In-the-know Longwoodians put Pierre’s Place, a modest little restaurant off Ronald Reagan Boulevard, on their regular lunch and dinner rotation for good reason – namely ever-gracious chef/owner Peterson Pierre and his ever-gratifying Haitian/Jamaican/Puerto Rican dishes. Pierre, a graduate of the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, brought a classically trained approach to island fare, but just as word was getting out in the suburbs, Pierre closed up shop, moved operations to Belle Isle and opened StreetWise Urban Food. It was out with the Port au Prince oxtails with succotash rice and in with Cajun chicken tacos. Purists weeped and skeptics cheeped, but if ever there were a restaurant that pleasantly surprised the hell out me this year, it was this one.
Asked why he opted to ditch the Caribbean creole for burgers and tacos, Pierre says he felt the latter would go over well in this sleepy neighborhood. Not that he doesn’t add a bit of island flair to his street staples – sweet plantains in the burger ($7.99), for example, and what a mighty fine burger it is. And just to show how Cordon Bleu he is, Pierre plops an inverted metal mixing bowl over the sizzling burgers to get the perfect melt on the cheddar cheese. He’ll even squirt a little water under the bowl to create added steam off the flat top – soooo Cordon Bleu. The lustrous brioche bun held up beautifully too, and the combination of garlic-mayo ketchup and thinly sliced pickles really gave it a Big Mac kinda flavor. One of the better burgers in the city? I’d say so.
Like that burger, the pulled chicken hoagie ($9.95) comes served on an aluminum tray lined with faux newspaper. It’s a cutesy touch, but not eye-rollingly so. If anything, it shows his passion and eagerness to impress, which that sandwich certainly does with its moist pulled chicken, pickled onions, provolone and pesto aioli. There’s a mess of arugula, and it’s as bright and fresh as can be.
And then the tacos. No, they’re not of the “authentic” variety, but shaved seasoned beef ($8.95) on a trio of flour tortillas with white rice, a cheese blend and chipotle aioli proved wholly acceptable. Only later did I realize corn tortillas were also offered. Even said so on the menu.
I guess my eyes were drawn to the words “chicken and waffle hot mess” ($9.99) instead, though the methodical plating of the four cheesy-herb waffles and crispy seasoned chicken strips undermined the alleged disorder. I suppose the splatter of syrup – Pierre takes real maple syrup (yes, the real stuff), infuses it with a bit of buffalo sauce, and lets the solution marinate for a few days – and the haphazard dusting of powdered sugar lend credence to the “hot mess” tag. It’s great, regardless. It’s also one of the few dishes that made the jump from the Longwood eatery to StreetWise. But the fact he’s willingly chosen not to serve his native island fare in a place called Belle Isle is, I’m sure, an irony not lost on Pierre. It just goes to show that you can take the island out of the boy, but you can’t take the boy out of the island.
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