Caribbean cuisine is more than jerk chicken and oxtails smothered in gravy. Chef Peter Prime, of Caribbean-inspired smokehouse Spark, will focus on a whole range of island flavors from his native Trinidad and Tobago at his forthcoming spot, Cane.
Slated to open on H Street Northeast in February, the casual eatery will feature a slim menu that focuses heavily on roti. These flatbreads will be stuffed with a variety of hearty curries, a good fit for a late night pit-stop or a casual breakfast. Morning offerings will also include breakfast breads made of Johnny cake dough with fillings like bacon and eggs. For dinner, try chicken feet and ox heel, both of which will be braised in their own juices before a quick pickle. And yes, you’ll still find jerk chicken and oxtails, too.
Although Prime will oversee the kitchen, his sister Jeanine Prime is helping design the store’s interior and menu, balancing old family recipes like the seasonal Christmas pastelles (think a cornmeal tamale stuffed with ground meat) with new creations.
To drink, expect international beers, Caribbean batch cocktails, and, of course, rums. Beyond the sugarcane spirit, Cane has found other ways to pay homage to sugarcane, a chief product across the Caribbean. The dining room will display live cane plants grown in pots as well as recycled cane stalks.
“The cane is the reason that all of the different cultures were brought to Trinidad. We are trying to respect some of that and reflect the atmosphere we’re going for,” says Prime.
Prime hasn’t always known he wanted to cook Caribbean. Freshly graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York, he landed his first job at Kafe Leopold, an Austrian restaurant in Georgetown.
“As a young cook, you have all these dreams of opening a fine dining or gastropub. What you want is based on what you’ve seen and people that you idolize, and there weren’t very many examples of that in Caribbean food,” says Prime.
Then last fall, Prime went to Laotian restaurant Thip Khao and tried its “jungle” papaya salad coated in fiery chili. The aggressive spicing took Prime back to his childhood in Trinidad. Having been repeatedly reminded to curb his seasonings in culinary school (“people would say, ‘Oh, that’s too much pepper, that’s too much”), witnessing the success of a restaurant unafraid to smack customers in the face with flavor was an inspiration.
At Cane, Prime not only intends to fearlessly spice each of his dishes in traditional Trinidadian fashion, he wants to bring the casual camaraderie of Trinidadian nightlife to the neighborhood.
“A lot of the food that we’re doing here at Cane kind of fits with the H Street vibe. There’s some really popular strips back home in Trinidad where you can get roti, and there are bars and people are hanging out,” Prime says. “I wanted to evoke Trinidad liming—a hanging out kind of vibe.”
Cane. 403 H St., NE.