A soul food restaurant that’s built a loyal following for rich dishes piled high with seafood at its original location in Lanham, Maryland, opened a D.C. outpost on H Street NE in late October. KitchenCray began as a catering business that won chef-owner J.R. Robinson attention from celebrities and a spot as a contestant on Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen. Loaded with Cajun and Caribbean flavors, the restaurant offers generous portions of shrimp and grits, lobster mac and cheese, fried chicken and French toast, and stuffed salmon.
Unlike the Lanham location, which opens early for breakfast and brunch, the new restaurant at 1301 H Street NE aims to match the popular nightlife corridor’s peak hours with a focus on dinner. KitchenCray’s opening hours are 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. Weekend brunch is served every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Robinson, who previously worked in the respected seasonal kitchen at the Blue Duck Tavern, says the menu will be limited to start, but the opening options still show off his creativity and his Harlem roots. A takeout menu offers online ordering.
Washingtonians who crave oxtails can find two dishes featuring the Jamaican favorite on KitchenCray’s menu. The first, a spring roll, gets filled with oxtail that’s been braised for six hours and served alongside a Mumbo dipping sauce.
Robinson makes oxtail Benedict built on a Southern biscuit for weekend brunch. Oxtail meat slow-cooked in a gravy gets topped with a poached egg and covered in Hollandaise sauce. Robinson says the meat should be tender enough to fall off the bone: “That’s how you know you’ve cooked it correctly.” It’s served with roasted red skin potatoes and a sweet potato hash.
“It’s comfort food with a smile,” says Sudon Williams, KitchenCray’s vice president and a partner in the new location.
A coconut curry lobster with rice and beans is Robinson’s take on a Caribbean dish. Seared lobster and shrimp sit atop a bed of tender rice and beans smothered in a coconut curry sauce with hints of ginger, turmeric, and cumin. The end result is a slightly sweet first bite with a spicy finish that lingers.
Instead of chicken and waffles, Robinson serves chicken and French toast with a decadent recipe that calls for dousing bread in an ice cream base. All the proteins at KitchenCray showcase a little heat, and the chicken has just enough to offset the sweetness from the French toast drizzled with caramel and vanilla sauces.
When D.C. public health protocols allow service from the bar, KitchenCray will open seating there with a few signature drinks developed by Robinson and his team. During brunch, expect Caribbean rum punch and bloody marys with a mixer made on-site. Bacon, shrimp, and crab meat will be available as toppings. Williams has also teased a taco Tuesday-themed menu that will include Hennessy cognac margaritas.
Robinson, who experienced homelessness as a child, began his culinary career in high school. He says he wants to provide career opportunities to students across the DMV looking for experience in the restaurant industry.
“Food connects everyone, and we want our dishes and more importantly our impact to resonate with our community,” Robinson says. “If the next, great culinary leader happens to have been trained under our leadership at KitchenCray, then we consider that a success.”
“We’re just two guys from Brooklyn and Harlem doing our best to infuse a bit of our culture in everything we produce,” Williams adds.
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