As Washington D.C.’s landscape and demographics change, some residents say that the once “Chocolate City” is losing its flavor to new people and businesses. Yet, one Northwest restaurant is seeking to keep the flavor alive by combining food and fun.
“I grew up in D.C. and the Washington area has a lot of underappreciated flavor profiles, whether it be the halfsmoke sausage… old bay spices and crab cakes…and mumbo sauce,” Andre McCain, founder of HalfSmoke D.C., a new, Black owned restaurant in Shaw, told the AFRO. Mumbo sauce is a local flavor similar to sweet and sour sauce.
HalfSmoke opened its doors in October 2016.
“It’s a modern spin on classic American food and classic local D.C. food that we grew up eating as children…that evoke memories of past experiences whether it be with our friends, our family, or otherwise,” McCain said.
The food offered at HalfSmoke, “starts with the sausages, which we consider to be the star of the show,” McCain said. Sausage options include the traditional half beef, half pork “Halfsmoke”, “Italian Pork”, “Grilled Chicken”, “Bratwurst”, “Lamb Merguez”, and “Vegan Falafel”.
Despite the name, the restaurant has a lot more to offer than halfsmokes, including, create-your-own flatbreads, salads, and rice bowls, and appetizers like “Jalapeno Mac & Cheese Bites”, “Philips Flagship Crab Cakes” and “Wood Grilled Chicken Wings” that comes with classic D.C. mumbo sauce. In addition to savory foods, there are sweets such as milkshakes, funnel cakes, and cotton candy. With the full bar, patrons can enjoy the on-tap cocktails and even add spirits to their milkshakes.
While the restaurant boasts gourmet options, HalfSmoke also prides itself on inexpensive prices.
“It provides an option for people that’s more affordable, more approachable, than a lot of the new restaurants, that have come up,” McCain said.
Still, HalfSmoke offers more than food.
“The experience that we try to create within the restaurant is just as important, if not more important, than the food itself,” McCain said.
There are games to play, such as UNO, Jenga, and beer pong. Patrons can sit in swings, watch music videos and enjoy food in lunch boxes.
The restaurant’s layout is another aspect that makes HalfSmoke unique.
“The idea was so that each person could have their own favorite chair, their own favorite places in the restaurant, and where, each time they come, they have a slightly different experience,” McCain said. While it’s an open space, HalfSmoke has various sections.
“We have a living room…where there’s couches and a fireplace, and you can sit down comfortably and wait for your food. We have the front porch, with the swing chairs. The dining room with the tables…the parlor is a little more intimate and quieter… and then the library with another fireplace and a bookshelf. Then the bar, which is sort of the center of all the actions,” McCain said. There is also outside seating with a projector, and games like corn hole.
With its design, HalfSmoke appeals to a wide-range of patrons.
“We have families, we have young people, we have people coming from other states, people of all races, and I think that’s sort of a testament of the best that D.C. has to offer… but also it’s a testament to the communal nature of the food, where it really brings together a lot of different people,” McCain said.
The entrepreneur said his addition to the neighborhood has been positive.
“So there’s been a lot of talk about the gentrification of Shaw, and I think HalfSmoke is a good representation of how that gentrification can be a good thing for everyone.”
After a three-year journey to open his business, and as a young, Black man from D.C., McCain hopes his entrepreneurship serves as an inspiration.
“As far as the African American community goes, I think my establishment is a testament to what’s possible. I, in high school (Woodrow Wilson) worked a few blocks away at the Up Against the Wall near Howard… and I never had any aspirations, at that time, of being in the restaurant business, and a restaurant owner, and here I am,” the 30 year old said.