The African American Museum cafe gets off to a solid start feeding a tough crowd

The lesson gleaned from opening day at the National Museum of African American History and Culture: People are willing to wait for fried chicken and shrimp and grits, the two most popular attractions at the inviting Sweet Home Cafe.

“Twenty-five minutes for the shrimp and grits,” a greeter at the cafe tells expectant eaters, some of whom head off in the direction of three other food stations.

“Anyone want gumbo?” calls out a cook looking to shorten the queue in front of the menu representing the Creole Coast.

“I want everything,” a woman behind me says to her companions.

Me, too, which is why I’m here with colleagues to help me take a big bite out of the underground cafeteria, reached via a serpentine staircase beginning on the ground floor. Sweet Home takes its cue from the nearby Mitsitam Cafe in the Museum of the American Indian, which divides its dishes into four regional themes. Earlier this month, the executive chef from Mitsitam Cafe, Jerome Grant, slipped into the same job at the new Smithsonian venue.

Over the weekend, he figures, he fed 8,500 visitors.