National

Purple Patch restaurant an homage to beloved Filipino culture in heart of DC

WASHINGTON — In the heart of Washington, D.C., in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, stands Purple Patch, a Filipino American restaurant that embodies the rich tapestry of Patrice Cleary's heritage.

Cleary, a self-taught chef, a mother, a daughter, and a former Marine, is a first-generation Filipino-American. Her story is set within the four-story building that houses Purple Patch.

"I was able to introduce my food, that I grew up on, that I loved…to people that may have never had it, but also people from the diaspora that missed it and wanted it," Cleary said.

Purple Patch has not only become a culinary hotspot, but has also played a significant role in bringing Filipino food to prominence in Washington, D.C., elevating Cleary's stature as a pioneer in her industry.

Since its opening in 2015, Purple Patch has grown to accommodate more than 200 tables, inside and out, with one very important regular: Mama Alice.

"Mama Alice" is Cleary's mom, who was born and raised in the Philippines. Cleary, whose father served in the U.S. Marines, moved around frequently during her childhood. However, she found her place in the kitchen, learning its mechanics and the art of bringing people together through food.

This connection to her roots inspired Cleary to share her culinary creations with others. "Anybody that opens a restaurant has to be borderline crazy. I went from being a stay-at-home mom one day to a restaurateur the next day," she said.

Within months of opening, Purple Patch gained recognition in the nation’s capital. The restaurant received accolades from notable Washingtonians, including the vice president and the Washington Post's food critic. Its name, a British phrase meaning a period of great success, reflects its fusion roots and is also the color of the famous sweet potato, ube, a staple in Filipino cuisine.

Cleary's menu at Purple Patch is vast, aiming to be approachable for everyone. "I feel like I make dishes that entice people to want to try it -- I love food. I get lost in my kitchen, whether it's here or when I go home. I can never get tired of it."

Before Purple Patch reached its fifth-year anniversary, everything changed. In 2020, COVID-19 was declared a national emergency and Cleary transformed her food haven into a food kitchen, providing over 8,000 free meals to local families in need.

"We probably did over 8,000 meals, free meals from 10 to 1 p.m. It could be pancakes and waffles and lumpia and pancit and juice boxes," Cleary said.

Despite the challenges, Cleary found a way to keep her doors open, her staff employed, and her family's recipes alive. One recipe is Cleary’s favorite -- ginataang alimasag, a dish native to the region where Mama Alice was born and raised. It's a stew of crabs in coconut milk with ginger and kale, served over rice. Cleary was able to adapt the recipe for her restaurant. Instead of whole pieces of crab, including the shell, she uses jumbo lump crab meat. But Cleary acknowledges Mama Alice’s original recipe reigns supreme in a side-by-side taste test.

Perhaps the most beloved dish on the menu is lumpia -- highly addictive, crunchy cigar-shaped appetizers filled with ground pork and beef, carrots and spices, deep-fried to perfection.

In 2021, Patrice had the opportunity to buy the building that houses Purple Patch. Now, from the foundation up, Purple Patch is entirely in Cleary's name.

"We don't even own residential real estate, but we own commercial real estate. This is a dream," Cleary said.A dream that, for Cleary, has now expanded into a second restaurant called Joia Burger, just a few doors down from Purple Patch.

"I own a Filipino restaurant, and I'm part of my own diaspora, you know, and I'm learning so much from my own people, and I'm giving back just as much as they're giving to me," she said.

Cleary said her restaurant allows her to share her culture and heritage with her community, letting her stand shoulder to shoulder with her mother, Mama Alice, in the kitchen, cooking meals they love, in a space they own.

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