City Paper is not for tourists
If there’s one Instagram account to avoid when your stomach is grumbling and you’re hours away from a meal, it’s @kitchencraycafe.
The dishes Chef JR Robinson posts from his first brick-and-mortar restaurant in Maryland are so tempting you can practically smell the butter through the screen. (If Instagram isn’t your thing, the photos are also on the KitchenCray Cafe website.)
To try the dishes, your current options are to book catering from Robinson or drive out to his brick-and-mortar restaurant in Lanham. But soon you’ll be able to eat Robinson’s french toast, chicken and waffles, and catfish and grits on H Street NE. He’s signed a lease for a 3,000-square-foot space at 1301 H St. NE.
“It was a former church but they knocked it down and built a whole new building,” Robinson says. He hopes to open his restaurant in the spring of 2020.
The menu will be similar to the one in PG County with a few tweaks. “I know people like to eat breakfast for dinner,” Robinson says. “We’re also adding crab cakes because they’re a staple in the DMV area.” Another dish that will definitely make the menu is the lobster mac and cheese, featuring a fried lobster tail and buttered claw meat.
Robinson says the restaurant will have a full bar and he’s bringing down a mixologist from New York to develop the drink program.
KitchenCray started out as a catering and events company. Robinson founded it after working in kitchens at Blue Duck Tavern, Indulj, a couple of high-end hotels, and the U.S. Department of Energy, where he once cooked for 300 people, including President Barack Obama. The Hell’s Kitchen contestant has also made meals for Torrey Smith, T.I., and Wale.
Robinson grew up in New York’s Harlem neighborhood. “When I was growing up my mother gave us up to our grandmother,” he told City Paper in 2018. “We were in foster care for a while.” Then as a teen his mother stepped back into the picture but she was still on drugs and drinking, according to Robinson. “For four years we were sleeping outside, sleeping on floors, and eating whatever we could eat.”
Today Robinson strives to hire people who have faced similar struggles. He says when it comes time to open he’ll partner with local culinary institutes to find staff. “We’re doing something for the community,” he says. “We’re trying to create new jobs.”
It sounds like Robinson is just getting started. He says that after D.C. he hopes to open restaurants in other major U.S. cities.
KichenCray Cafe, 1301 H St. NE; kitchencray.com