Dish of the Week: America Eats Tavern’s shrimp and grits

Media Credit: Max Wang | Senior Staff Photographer

Shrimp and grits ($16) at Jose Andres' America Eats Tavern stays true to its roots, with stone ground grits from Virginia that are cooked in aged Wisconsin cheddar.

Famed chef José Andrés provided a new addition to the Georgetown restaurant scene that offers a carefully curated menu and antique decor that attracts history buffs and foodies alike.

Originally located in Tyson’s Corner and Penn Quarter, America Eats Tavern relocated to a renovated property in Georgetown that previously housed the popular barbecue and bar spot Old Glory. American Eats Tavern’s concept came about in 2011 when Andrés worked with the National Archives as the chief culinary adviser for the exhibit “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?”

The restaurant strives to represent the history of American food by offering a variety of iconic dishes created in the United States. The menu is especially unique, and its dishes include the name of the chef or restaurant that originated the recipe, along with where and when it was created.

The two-story restaurant at 3139 M St. NW gives off a polished antique vibe with mahogany fixtures, leather seats, gold plated lamps and murals, like a Route 66 sign.

America Eats Tavern serves brunch daily beginning at 11 a.m., and serves dinner until 10 p.m. on Sundays and Mondays. The restaurant stays open until 11 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, and welcomes guests for an extra hour on Fridays and Saturdays.

Authentically American cuisine is hard to track down, and the majority of the dishes come from the Deep South or Northeast. As a Southerner, the menu felt like home to me, and historical descriptors elevated my appreciation for the dishes.

The stand-out Southern dish on the menu is the shrimp and grits ($16), but other options helped me assemble a well-rounded meal that hit on all the Southern staples.

Shrimp and grits originated in American Colonial Jamestown, and is served at nearly every restaurant in the South. Andrés’ iteration stays true to its roots, with stone ground grits from Virginia that are cooked in aged Wisconsin cheddar.

The cheddar gave a tangy bite that balanced out the rich creaminess of the grits. They were more toothy than most grits, but this texture held up perfectly against the broth, which pooled in hefty swirls.

The cajun broth was blessed by a sauteed trinity of bell peppers, onion and celery. The flavor was elevated by the ham-hock’s smokiness and the heat provided by spices like cayenne, paprika, thyme and garlic powder.

Sitting on top were the almost perfectly cooked shrimp, which maintained a crisp char on the edges and a tender interior. Combined with the delectably cheesy grits and savory broth, the hearty and traditional dish transported you a few hundred miles south of the Georgetown joint.

For an appetizer, I started with impressive hush puppies ($8) served topped with house-made honey butter. The dish can easily become dry and dense, but at America Eats Tavern, the fried balls of cornmeal batter had jalapeno inside, which added a bite to the airy center.

To wash down the dish, I kept in true Southern fashion and ordered a sweet tea ($4), which is a rare find north of the Mason Dixon Line. A complete cocktail menu features other American classics like the New York sour ($14) or a simple Arnold Palmer ($5).

If you aren’t from the South, you can still find options that are a well-done ode to your home. Fried okra with smoked yogurt sauce ($6) is native to 19th-century Philadelphia, and if you’re from a bit farther north, the half-smoke hot dog ($14), born in Coney Island, N.Y., is topped with creole mustard, tomato and house-made pickles.

No matter where you are from, America Eats Tavern will give you a glimpse at food history before blowing your taste buds away.

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