Since 2019, Northeast D.C. has been blessed with a bit of Trinidad in Cane, the popular H Street restaurant from the brother-sister duo, Chef Peter Prime and co-owner, Jeanine Prime. Late this summer, they’re bringing the culinary love to the city’s Northwest quadrant. Near the corner of 14th and U Street, the siblings will open St. James, an eatery inspired by the lively neighborhood in Trinidad and Tobago’s capital city, Port of Spain. The space will be three times larger than Cane, at 2,800-square feet, and seat 97 guests between the dining room, patio and bar areas.
For the the siblings, opening up such a large space following a year of lockdown is a bold and exciting move. And St. James is promising to deliver the party that diners have been craving for more than a year. The Primes hope the restaurant exudes the lively energy of the restaurant’s namesake. Despite St. James being a small neighborhood in a small city on a small island, Peter likens the feeling of visiting there to his first time stepping foot in New York City.
“I would always get this tingling feeling,” Peter says. “You can feel the energy of the city.”
St. James is a hub for nightlife and street food in the city, and its streets are where people flock to after leaving a party.
“You felt like you were really hitting the city. [St. James is] the one place you can always find something to do.”
It’s also where he developed his culinary palate, coming to appreciate traditional Trinidadian foods, from doubles, a dish of curried chickpeas served on fried flatbread, to barbecue, pickled sauces, blood sausage and hot corn soup.
The menu, like Cane, will showcase several of these dishes. But at St. James, Peter plans to emphasize Trinidad’s African-influenced dishes, like pelau, a one-pot rice dish, with various proteins, pigeon peas and vegetables; or pastelles, a filled-dough treat served at Christmas. Pastellas are traditionally filled with beef, raisins, capers, and peppers, but Peter plans to develop a vegetarian version as well.
Wrapped in cornmeal dough, pastellas resemble tamales, however, they are cooked in banana leaves. Peter discovered the West African influence of the banana leaf cooking technique after attending an event a few years ago. They were serving oleleh, a filled-dough snack from Sierra Leone, which is also cooked in banana leaves.
“I didn’t realize how much of the flavor came from the banana leaf. It definitely tied everything together and a light bulb went off when I first had it.”
For drinks, Menehune group consultant Glendon Hartley will develop the menu, but Peter hopes to feature another Trinidadian Christmas favorite — sorrel drink, a hibiscus-infused beverage made with warming spices and rum. Hartley also helped develop other District beverage programs like Service Bar on U Street.
Working with more space, Peter wants to do cured meats and barbecue, an homage to Spark, the North Capitol Street restaurant where he first started showcasing Trinidadian flavors. He anticipates not just smoked wings, like at Cane, but barbeque brisket as well as flank, ribs, and a charcuterie board of house-cured meats, like guanciale and jerk-spiced duck prosciutto.
In a period that’s been notoriously difficult for restaurants to find workers, Peter trusts that the network of dining and kitchen staff he’s fostered since Spark will be enough. Given what the industry went through during the pandemic, he also wants St. James to be more supportive of staff. He’s unsure what that will look like but envisions the restaurant offering opportunities for young chefs to showcase what they’ve been working on.
“[Our chefs are] the ones cooking the food every day people are enjoying,” he says. “I love eating their food, so I want to provide a platform for them.”
Peter adds that he’s considering ways to make the restaurant more community-oriented and allow groups and pop-ups to use the space during off-hours.
In part, this is inspired by Cane’s participation in Erik Bruner-Yang’s Power of 10 Initiative, which put restaurant workers back to work feeding first responders, and then later children and others in need. Bruner-Yang is the chef behind Maketto and ABC Pony. At St. James, in addition to serving the delicious food he’s known for, Peter wants to build on that larger mission.
“I want the restaurant to be more than a business going forward. If the restaurant is going to be something essential [to locals], we have to act that way all the time and provide for the community [beyond] the typical ways.”
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