Rose Previte and her husband David Greene spent two and a half years—or more significantly, three winters—living in Russia, while he was a foreign correspondent for NPR. Previte would accompany Greene (now a co-host of NPR’s Morning Edition) on reporting trips across the region, but the couple also traveled all over.
“I literally went to 30 countries in three years,” Previte says. “Everywhere we went—Kazakstan, Paris, Belarus—there was street food, and it was always a window into the culture.”
Those travels helped inspire Compass Rose, a restaurant centered around international street foods opening tomorrow at 14th and T streets NW. Previte has teamed up with Mike Schuster, an owner of Star and Shamrock, Trusty’s, and Barrel, for whom she spent seven years working at soon-to-close The Pour House. (Pour House’s previous incarnation, Politiki, is also where Previte met her husband. She was a waitress, he was a patron.)
Previte has a background in local government in New York and D.C. with a master’s degree in public policy, but restaurants have long been a part of her life. Her Lebanese-American mom has a restaurant in Ohio. And her Italian-American father was a lawyer and a pharmacist who also sold Italian sandwiches at fairs and festivals. “So I actually made street food my entire childhood.”
The menu takes influences from all over the world, although not so much Asia. “I want the menu to make a little bit of sense. I don’t want it to be all over the place,” says chef JohnPaul Damato, who previously worked for Think Food Group, where he was executive chef of all the Jaleo locations. “A lot of this stuff does make sense. There’s a lot of Central American, a lot of Mediterranean influence but if you read back in the trade routes they were constantly learning from one another, using those ingredients.”
Among the dishes you’ll find: wild mushroom papusas with charred tomato salsa; bhel puri chaat with puffed rice and mint chutney; and Georgian flatbread called khachapuri with cheese, an egg cracked in the middle, and butter on top.
“Some of it is straight street food that either I experienced or JP experienced somewhere…And some of it is more influenced by the regions that we’re looking at,” Previte says. The Sicilian-inspired treviso salad with fried artichokes and caramelized sunchokes, for example, isn’t exactly street food, but it brings together ingredients you might find in street markets.
Drinks are equally international, ranging from Lebanese beers to Hungarian wines. “If it’s a French wine, it’s going to be from a region you don’t know as well,” Previte says. Cocktails will integrate spirits like raki, ouzo, and a Georgian grape spirit called chacha, plus Mediterranean and Middle Eastern ingredients like pomegranate, rose water, and orange blossom.
The space has kind of a European alleyway vibe. “The way it’s designed you have to go around corners and kind of discover the new space,” Previte says. Once you wind your way to the back, you’ll discover the “piazza,” a high-ceilinged, skylight-covered dining room that was the backyard until the Compass Rose team enclosed it. A sliver of an outdoor patio remains with drink rails and a big window that opens up from the inside. On the walls are fake moss (though it looks pretty real), a giant compass mural, and a sign that reads “Al’s Market”—a nod to Previte’s grandfather, who had an Italian grocery store in New Jersey. Head down another set of stairs and you’ll land in a hallway with the kitchen on the left and the restrooms and graffiti-style mural from local artist Chloe Rubenstein on the right. If you have to wait for the loo, you can chat with the chefs through a window.
Compass Rose will be open daily at from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m. weekdays and until 3 a.m. on weekends. Eventually, the restaurant plans to expand to brunch.
Compass Rose, 1346 T St. NW; compassrosedc.com
Photos by Jessica Sidman