A new pop-up restaurant in Washington, D.C. serves traditional American food.

WHEN I TRAVEL outside the US, I’m always struck by differences in food; the standouts for me are America’s giant portion sizes and limited cheese options (really, Velveeta and Cheez Whiz aren’t actual cheeses). We’re the country that invented Spam and Twinkies, not really gourmet dishes. And when I think of an “American cuisine” restaurant, I think of oversized steaks, hamburgers, and pretty much anything with a side of potatoes in some form or another, nothing that I want to brag about.

But I fear that I may be limiting myself. America Eats Tavern, a new pop-up restaurant in Washington D.C., serves up historical American cuisine that’s definitely more than hot dogs and burgers.

From CNN: James Beard award winning Chef Jose Andres has designed the restaurant’s menu around recipes from old cookbooks. As in 16th century old cookbooks.

“I never enjoyed cooking for the sake of cooking even though that’s something I love,” explained Chef Andres.

“I love cooking for the sake of understanding how people before me used to feed themselves, used to feed their families. And I think that’s probably the most fun when you eat, when you really understand and know why you are eating the way you are eating today. Only this will happen if you understand how your ancestors were eating before.”…

“This is going to be a place where not only Americans are going to find themselves or learn more things than maybe they didn’t know about but also for the foreigners who sometimes don’t give true respect to American cooking,” said Andres.

The restaurant is a tie-in to the “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet” exhibit in the National Archives, and the name “America Eats” comes from a Great Depression era Works Progress Administration (WPA) writing project created to help the economy.

The menu includes things like lobster rolls, maple syrup on ice, hot dogs, chicken pot pie, and fried Ipswich clams. Each item will be accompanied with its story and place in American culinary history.

It was opened, fittingly enough, on July 4th and will stay open until January 2012 on the premises of the chef’s Café Atlantico (405 8th Street NW).