What started as a weekly brunch pop-up has evolved into one of the DC-area’s only full-fledged Haitian restaurants: Port-au-Prince, a cozy and colorful eatery that just opened in Silver Spring.
Previously, if Roberto Massillon craved food from his native Haiti, he’d have to rely on home cooking—or visit New York, home to the second-largest Haitian population in the US. (Florida claims the first.) It’s difficult to find Haitian cuisine in Washington apart from a few dishes on broad-reaching Caribbean menus, even with the city’s international makeup. Massillon, a language instructor and self-taught cook, began hosting his Sunday brunch pop-ups in a different Silver Spring restaurant space in 2016 for his students and homesick Caribbean expats. He stopped last year to focus on opening a full-service restaurant with his brother, Makendy Massillon.
“No matter where you’re from, you’ll find yourself in Haitian cuisine,” says Massillon, who also goes by chef Don Berto. “ It’s a Creole cuisine. It has African influence. European influence because we were colonized Spanish and French. Native American, Arabic influence because of the Lebanese and Syrian immigrants.”
On the plate, this translates to dishes like turkey marinated for 24 hours in spices and herbs until tender, deep-fried, and sprinkled with the house pepper sauce for kick. (Goat and lamb both get similar treatments.) Diners will find oft-changing menus with plenty of drinks made with Haitian rum or shots of bwa kochon, an herbaceous house brew that’s said to be a cure-all.
At both brunch and dinner, you’ll find one of the most famous Haitian dishes: soup joumou, or “independence soup.” The squash dish, often brewed with hunks of beef, is traditionally eaten on January 1, the anniversary of Haiti’s independence from France in 1804. Enslaved Haitians were forbidden by their masters to eat the joumou gourd, which makes its consumption all that much more celebratory. Massillon wanted to make the dish more universally appealing, so he omitted the beef for a vegetarian version.
Massillon returns to his pop-up roots for Sunday brunch, an all-you-can-eat affair. Tables can feast on braised salt cod, oxtail stew, a polenta-like dish with beans and avocado, and eggs with spiced vegetables. And true to Haiti’s melange of cuisines, you’ll find a very American tradition mixed in: bottomless mimosas.
Port-au-Prince. 7912 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring. Sunday brunch 11 AM to 2 PM ($35 all-you-can-eat-and-drink, $25 AYCE, $17 kids under 13). Regular hours: Sunday 11 AM to 9 PM; Monday to Thursday, 5 to 10 PM; closed Friday; Saturday 7 PM to midnight.
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Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.