Sweet Home Café, housed in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, is the newest dining experience at a Smithsonian museum.
Managed as a joint venture by Thompson Hospitality and Restaurant Associates, with celebrity chef Carla Hall as the culinary ambassador, Sweet Home Café showcases the rich culture and history of the African American people with traditional, authentic offerings as well as present-day food traditions. Behind Executive Chef Jerome Grant, Sweet Home Café uses the very best version of classic dishes and employs a high degree of from-scratch cooking with locally-sourced ingredients. Four distinct stations each tell the story of the regional offerings.
The South has always been our country’s breadbasket. The long growing season has established it as an agricultural powerhouse. Products such as corn, stoneground grits, Virginia ham, pecans and peaches have become staples of the American diet.
Sample menu items offered
- Original Brunswick Stew – featuring braised chicken and rabbit, corn, tomatoes and lima beans. While both Virginia and Georgia lay claims to the original recipe, the café preparation of the dish promises to be the best version, period.
- Gullah-style Hoppin' John – a traditional New Year’s Day lunch dish in the American South. While the origin of the name elicits many theories, the dish itself is commonly made with rice and black-eyed peas, both readily available in the South and familiar ingredients to slaves native to West Africa. The authentic Gullah-style version is served in Sweet Home Café where black-eyed peas are substituted with sea island red peas.
The cuisine of the Creole Coast has become world renowned for its unique blend of flavors and ingredients along with its laborious cooking techniques. It reflects a wide variety of cultures, including West African, Native American, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Acadian.
Sample menu items offered
- Gulf Shrimp & Anson Mills Stone Ground Grits – featuring the premier corn-product from popular Columbia, S.C.-based Anson Mills alongside smoked tomato butter, caramelized leeks and crispy Tasso.
- Pan-fried Louisiana Catfish Po’ boy – served with red pepper rémoulade and green bean pickles.
Both freed people along with those who had escaped the chains of slavery found refuge and opportunity in the North. The offerings include northern indigenous products along with flavors and techniques that people brought with them upon their migration.
Sample menu items offered
- “Smoking Hot” Caribbean-style Pepper Pot – a dish inspired by the Caribbean and West Indian immigrant communities that have settled in the northeast.
- Thomas Downing-inspired NYC Oyster Pan Roast – named after a free African American from Virginia who relocated to New York City. Downing operated a renowned oyster cellar, Downing’s Oyster House. Downing and his son housed escaped slaves in their basement as part of the Underground Railroad.
After the Civil War, many African Americans sought new opportunities in the West. The cuisine was strongly influenced by Native American and Mexican culture. Familiar ingredients such as corn, peaches, turkey and squashes took on new flavors by the addition of chilies, wild sage and Mexican oregano.
Sample menu items offered
- “Son of a Gun Stew” – amended from the more colorful version of the expression, a classic cowboy dish of the American West. Many freed slaves migrated West and took jobs as ranch hands where they made this dish using whatever leftover cuts of beef were available as the prime cuts went to market. The stew was made with ingredients that were held on the chuck wagon such as barley, dried tomatoes and root vegetables.
- Pan Roast Rainbow Trout – served with cornbread and mustard green stuffing and hazelnut brown butter.
The Agricultural South
- Original Brunswick Stew, Braised Chicken & Rabbit, Corn, Tomatoes, Lima Beans
- Buttermilk Fried Chicken, served with 2 sides
- Lexington Style BBQ Pork Sandwich, Slaw, Pickled Watermelon Rind, Potato Salad
- Slow Cooked Collards, Cornbread Sticks & Potlikker
Sweet Corn Pudding
The Creole Coast
- Duck, Andouille & Crawfish Gumbo, Carolina Rice, Green Onions
- Georgia Shrimp & Anson Mills Stone Ground Grits, Smoked Tomato Butter, Caramelized Leeks, Crispy Tasso
- BBQ All Natural Chicken, Alabama White Sauce
- Pan-fried Louisiana Catfish Po’boy, Smoked Red Pepper Rémoulade, Green Bean Pickles
- Louisiana-style Catfish, served with 2 sides
- Red Beans & Rice
- Candied Yams
- House Pickled Vegetables, Okra, Green Beans, Chow Chow, Green Tomatoes, B&B
The North States
- “Smoking Hot” Pepper Pot
- Smoked Haddock & Corn Croquettes, Gribiche Sauce, House Made Brown Bread
- Smothered Turkey Grillades, Fried Apple, Sage Gravy, Johnny Cakes
- Thomas Downing Inspired NYC Oyster Pan Roast
- Yankee Baked Beans, Smokey Molasses Sauce
Roast Sweet Potatoes, Cranberry Walnut Vinaigrette
The Western Range
- “Son of a Gun Stew” Braised Short Ribs, Turnip, Corn, Potato, Sundried Tomato, Barley
- BBQ Buffalo Brisket Sandwich, Sweet Potato Bun, Charred Peach & Jalapeno Chutney
- Pan Roast Rainbow Trout, Cornbread & Mustard Green Stuffing, Hazelnut Brown Butter
- Black Eye Pea, Golden Corn & Chanterelle Empanada
- Sweet Tendril Salad, Shaved Radish & Crisp Carrot
- Skillet Cornbread
- High Mesa Peach & Blackberry Cobbler
Core Menu Offerings
- Hamburger / Cheeseburger
- Chicken Tenders
- Hot Dog / Half Smokes
- French Fries
- Grab & Go Sandwiches, 2 Types
- Grab & Go Salads, 2 Types
Home Made Sweets
- Praline Bread Pudding, Bourbon Caramel Sauce
- Banana Pudding Trifle
- Joe Froggers
- Key Lime Cupcakes
- Pumpkin Spiced Cupcakes
- Johnston County Sweet Potato Pie
- Wild Turkey Pecan Pie
Deep Dish Pumpkin Pie
House Made Beverages
- Sweet Earl Grey Tea & Late Harvest Peaches
- Cranberry Maple Fizz
- “The Mix” aka. Arnold Palmer
Sweet Home Basics
10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. on days the museum is open, serving lunch between 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
$8 – $15
Approx. 12,000 square feet (dining and kitchen)
The research and writings of culinary leader Jessica B. Harris, Ph.D. were essential to the development of this project.
No outside food and drink is permitted in Sweet Home Café. Food purchased in the café may not be consumed in other areas of the Museum. Refunds may not be given for food items unable to be taken to go.
A Prince George’s County native and graduate of the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute in Pittsburgh, Pa., Chef Grant began his culinary career at a young age, working with his mother at Andrews Air Force Base Officer's Club. His skills were further sharpened in the Virgin Islands where he was awarded "Best New Chef in St. Croix." After returning to Washington, DC, Chef Grant was tapped as executive chef at the Mitsitam Native Foods Café at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. He was a critical part of the culinary team at the Mitsitam Café that won the 2012 RAMMY for Best Casual Restaurant.
Carla Hall is a co-host of ABC’s Emmy Award-winning, popular lifestyle series “The Chew.” Hall is best known as a competitor on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and “Top Chef: All Stars,” where she won over audiences with her fun catch phrase, “Hootie Hoo,” and her philosophy to always cook with love. Carla’s approach to cooking blends her classic French training and Southern upbringing for a twist on traditional favorites. She is committed to health and balance in everyday living.
Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen, the chef’s first restaurant, opened in June 2016. The restaurant features iconic Nashville Hot Chicken and southern sides, which are anchored by Hall’s family recipes and perfected with her personal touches. Her cookbooks are “Carla’s Comfort Food: Favorite Dishes from Around the World” and “Cooking with Love: Comfort Food That Hugs You.”
A native of Nashville, Tenn., Hall received a degree in accounting from Howard University, but traveling through Europe awakened her passion for food and inspired a new career path. She attended L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland where she completed her culinary training, going on to work as a sous chef at the Henley Park Hotel in Washington, DC. She also served as executive chef at both The State Plaza Hotel and The Washington Club, and has taught classes at CulinAerie, Sur la Table and her alma mater, L’Academie de Cuisine.
Carla is also active with a number of charities and not-for-profit organizations that reflect her passion for causes close to her heart. She serves as a board member for the Pajama Program and GenYouth. Carla also actively works with Chef Jose Andres' World Central Kitchen Chef Network, DC Central Kitchen, the USO, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Feeding America, WCR (Women Chefs and Restaurateurs) and she serves on the advisory boards for the Edible Academy for the New York Botanical Gardens and for the Food and Finance High School in New York City. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband Matthew Lyons and stepson Noah.