In 1895 the fire house was constructed by architect, Snowden Ashford, and recognized for its artistic architectural design. By 1897 it would be home to Engine Company 12 and many generations of firemen for close to a century serving the Bloomingdale and Eckington neighborhoods.
The grand historic fire house was transformed into Old Engine 12 in 2013. A multi-level contemporary American restaurant with the capability to host large events. The main restaurant is the bottom level whereas the second level serves as their event/banquet area that can house 200 people. The top level is reminiscent of a speak easy with black leather couches and can be reserved for private parties.
Located minutes from the NoMa Gallaudet University Metro Station on the redline, Old Engine 12 is on the corner of North Capital Street and Quincy Place in the Bloomingdale neighborhood. The restaurant architect did a brilliant job of preserving the character of the fire house by transforming the two garages into huge windows that can be opened during warm weather seasons. The front door is situated between the windows, and pair of fireman’s boots can be seen resting on a window pane.
Entering Old Engine 12 you feel as though you stepped back in time with the original high brick walls. While they left the iconic brass pole that extends to the upper level that once served as living space for the firemen, it is not open to guests. You can, however, lean on it around the bar. This is the type of restaurant you can bring your family to for a memorable dinner or meet your friends for drinks after a long day at work.
Our table was situated inside one of the window coves that was once one of the two garage doors. One of my favorite New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs Matua was served alongside a Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon. Knowing what was on the menu I felt the Matua would pair best since it would not overpower the flavors in the dishes.
Executive Chef Peter Prime welcomed us to Old Engine 12 as the first dish was being placed on our table. Freshly chopped tomato was generously topped on a huge piece of artisan bread. One bite into the lightly grilled bread and you can taste the subtle smokiness. The crust was not hard like I find at most restaurants and loved the olive oil used on this bruschetta.
Kale, considered one of the world’s healthiest foods, received a surge in popularity a few years ago. The veggie once thought to be a novelty ingredient continues to be found in a variety of dishes at restaurants around the country. Chef Prime’s Kalalloo soup with kale, okra and coconut milk dazzled my palate with his use of habanero peppers and creaminess from the coconut. One crispy roasted kale leaf rests on top. I loved the earthiness the kale brings to the soup.
Kalalloo, a play on words since the soup is made with kale, is traditionally spelled “Callaloo.” The national soup of Trinidad and Tobago where Chef Prime originates from can be made with different ingredients. Kalalloo can be a warm or cold soup or even be a sauce to accompany meat or vegetables. No matter how this tantalizing soup is prepared it will leave your palate wanting another bowl. I feel more of a connection with a restaurant when a chef incorporates dishes they grew up with in their native country.
Spring Pea Risotto with peashoots, English peas and parmesan was a wonderful adaptation to the classic Italian dish. The peas were cooked to perfection and the risotto is made in-house. Next was grilled asparagus in a lemonade vinaigrette with pieces of sesame brittle. Smokiness paired unbelievably well with the sweet vinaigrette while the brittle added texture to round out the dish. I could eat this brittle as a daily snack.
Ahi Tuna, to me, is a bit magical the way the fish melts in your mouth with each bite. Chef Prime’s Seared Ahi Tuna Salad over mesclun greens, shaved vegetables, sesame crumble topped with a grilled scallion vinaigrette and dash of avocado mousse beyond met my expectations.
The spring menu took an amazing turn with his Dijon mustard and molasses marinated lamp ribs over polenta, grilled divers scallops and brussel sprouts deliciously coated with chorizo sausage. The lamb fell of the rib which is a sure sign it was grilled properly. The savory mustard and sweet rich molasses marinade matched up to lambs’ distinctive texture and flavor.
To further the smoky flavor theme throughout his menu we sampled their Bloody Mary with smoke infused vodka. I recommend pairing this savory drink with his chicken and waffles.
For anyone who has tried this unlikely pair you understand the balance of sweet meets salty, soft meets crunchy that makes this dish intriguing. The dish received notoriety during the Harlem Renaissance between the 1920s-40s. During this era an explosion of creativity, music and art emerged and with that restaurants began to stay open late to accommodate party goers. The combination came about when a chef had leftover chicken and in an effort to reduce food waste the chicken and waffle dish was born.
Chef Prime takes this dish to a whole new culinary level. Sweet cornbread waffle with jalapeno, smoked cheddar and kampot pepper. A drizzling of honey truffle oil circles the dish (need I say more?). No question this was the best chicken and waffle dish I have ever tasted.
The smoky theme throughout his menu is a generous way to pay homage to the history of the fire house. Old Engine 12 left one mark in Washington, D.C.’s history and now Chef Peter Prime will leave his culinary mark.