America Eats Tavern: Pop in Before It’s Gone

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This isn’t what we at We Love DC call a “First Look,” since America Eats Tavern has already been open for more than one month. Even more importantly, it won’t be around forever. Instead, this a friendly recommendation that you be sure to check out this pop-up restaurant brought to us by Chef José Andrés, before you miss your chance.

Eating here is definitely an experience. This red, white and blue (on the outside) restaurant opened on July 4th. Plainly put, America Eats Tavern is a six-month “benefit” destination in support of the National Archives Experience exhibition program, “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam.”

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Go inside and yes, it still looks like Cafe Atlantico, the previous Andrés restaurant housed at the location — but with a twist. To your left by the doorway is a book shelf with books, mugs and old-school shirts. Right ahead of you is a bar that immediately catches your attention. The drink names are written on an elegant chalkboard of sorts, and you see a “People of America” sign written in calligraphy.

America Eats offers classics with a delicate spin. It’s all about native ingredients and forgotten dishes, “rediscovered” through extensive research, with help from the National Archives and a culinary advisory council of chefs.
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The theme at America Eats is one plate at a time. The menu is so interesting that I almost asked to take it home because of the great descriptions.

My first tip is to skip the bread basket. It costs you $6 (fine), but is beyond underwhelming. The biscuit was cold and hard.

I almost went for the Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich, but chose the Shrimp and Grits instead. The description reads: ”Native Americans first taught the colonists to hull corn into hominy, creating one of the first truly American foods. Here we use creamy Anson Mills grits, carefully milled from rediscovered heirloom corn.” It was great. Not the best I’ve had, but I would come here just for them in a second.

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For the soups and salads I had the Crabcake with watermelon salad. Best salad ever! This was amazing. The dish is from the early 1930s, when just four years after opening, a landmark Baltimore hotel published the first known recipe for this Chesapeake favorite. Well, thank God for them. The contrast between the crabcake and watermelon was a great burst of sweetness. This might be one of my all time favorite dishes.

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For the “Meat” I tried the BBQ Short Ribs with Coleslaw. Both sides of the plate were fantastic, even though my meat didn’t come out medium like I had hoped.  It was juicy and really fell apart perfectly. This dish is from 1839.

The dessert I had was one of the prettiest, I’ve ever seen. Truly. It wasn’t the best, but that’s okay because all I wanted to do was look at it.

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It’s pricey. Hello sticker shock…but maybe wouldn’t have been had I not eaten so much. Did the price match the experience? After a debate, my friends and I decided that it did, if you’re willing to pay. You have to go to America Eats for the food and the experience before the run ends in January.

As the name hints, the menu is all about American food. In case you are wondering, all profits gained from the restaurant during the run of the What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? exhibit will be donated to The Foundation for the National Archives.

America Eats Tavern is located at 405 8th Street NW. The closest metro station is Archives-Navy Memorial (Yellow/Green Lines). For more information, call (202) 393-0812.

Tricia is a native Washingtonian, born and raised in Columbia Heights. She loves DC so much that she was only able to leave the city for one year after college and immediately came running back. Tricia works in PR during the day, and spends her nights trying out new restaurants in DC with friends or watching The Good Wife, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. Tricia recently decided to eat her way though all of Zagat’s 2011 restaurants until she realized she would be old and broke by the time she finished. Follow her on Twitter and email her at Tricia (at) welovedc.com.

One thought on “America Eats Tavern: Pop in Before It’s Gone

  1. Great rundown, Tricia. I went last night, and it was certainly an interesting experience!

    Though the menu is written in a very literary way – like a little history lesson – it offers barely any description of the actual dish, so you end up having a lengthy conversation with your server about the ingredients and preparation. Which isn’t a bad thing necessarily, just different!

    Of all the dishes we tried, the entrees were the best – Tomahawk Bison Steak, Lobster Newburg, and Kentucky Burgoo – but I wouldn’t say any of them were truly outstanding or worth the high price. The appetizers we tried were a bit lacking – the Clambake in particular was disappointing (little clams in a pyrex dish?), also an overly salted Shrimp Remoulade, and a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich that in itself was tasty but with added foie gras that barely registered, little justifying the extra cost.

    The stand-out for me really was the cocktail menu, which takes you through many classics and is a great introduction to the American cocktail. Switchel, Sangaree, Jack Rose, Clover Club, Rickey, Brandy Crusta – all exquisitely crafte. Kudos to Owen Thomson!

    I would definitely return to have cocktails and I do want to explore the oyster section of the menu (the dozen we had with various vinegars was delicious), but at the bar.