Trinidad is known for its limes, a term locals use to describe social events with good food, drinks, and friends that sometimes last all day and night. It is in this joyous spirit that Cane’s award-winning chef Peter Prime and his younger sister, co-owner Jeanine Prime will open their second D.C. restaurant across town this summer.
St. James (2017 14th Street NW) will pay homage to the cuisine and culture of their native Trinidad. These influences come from indigenous people, Chinese and Indian descendants of indentured laborers, Black people whose African ancestors were enslaved there, and the various European powers who colonized the island.
Prime, Eater DC’s 2019 Chef of the Year for Cane, will have a much bigger space to work with at St. James. The 2,800-square-foot spot, which formerly housed Quarter + Glory, is almost three times larger than Cane, the siblings’ popular, H Street NE restaurant centered around traditional Caribbean street foods.
St. James is named after the vibrant district within Trinidad’s capital, Port of Spain. Known for its booming nightlife and reflection of Trinidad’s diverse food, cultures and traditions. St. James epitomizes liming. The Primes grew up near St. James and remember it as a hub for late-night eateries and bars.
“It’s kind of like a part of town that never sleeps and there are lots of street festivals,” Jeanine Prime says.
The district is also home to Hosay, a Muslim ceremony that commemorates Hussein and Hassan, the murdered grandsons of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. Locals observe it for 10 days, most notably through processions filled with drumming and floats shaped like mausoleums, also known as tadjahs.
The restaurant will offer modern takes on the cuisine the Primes grew up on, which they say is still undervalued in the food world.
“European cuisine, particularly French cuisine, is what’s seen as high cuisine, haute cuisine,” Jeanine Prime says. “When people often talk about Caribbean food … it’s often reduced to a few things, like (Jamaican) jerk chicken, rice and peas, and patties.”
As such, the in-the-works menu will showcase a charcuterie board with black pudding, a well-known blood sausage in St. James that the Primes will likely serve with hops bread.
Black pudding is traditionally prepared with pig’s blood, but modern versions can include pork liver. Chef Prime aims to set his apart by including lots of green seasoning and regional pimento and scotch bonnet peppers and finishing the dish with sautéed peppers and onions.
“It really needs to win you over at the first bite,” he said. “It’s almost like a dense pâté.”
Callaloo, a popular soup in Trinidad and elsewhere in the Caribbean, will find a home at St. James. Trinidadian callaloo is a mashup of scotch bonnet peppers, green onions, thyme, dasheen leaves, okra, onions, salt meat, and crab all cooked in coconut milk. Chef Prime will punch up his take on the dish by making it more crab-centered. From there, he may roll out other versions.
COVID-19 capacity restrictions prompted the siblings to transform their tiny, 33-seat restaurant with a four-seat bar into a carryout operation. St. James, by comparison, will seat 97 guests, including 20 at the bar and 12 on the patio for brunch and dinner.
“It’s a lot more space than our cozy quarters at Cane,” Jeanine Prime said.
The bigger bar means the Primes can expand their cocktail program and add beer on tap. Chef Prime hopes to launch house-made shandies, that will combine beer and different kinds of juices. The siblings haven’t made final calls on the juices, but Peter Prime has been experimenting with different citrus flavors.
The Primes intend to reserve space at the restaurant so that young and up-and-coming chefs can headline late-night pop-ups.
“We want to support other Black business owners and inspire other Black entrepreneurs and that has informed the partnerships in bringing St. James to life, to fruition,” Jeanine Prime said. “We really want to inspire that entrepreneurship, particularly among the BIPOC group.”
The Primes say they’ll return Cane to full service before opening St. James and bring their flair to the buzzy 14th Street strip in a sophisticated, not stuffy, setting.
“It kind of hit home for us at a lot of levels — the vibe of St. James reminds me of 14th Street the way I remembered it pre-COVID,” Peter Prime said. “After all we’ve been through, we all need a good lime right now.”