Thomas Downing-Inspired NYC Oyster Pan Roast, as it is served at the Sweet Home Cafe. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

With 2½ years of planning and testing, and several dry-run previews serving 700 guests, Albert Lukas is ready and eager for folks who visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture to enjoy his food at the museum’s Sweet Home Cafe.

“What I am most proud of is that we are telling the story of African Americans’ contributions through the food they made and ate,” says Lukas, 48, the longtime supervising chef of Restaurant Associates.

Lukas chose three recipes from the cafe’s menu to share with Post readers that reflect the mission. Take the Son of a Gun Stew, made with boneless short ribs: After the Civil War, freed black men found jobs as ranch hands out West, he says. “We modified a cowboy stew, cooked with some staple ingredients you would have found on a chuck wagon.”

The Sun of a Gun stew at the Sweet Home Cafe. (Restaurant Associates)

On the Thomas Downing-Inspired NYC Oyster Pan Roast: The black abolitionist and son of black slaves was also a successful restaurateur, Lukas says. Although he didn’t serve this exact dish at his tavern in New York, Downing grew up harvesting oysters on the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and became an oysterman when he moved to New York with his wife.

On the Joe Frogger Cookies: These were served at a tavern owned by Revolutionary War veteran and freed slave Joe Brown in Marblehead, Mass., Lukas says. Brown’s wife made her molasses-spiced cookies “as big as the lily pads” that frogs sat on in front of their restaurant.

Joe Frogger cookies. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The rich, chewy ones served at Sweet Home Cafe aren’t quite that big, but they are certainly big enough to share — along with your own stories of museum discoveries.


Son of a Gun Stew

6-8 servings


4 pounds boneless beef short ribs

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup flour, or more as needed, plus 2 tablespoons

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced

1 large carrot, scrubbed well, then diced

2 large ribs celery, diced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3/4 cup dry red wine

6 cups veal stock

1 bay leaf

2 medium turnips, peeled and cut into bite-size chunks

2 Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed well and cut into bite-size chunks

1 cup fresh corn kernels (from 1 to 2 ears)

1/2 cup vacuum-packed sun-dried tomatoes, each cut lengthwise in half

2 tablespoons cooked pearled barley

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves


Season the short ribs generously with salt and pepper all over, then dust them with the 1/4 cup of flour (or more as needed).

Heat the oil in a large, ovenproof braising pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, work in batches as needed, adding the meat, browning it until crusty on all sides and transferring it to a plate as you go. (It will not be cooked through.)

Once the pan is empty, reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion, carrot and celery, stirring to coat and dislodging any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then stir in the tomato paste; cook for 3 minutes, or until a rich color and aroma has developed.

Add the butter; once it has melted, dust the contents of the pan with the 2 tablespoons of flour, stirring to incorporate. Cook for 2 minutes, then stir in the red wine. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the liquid in the pan has reduced by half.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Return all the meat to the pan; once the mixture begins to bubble at the edges, cook for 2 minutes, then add the veal stock and bay leaf. Once the mixture has begun bubbling again, cover the pan tightly and transfer to the oven; cook for about 2 hours, or until the short ribs are tender. Leave the oven on.

Use tongs to transfer the short ribs to a separate, ovenproof casserole that’s large enough to hold them and the vegetables. Strain the pan liquid through a fine-mesh strainer, discarding the solids, then return the liquid to the pan. Cook over medium heat until it has thickened a bit; strain and discard any fat, as needed. Taste, and season with salt and pepper, as needed. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the turnips and potatoes; once the water returns to a boil, cook for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are about three-quarters cooked. Drain and transfer to the casserole, placing them and the corn, sun-dried tomatoes and barley around the meat. Pour the thickened sauce over the meat and vegetables, then sprinkle the thyme on top.

Bake (middle rack, uncovered) for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Discard the bay leaf.

Serve hot.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 8): 600 calories, 50 g protein, 29 g carbohydrates, 31 g fat, 13 g saturated fat, 175 mg cholesterol, 640 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 7 g sugar

thomas Downing-Inspired NYC Oyster Pan Roast

6 servings


3 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1 of them melted

1 medium shallot, minced

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 dozen freshly shucked oysters, preferably from the Chesapeake Bay, plus 1 cup oyster liquor

3 tablespoons Heinz chili sauce

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 cup heavy cream

Generous 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

12 baguette slices, for serving


Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in the shallot; cook for 5 to 8 minutes, until tender, then add the wine; increase the heat to medium and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until that liquid has reduced by half. Stir in the oyster liquor and cook just long enough for the mixture to begin bubbling at the edges.

Add the chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce and cream, stirring to blend well. Cook for 2 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium-low; add the oysters and stir to coat. Cook for 2 minutes, being careful not to overcook them.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Arrange the baguette slices flat on a baking sheet and brush the tops of each one using the tablespoon of melted butter. Bake (middle rack) for 12 to 16 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool.

Gently stir the Tabasco sauce and the remaining tablespoon of butter into the saucepan until thoroughly incorporated. Remove from the heat.

To serve, place 6 oysters into each wide, shallow bowl, then ladle the chili cream sauce over each portion. Garnish each with 2 baguette slices.

Nutrition | Per serving (not including baguette): 260 calories, 8 g protein, 9 g carbohydrates, 21 g fat, 12 g saturated fat, 115 mg cholesterol, 330 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar

Joe Froggers

Makes 24-30 cookies


1/3 cup water

1 cup unsulfured molasses

2 1/2 tablespoons dark rum

3 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

Generous 1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

Generous 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar, plus more for rolling


Combine the water, molasses and rum in a saucepan over medium heat; once the mixture starts to bubble, cook for 1 minute, then remove from the heat to cool to room temperature.

Sift together the flour, sea salt, baking soda, ginger, cloves, allspice and nutmeg on a sheet of waxed or parchment paper.

Combine the butter and cup of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on medium speed for a few minutes, until light and fluffy. Stop to scrape down the bowl.

Add the cooled molasses mixture; beat on low speed until well incorporated. Stop to scrape down the bowl.

On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture, beating just long enough to form a homogeneous dough. Cover and refrigerate overnight (at least 8 hours) and up to 1 day.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper, and line your work surface with more paper. Sprinkle a generous amount of sugar over it.

Working with half the dough at a time (leaving the rest in the refrigerator), roll out on the sugared surface to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Cut out about 12 cookies, re-rolling the scraps as needed. Use a wide, thin spatula to transfer the cookies to the baking sheets, spacing the cookies at least 1 inch apart. Sprinkle the tops with more sugar. Repeat to use all the dough.

Bake (middle rack) one sheet at time, for 10 minutes, or just until the cookies are set yet still seem soft at the center, rotating the baking sheet from front to back halfway through. Let cool on the sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely before serving or storing.

Nutrition | Per cookie (based on 30): 140 calories, 2 g protein, 26 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 380 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 15 g sugar

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