Still two months away from its planned debut, America Eats Tavern has officially hired a head chef for its revived outpost in the Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner. Nate Waugaman, who left Tallula and EatBar in Arlington last fall, will lead the kitchen at José Andrés' 150-seat homage to American cookery.
Andrés and ThinkFoodGroup announced plans last year to revive the concept, which launched in 2011 as a three-level pop-up in the former Cafe Atlantico, a gustatory complement to the "What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?" exhibit at the National Archives. At the time, Waugaman was still running the kitchens at the Neighborhood Restaurant Group properties, but several months later, the chef would wave goodbye to one sizable restaurant group and say hello to another.
Since joining ThinkFoodGroup late last year, Waugaman has been working with the company's research and development team led by Ruben Garcia, Rick Billings and Terri Cutrino. They've been creating a menu designed to be less a museum plaque and more a document friendly to the kind of diner who frequents hotel restaurants located adjacent to upscale malls.
As such, the historic background on famous American cooks or their famous dishes (menu descriptions that once ignited the imagination of a Tom Sietsema dining companion) will be relegated to a booklet available upon request. At least that's the current thinking; it could change before America Eats' opening, which is scheduled for late May, perhaps during Memorial Day weekend. A ThinkFoodGroup spokesperson emphasized the dates are not firm.
The menu is also expected to assume a more traditional format: A menu with appetizer, entree and dessert sections will replace the more free-flowing one that greeted customers at the original America Eats. Many of the most popular plates, however, will resurface in Tysons, including the "vermicelli prepared like pudding" (think: pioneering mac 'n' cheese), the Hangtown fry and oysters Rockefeller. Hot dogs, burgers and po' boys will likely wander onto the menu, too.
Perhaps most interesting, America Eats will be Andrés' first foray into weekday breakfast in the D.C. area (although the chef has tackled the morning meal at other operations, such as Mi Casa in Puerto Rico, located in another Ritz property).
Crews are still working on the Ritz space, which once housed Michel Richard's short-lived Michel as well as Fabio Trabocchi's well-regarded Maestro. By the time America Eats opens, it will have a new look, created by Celano Design Studio under the direction of Vincent Celano. A large bar will greet diners upon arrival; the space will be open and light, with wood floors and exposed brick.
The American flag ceiling will not look exactly as it does in the rendering above, but "it’s going to look similar," the spokesperson said.