When I was growing up in California, I never imagined I would live anywhere else. While I miss my home state, it has been amazing watching the culinary scene grow the past 10 years in Washington, D.C. My adventurous palate has reveled in trying different cuisines from all over the globe.
One of my favorite new restaurants to open its doors this year is Spark at 12 located in the Bloomingdale neighborhood. Executive Chef Peter Prime was born in the beautiful Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, a twin island country located in the South of the Caribbean, and incorporates the dynamic flavors of his upbringing into his dishes. Spark at 12 is housed in the old firehouse and the original pole is still there beside the bar.
Chef Peter’s menu is a modern take on traditional Caribbean street food along with an array of incredible BBQ meat options. The unique aspect about Spark at 12 is its communal seating. Casual long tables like one would see at a beer garden create a warm friendly environment to meet new people.
The diversity of Trinidad and Tobago’s cuisine was greatly influenced by those who settled and colonized the dual-island including Africans, Indians, Europeans and the Chinese. During his childhood growing up in Trinidad, Peter has fond memories of being in the kitchen with his mother. The aromatic spices that filled his home as his mother would prepare meals for the family. He loved to follow her around and watch her cook, which later would be one of his inspirations to become the chef he is today.
Once he arrived to the states in 2005, Peter finished his schooling at Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD. He graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management.
“I always liked to cook but didn’t realize I wanted to be a chef until a summer internship. I spent time in accounting and HR. I spent the final two weeks in the kitchen and knew it was for me. I went back to school and changed my major to Hospitality Management,” Chef Peter said on the time he knew he wanted to become a chef.
Once he graduated from Morgan, he enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York. Executive Chef Joel Hatton, of the Leopold Café in New York, further inspired him to continue his culinary dreams. He was first a Line Cook at Leopold’s and ended as the Sous Chef.
Chef Peter has since worked at a variety of restaurants in Washington D.C. under some of the most renowned D.C. chefs as Todd Gray and the late Michel Richard. Past restaurants include Kafe Leopold’s, Poste Moderne Brassiere, Citronelle, Equinox, and Shaw’s Tavern.
“I love how dynamic the city is, from neighborhoods to restaurants the city is in constant flux,” he said about what he loves about D.C.
Spark at 12 allows him the opportunity to share dishes that are close to his heart while also incorporating dishes he learned to make once moving to the states. The communal dining experience reflects his vibrant Trinidadian heritage. The strong family theme that is woven into the Trinidadian culture and welcoming of new people to his tables is evident at Spark at 12.
The Jerk Chicken wings with Chef Peter’s mustard sauce was off the hook. Served on a round rustic tree serving dish only added to the comfortable vibe of the restaurant. I highly recommend you start each meal with these wings.
Chef Peter’s beef patties with cinnamon avocado cream were amazing. I would have never thought to combine cinnamon and avocados together and yet the flavors harmonized well. The cinnamon added a depth of flavor to the sauce that spiced up each bite of the patty.
I love kale. I love kale raw, roasted, steamed or crispy. Chef Peter’s Crispy Lollipop Kale with the drizzled honey soy reduction is the best kale I have had yet in the city. Not too sweet and crisped to perfection.
Thanks to Chef Peter, I tried bone marrow for the first time. The bone marrow was creatively set on top of brown butter mashed potatoes. I savored every bite. The marrow has a unique texture and flavor one must experience.
“The elements of our dishes are very close to the dishes that inspired them but the final dish is quite often its own thing. The oxtails are slow cooked the way I had them as a kid, but the finish on the grill and the guava/rum barbecue is unique to Spark,” he said about the cross between dishes he grew up with and styles that inspired him working at restaurants in the states.
Then the platter of six different types of uniquely seasoned BBQ meats was set before our hungry eyes. This was a serious meat-lover kinda heaven.
- Chipotle Maple Grilled Oxtails
- Lacquered Chicken
- Geera Pork Belly
- Jerk Brisket
- Trip Tip Wagyu Beef
- Hen of the Woods
“Is that a whole fish?” We all had to be thinking as a whole red snapper was brought to our table our eyes widening as it was set before us. Beautifully plated and fried to perfect crispness. The tender meat fell right off each fragile bone.
With happy full tummies, we had no idea what kind of dessert surprise was awaiting us until the Pop Rocks were set on our table. I will always love those silly popping candies! I even make a holiday candy each Christmas with candy cane pop rocks. The servers let us choose our flavor.
The Urban Legend dessert was unlike any dessert I have experienced, thus far! Banana beignets with a rum and coke syrup in adorable little glass bottles and topped with pop rocks. The server instructed us to pour the syrup over the warm beignets and then add the pop rocks. The rocks popped and sizzled. The combination of flavors and texture of the pop rocks popping with each bite is a culinary experience I will never forget.
The last dessert they brought out was another taste from my childhood. Every summer when the sound of the ice cream truck neared our neighborhood in San Jose, California, I would run outside change in hand, to request my favorite orange ice cream push up pop. Chef Peter created maple chocolate covered bacon ice cream pops, jalapeno cheesecake pops, and guava lime (my favorite) pops. Try ALL of them.
While I focused on the food in this review, Spark at 12’s cocktails were equally creative and unique. I suggest you ask your server or bartender which cocktail you should pair with each dish you order. The cocktails add another flavor component to your dining experience.
While enjoying some of Chef Peter’s childhood favorites, you’re likely to recall a few of your own as well as discover some new Caribbean favorites!
What are you waiting for? Text your friends to meet at Spark at 12 and then meet new friends at one of their tables!