DC Travel Guide  |  Food

You Have to Try José Andrés’s Creamy Mac n’ Cheese

We love the vermicelli mac with blue crab at the newly-opened America Eats Tavern.

The secret to this mac: plenty of cheddar­—and crab.

The dish: Vermicelli mac and cheese with blue crab
The place: America Eats Tavern (3139 M St., NW)
The reason: It’s a 19th-century relic worth keeping around

At José Andrés’s history-obsessed America Eats Tavern, the mac and cheese dates back to 1802. Its original recipe comes from Frenchman Lewis Fresnaye, who sold noodles on the streets of Philadelphia. Fresnaye might have balked at adding crab, but we think the result is pretty genius. Here’s how it’s made.

No elbows pasta here: The 19th-century recipe used long noodles. After testing various strands, executive chef Claudio Foschi found that the simplest—Goya-brand vermicelli from the supermarket—held up best.

“We’re pretty much using the same ingredients Fresnaye used—just the technique is different,” Foschi says. He makes a béchamel with aged Wisconsin cheddar, adds a bit of xantham gum (a thickening agent that makes the dish creamy but not greasy), tosses the noodles and sauce in a cast-iron skillet, and creates a crunchy shell with Parmesan crisped under a broiler.

Splurge on the luscious crab version. (It’s also served plain.) The local Maryland crabmeat is combined with house-made mayo, herbs, and Cajun spice.

So why is the dish classified as an appetizer instead of a side at America Eats? “That’s a José thing,” Foschi says. “Everyone fights him, but he loves to have it at the beginning of the meal and share it with everyone.”

This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Washingtonian.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.