A Sweet Home Thanksgiving
By Keith Chambers
The cider-braised collard greens and candied yams with ginger vanilla come with the smoked turkey, sage butter and country giblet gravy.
This Thanksgiving, thousands of families across the country will have on their dining room tables a taste of the South through the National African American Museum of History and Culture.
Back this year by popular demand in the nation’s famed Black museum in Washington, D.C.: holiday catering by Sweet Home Café. Since it opened in 2016, the restaurant that serves thousands of customers a day has become just as popular as the museum itself, with its succulent soul foods and 400-seat, 12,000 sq.-ft, stylish venue where Black families have gathered around the table for a feast that takes them back in time.
For the second year during the Holiday Season, Sweet Home Café is bringing its down-home cornbread stuffing, honey cornbread and other Thanksgiving trimmings to America’s dining room tables, saving families time and energy in the kitchen. The holiday season is upon us and so is Sweet Home Café’s booming holiday catering business.
What started out as a simple, but enticing menu from Constitution Avenue has turned into a full-fledged operation that has Chef Jerome Grant and his staff busy around the clock, filling catering orders that are attracting as much attention as the museum’s 36,000 artifacts.
With its catering business and cookbook, Sweet Home Café is writing its own history. Sweet Home Café is no longer just a restaurant, but a brand.
The heart of this growing empire is the restaurant. Located across from the 350-seat Oprah Winfrey auditorium on the museum’s first floor, the Sweet Home Café serves an average of 2,000 customers a day, becoming one of the busiest restaurants in country. The line of hungry customers can easily grow to be over an hour-and-a-half long. Its buttermilk fried chicken, shrimp and cheese grits, pan-roasted rainbow trout, and rice and peas are part of a menu that educates food lovers about the origins of Soul Food in the Deep South and its history in the North and Western states and the Caribbean.
The down-home menu has connected with food lovers who keep coming back for Grant’s personal touches and culinary flair. And with the nostalgic black-and-white photos and Southern culinary history lessons, dining at Sweet Home Café has become more of an experience for thousands of customers.
Many food lovers will gobble down Grant’s creations on Thanksgiving, November 22. One year after the Black Museum opened to rave reviews, in 2017, Grant launched the Sweet Home Café catering business to customers who prefer to spend more time feasting at the table than cooking in the kitchen.
This year’s menu includes a full Thanksgiving meal that serves six to eight people. It includes a turkey brined for two days in maple syrup before it is rubbed with sage butter and cranberry jam. The order comes with a half-sheet of sweet honey cornbread and sides of cider-braised collard greens, candied yams with ginger and vanilla, “down home” cornbread stuffing and macaroni and cheese. For dessert, customers have a choice of a maple and bourbon pecan pie or sweet potato pie.
The family meal costs $185.00. The last day to order was Monday, November 19 after Sweet Home Café extended the original deadline of November 16 to accommodate the large numbers of orders, which can be called in or placed online. Customers had until Wednesday, November 22 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. to pick up their orders from Sweet Home Café at the museum. (Sorry, the restaurant doesn’t deliver orders locally or nationwide). How many catering orders did Sweet Home Café receive this year and last year?
For this story, the Crusader was unable to reach Chef Grant or the museum’s media relations department to get the exact numbers as of Crusader press time on Tuesday.
On October 23, Sweet Home Café released its namesake cookbook. Sub-titled, A Celebration of African American Cooking, it has 109 recipes and spotlights culinary links between Africans, the African Diaspora and their descendants. The book also illustrates how they adapted to their new surroundings during slavery and beyond.
In interviews, Grant says the book not only celebrates dishes, but also the history of African-American people.
The book has recipes of Pea Tendril Salad, fried green tomatoes, Hoppin’ John, Senegalese peanut soup, Maryland crab cakes, Jamaican grilled Jerk chicken, shrimp & grits, fried chicken and waffles, pan-roasted rainbow trout, hickory-smoked pork shoulder, Chow Chow, banana pudding, chocolate chess pie, and more.
The book showcases the cultures and traditions from Africa and the Caribbean as well as influences from Native Americans, Europeans, Latinos, and recent immigrants from Africa. Readers learn that two enslaved black chefs—Hercules and Old Doll—even fed George Washington.
According to the book, sweet potato pie—a Thanksgiving Day staple in many African-American homes—likely dates back to when sweet potatoes were the only sweets available to many Southerners.
And Louis Armstrong’s Red Beans & Rice, named for the famous jazz trumpeter, was traditionally slow-cooked on Mondays in Armstrong’s native New Orleans because that was the traditional wash day. People needed something they could cook while they did their chores, the cookbook explains.
The cookbook, which has so far has received an average of four out of five stars, can be purchased on Amazon for $19.46.