When I first moved to Wisconsin Avenue nearly 20 years ago, Paolo’s Ristorante was one of my first haunts. So, when it closed last year, it was like saying goodbye to an old friend.
But when you enter High Street Cafe, which took Paolo’s prime location on the corner of N Street last December, you can bring back a little of that loving feeling — the Latin-themed brasserie is rooted in friendship.
Owner Manuel Iguina and chef Gerard Cribbin met many moons ago. The two worked at Filomena’s in the 1980s, back when it was one of the “it” places. In the 1990s, Filomena’s was beloved by both President Bill Clinton and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Iguina and Cribbin forged a friendship and returned to Puerto Rico, Iguina’s home, to work on ventures there.
When their paths converged back in Washington (Cribbin’s children are studying at local universities), they decided to revive the 1980s heyday with a restaurant of their own, one that infuses their love of Puerto Rico with a decidedly all-American sensibility.
They knew it had to be back in Georgetown — their old stomping grounds, and the place they know and love. In fact, High Street takes its moniker from the original name for Wisconsin Avenue.
Because of its location on a busy block, walk-ins, tourists and Georgetown regulars all can feel at home and get a table relatively easily.
High Street Cafe is like a Latino version of “Cheers.” Everybody knows your name and your favorite dish — which changes daily, offering Cribbin a chance to showcase the kitchen’s versatility.
The place is well designed and full of light, with great views of Georgetown foot traffic. The oven, which can be seen from your table, is original to the place. It’s a great source of nostalgia for Paolo’s fans.
That venerable old stove is also how High Street makes its signature pizzas, ranging from the ordinary (the Margherita ) to the decadent (the Dolce, with figs and goat cheese. Oh, my!).
I started out with alcapurrias, adorable meat pies, a Puerto Rican favorite. You can select from an eclectic menu. I opted for the brioche bun hamburger and French fries. Daily specials include lechon asado (roasted pig) and crispy fried snapper (chillo frito).
Brunch is the most popular meal at High Street, and happy hours are picking up steam. The back third of the restaurant can be partitioned off for private events, beckoning those special Filomena’s days.
Still, as High Street is looking forward as well as back, meals are available through online delivery apps.