Restaurant Review: National Museum of American History, Washington DC

November 27, 2008 By: Megabeth Category: Restaurant Review, Travel Print This Post Print This Post

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On November 21, 2008, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History re-opened after a two year multi-million dollar renovation.

As a frequent visitor of the previous incarnation of the National Museum of American History, I was a little disappointed with the look of the redesigned museum. It used to be a romp through grandma’s attic, now the entryway is sterile and a bit cold. I’m also sad to say that the two-story gigantic pendulum that used to swing back and forth in the entryway is gone. That said, the displays are still fascinating and are continually updated and expanded. It will remain one of my favorite museums where you can wander for hours and lose touch with the outside world.

This is a food blog, so onwards to the food related topics. I was pleased to see the Woolworth’s counter from the Greensboro sit-in finally received a decent placing within the museum. Before the renovation it was randomly placed in a hallway and most people passed by it with nary a glance. This piece of significant history is now rightly featured on it’s own platform in front of the escalators.

The recreation of Julia Child’s kitchen is always a fascinating eye-pleaser. Her kitchen was cataloged, dismantled and then put back together inside the museum. It’s a warm and inviting kitchen and organized within an inch of itself. On her bookshelf, next to the local phone books, a bird bird book and travel books, were two copies of the Joy of Cooking. One looked like it had been used a million times with a tattered spine and food-stained cover, while the other looked rather new.


Best of all, her counters were higher than the average counter to suit her 5′ 10″ frame. As you stand looking into her kitchen, you can hear her voice booming through the room on a television replaying some of her best episodes. It’s as if she’s standing right in front of you preparing her french cuisine in her own kitchen.

Now on to the food review. Let me start by saying that my biggest disappointment was seeing that the old-fashioned ice cream parlor and automat that used to be on the first floor was no longer in the museum. Instead, the only choice, at this time, is the “Stars and Stripes” cafe located on the lowest level.

There used to be more of a “food court” with a wide variety of selections in the same area, but for now, they only have a selection of sandwiches, chips and drinks. There are, however, a few vegetarian options including the grilled mushroom sandwich. It was a cold sandwich with big chunks of mushrooms and peppers on a rather thick multi-grain bun. It was fresh and filling but for $12 for the sandwich and a drink, you could do better elsewhere.

Even though the food choices may be temporary, it’s still a pretty uninteresting large gathering place with enough tables to accommodate the busloads of tourists. Although the view of the Washington Monument through the floor to ceiling windows is quite nice.

I’d only recommend the National Museum of American History cafeteria if you must absolutely, positively eat at that very moment. Give it some time; however, and I’m sure more options will be available. In the meantime, for more substantial lunch that’s still within the Smithsonian system, I would instead make the short walk over to the Courtyard Café located in the in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden.  At the Courtyard Café there is a large selection of vegetarian salads, paninis and sandwiches. The ambiance is also so much better as you eat surrounded by the sculptures outside the windows. However, kudos to the National Museum of American History for providing a decent vegetarian option for the hungry tourist.

National Museum of American History
On the National Mall, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C.

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