It was the end of a fun-filled week in Manhattan, and I was suffering from that exhaustion that comes from the excesses of the city: the lights, the noise, the crowds, the drinking, and the waiting for a seat at the trendiest restaurants—often with results that failed to live up to the hype. With this sense of fatigue, my husband and I wandered into Colors in the NoHo neighborhood for Sunday brunch. John Mellencamp followed B.B. King on the soundtrack, and quotes by Eleanor Roosevelt and Cesar Chavez were handwritten in chalk on boards high above the dining space. We immediately wondered about the story behind this place.
The hostess quickly seated us and we felt at ease in the comfortable, low-lit and somewhat quirky dining room with its low-backed banquettes. Delicate strings of tiny colored lights added a mild adornment to the otherwise casual space, with its high ceilings and exposed pipes.
After placing our orders, we observed subtle homages to the civil rights movement and workers’ rights among the décor. As our waitress placed complimentary fruit, yogurt, and house-made pickles on our table, we questioned her and learned that Colors is a non-profit restaurant owned by Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United, an organization dedicated to providing living wages and better working conditions for American restaurant workers. The server proudly informed us that she was trained at Colors, which offers free classes to help restaurant service workers advance their careers.
The meals arrived. Mine, a mouthwatering, juicy breast of bone-in chicken with a picture-perfect crust, accompanied by three rich, buttery, and satisfyingly dense biscuits with crisp tops, gave me immediate confidence that I made the right choice. My husband’s generous portion of smoked salmon was artfully arranged next to a hearty, golden brown potato pancake with a fluffy dollop of sour cream sprinkled with chives on the side. The salmon slices were well-cut—thick and firm, with the right balance of salt, smoke, and sweet, and perfectly complemented the potato pancake’s crunchy exterior and creamy, soft insides. The house-made pickle chips were slightly sweet and tasted fresh, with just the right amount of bite. As they say in the South, we “tucked in.” When we came up for air, we felt strong enough to share dessert – a salted caramel pot de crème. Perhaps our tolerance for excess had returned.
We left with a sense of gratitude for the quality of the meal, but also with appreciation for the restaurant’s mission and the plight of service workers who are regularly paid as little as $2.13 per hour and expected to rely on inconsistent tips that often are not enough to allow these workers to escape poverty. Next time we find ourselves in New York with the need to escape pretense, we will return to Colors, where we arrived tired and hungry, and left motivated and nourished.
Colors Restaurant NYC, www.colorsrestaurantnyc.com, 417 Lafayette Street,
New York, NY, 10003, (212) 777-8443