A few weeks ago, we decided to take a staycation and have some fun in our fair city of DC. We had been curious to try America Eats Tavern since it first opened and thought it would be fun to see the corresponding exhibit at the National Archives that was about to close. Additionally, we had a gift card to use for any ThinkFoodGroup restaurant, so we figured what better way to spend it than at Mr. Andres’ newest establishment (trust me, we tried calling Minibar… no dice).
Anyway, after a rainy afternoon at the Archives, we made our way over to the restaurant. We got there just in time for their happy hour, which is great and kind of a hidden secret. The Thomas Downing Oyster and Cocktail Hour runs from 4 to 6 p.m. and then again from 9 to close. Of course, we had to try their oysters so we started off with half a dozen and then ordered some more because they were that good, and a steal at a dollar apiece.
What makes their oyster hour really fun is their house made vinegars. Between the two of us we tried the pear vinegar, the sparkling wine, the pear and raspberry, the red wine, and the lemon. It was nice to mix and match the vinegars with the different types of oysters and see which paired well together. Their cocktail list looked awesome, but we couldn’t resist Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald on tap for $4. That’s just too good to pass up.
Moving on, we were seated upstairs for dinner in their more formal dining room. We didn’t realize till we got there that there were two different menus. The downstairs menu was more casual and had more sandwich options while the upstairs menu featured more entrees. Upstairs we went, even though based on what we ordered, we could have sat anywhere.
The menu itself had an incredible amount of detail in that each item came with a story of the origin of the dish. I have to say what makes the menu confusing is that many of the entrée items are only available on certain days of the week, so you need to pay attention to see if what you are in the mood for is available. Looking at the options, we were definitely drawn to many of the appetizers over the entrees, so we decided to start with a few of those and go from there.
The first two appetizers we tried were the hushpuppies with housemade sorghum butter and the fried chicken with catsup. I have to say, I’m not sure which I loved more. One of my favorite bar snacks I had in 2011 were the hush puppies at Food Wine and Co., and these blew them away. They were warm, buttery, and somehow incredibly light and crispy. They tasted even better when dipped in the corn butter that accompanied it.
The fried chicken could have been a meal in itself, if only we could have ordered a larger portion. The chicken had a nice crispy crust along with incredibly tender and juicy meat. What was different was the blackberry catsup that came with the dish. Apparently catsups back in the 1800s were much thinner, more vinegary, and came in a variety of flavors before Heinz standardized it. They have several to choose from off the menu, but we were very happy with the blackberry mixture.
Next up was vermicelli prepared like pudding, a dish I had read about which proclaimed it as basically a fancy version of mac and cheese. It had a nice crispy crust and was tasty, but it was almost too small to really enjoy and was probably the least memorable dish we tried.
Finally, we decided to continue with the appetizer trend and got the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We had heard so much about this from various reviews complaining how something so simple could cost $8 (I think it used to be $10 but they lowered the price). But yeah, it really is just a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You could add foie gras to it if you want (for double the price), though just imagining the combination of PB&J plus liver doesn’t seem too appealing.
The only difference was that everything was housemade. They even cut the crusts off like mom did, and it came with a small glass of milk with a straw. They definitely got points for presentation with that. It was a tasty sandwich, but the peanut butter overpowered the jelly a little too much.
After all these fun apps, we were pretty full and decided to go straight to dessert. In the end we chose the pineapple upside cake, which was warm and delicious, and I guess pretty fitting since Dole is a sponsor of the restaurant.
Although we had never been to Cafe Atlántico before, we definitely love what they did to decorate the place for America Eats. It really does mirror the exhibit that ran at the Archives and the restaurant itself looks like something out of a museum, filled with historic pictures and artifacts and decorated in red, white and blue colors. As a final touch, they presented our check inside a book. I definitely appreciate when restaurants get creative with the check presentation.
There’s still time to check out America Eats if you haven’t yet. They were supposed to only be open until January 4th but we were told they extended their run through July of this year. While the food we tried didn’t blow me away, it was definitely fun and felt like a history lesson at the same time. I would go back and maybe share some entrees too, or see what their brunch is like. Who knows what Jose Andres will decide to do come this July?