There are three things on the Spark menu that are excellent selling points. Each reason appeals to a different crowd. I don’t think there’s a vegetarian that loves oxtails and Pop Rocks.
If you take away one thing from this piece, please consider going to Spark just for the fry bread. It’s the best bread or bread related food I’ve eaten in D.C. in 2018 (For context, the best bread in D.C. I ate in 2017 came from Seylou Bakery and Mill and the best bread in D.C. I ate in 2016 came from Shouk). Served with curried garbanzos, coconut collards and cucumber relish, it’s a vegetarian option in a restaurant where ordering meat is a must.
Now that we’ve established the fry bread is great, the focus of Spark is on the meats. The restaurant bills itself as a Caribbean-inspired smokehouse. Chef Peter Prime does a fine job highlighting his birthplace, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. The dish where he shines brightest are the Guava Rum Grilled Oxtails. Marinated for 48 hours, it’s a dish you’re never going to make at home and may get you out of the house and into Spark.
Almost as good as the oxtails are the smoke bone marrow (if you haven’t had meat butter, you’re not really living but the irony is you’ll live much, much longer). If you really don’t care about cholestoral, smear the marrow on some fry bread.
A somewhat healthier (what isn’t healthier than bone marrow?) option is the much prettier whole red snapper. The menu recommends 1-2 items per person. The snapper is more than enough for two.
The tri tip Wagyu beef, Geera porkbelly and jerk brisket are safer and satisfying options on the menu. They’re also more Instagram friendly. Oxtails and bone marrow don’t look as appetizing on your phone screen.
We mentioned pop rocks in the introduction. The gimmicky menu item is The Urban Legend on the dessert menu. Consisting of banana beignets, rum and Coke syrup and Pop Rocks, it’s the thing that may get you in the restaurant. Similar to Calico’s alcoholic juice boxes, it’s a silly way to get people in the door. Hopefully it works.
All of the dishes are ideal for sharing. Go with a relatively adventurous eater. It’s not difficult to sell a friends on fry bread and desserts with Pop Rocks but oxtails and smoked bone marrow may be a little scary for the unfamiliar.
Spark at Engine Company 12, 1626 N Capitol Street NW, is open Tuesday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Brunch is offered Saturday and Sunday. Reservations are strongly recommended for Friday and Saturday.