993 Columbus Avenue at 109th Street
New York, NY 10025
[email protected]
11am-10pm Daily
$10 minimum for delivery

16 Responses to “NYC Caribbean Food Worth Traveling For: Freda’s at 109th & Columbus Ave”

  1. Food For Thought said:

    Hey Man…Sounds tasty….I want to try the candied yams…..sweet…..

  2. NYC Caribbean Food Worth Traveling For: Freda’s at 109th & Columbus Ave « HARLEM HAPPENINGS said:

    […] clipped from […]

  3. MOE said:

    I am honored!



  4. The Marchesa of Mustard said:

    This definitely looks like it might be worth the trip across the Park. Thanks, FoodGuy! In the event that we make the trek, is it your opinion that those who enjoy “lip-numbing” heat should bring their own pepper sauce? Also, was there any talk with the chef-owners about Roti? Having just returned from the West Indies, the Marquise and I are back on the hunt for authentic Rotis in NYC. The closest we’ve found is the Trinidadian woman who sometimes (but rather rarely) sets up shop at the summer street fairs. With a Trini cook in the kitchen, it sounds like these folks might know how to do it right, chickpea flour and all. Alas, it’s not on the menu…any suggestions for our Roti quest, FoodGuy?


    “The Marchesa of Mustard”. Look for our food stall in the upcoming street fairs in NYC, and especially at the 9th avenue International food Festival on May 15 and 16. We will have HOT ROTI. (our filling is special because of the way we prepare our split peas for the roti stuffing. If you like spicy, this will the the roti for you). In addition, we also feature, curry chicken, goat, lamb, potato and chickpeas, tofu and stew chicken. There will also be fried fish and plantain fries. Our stall is the ISLAND BOY CURRY SHACK. For further info, email us at [email protected].

  6. Kerry Alaric Cheeseboro said:

    Always looking to mix it up, and outside of my neighborhood, so this is a GREAT recommendation and I thank you for it…!


  7. The Marchesa of Mustard said:

    Sounds good, Island Boy Curry Shack. We’ll look out for you this summer. Any plans to do street fairs on the East side of the city?


    Marchesa, Most likely we will do a few fairs on the east side. We’ll have a website up in a few weeks that list the fairs that we will be attending on

  9. jkelz said:

    yes of course fredas has roti…yes with the chickpea flour…ELSIE IS THE BEST COOK I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE. THE FOOD IS OUT OF THIS WORLD.

  10. Ricky Morales said:

    I tried this place out both for lunch & Dinner…Wow! Outstanding, very close to home cooking! It was so good I had them cater my party everyone loved it. The owners are very personal. The Candy Yams are outstanding!I have tried a lot of caribian places, this is the best one! Ox Tails oh my God!Prices are cheap & the place is very clean, & free Wifi. Nice place to sit down and have lunch or to take a special one one. It’s also a Columbia University Public Safety Safe Haven, Red Lion in the window, a place you can go to in the event you were being followed or needed help, They will let you stay in the store & call the Police or CU Public Safety for you.

  11. J.Anthony said:

    My mother is the “Chef Elsie” that you’ve read about in the article. She is hands down the best Caribbean Chef in the Tri-State area. She now has her OWN restaurant located at 2291 7th Avenue in NYC called Elsie’s!!! 100% Authentic Caribbean Food from the best Chef in Harlem.

  12. J.Anthony said:

    See you at the top!!!!! Hahaha!

  13. The NYC Food Guy said:

    @J. Anthony,
    Thanks for the heads up. I’m definitely going to come check it out! 7th Ave and 134th Street?

  14. Stephanie said:

    YUMMY! I’m already hooked. I haven’t even left for NYC but I am booking a flight right now! Bon apetite!

  15. Yvonne Wakim Dennis said:

    My only regret about eating at Frieda’s is that I only found out about it a few months ago! A friend from Queens told me about – that will teach me not to stay on Amsterdam & Bway. Delicious down-home fresh food with great service and wonderful prices. This is the kind of restaurant that dotted this neighborhood when I first moved here three decades ago. It’s sad that most places have been pushed out by chains or yuppiefied. I hope Frieda’s survives the attack on our community – gentrification is harmful. Frieda’s is real food for real folks. Thanks Frieda owners and staff!

  16. Sarah B said:

    Yes food is great but service sucks…I’ve ordered from there a couple of times and seems like I always order when they are short staff. I have herd every excuse as to why my order has to be cancelled. If you would like to eat from Frida’s my advice is to go pick Up your food unless you like to wait two hours before you eat!!!

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