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Holzer, you’ll recall, was my dining companion at D.C.’s famously penny-floored Lincoln restaurant back in June. In a piece titled “History we can chew on,” the Lincoln scholar bemoans a recent government report suggesting that American school children don’t know squat about history. But he found some faint glimmers of hope for the future at the District’s historically themed (if not entirely accurate) eatery:
Around the same time the NAEP report came out, I had an “educational” experience of my own in an unexpected setting: a new Washington restaurant called Lincoln. Washington City Paper food critic Chris Schott, author of its “Young and Hungry” column, decided to review the place in my company so we could talk about Lincoln’s own culinary preferences—such as they were—while sampling the food and drink.
I will leave assessment of the menu to the young and hungry Chris, but suffice it to say that both the drinks, like the Gettysburg Address (beet puree, lemon, Botanical Veev and bitters), and the food (organic kale salad, beef carpaccio and Lincoln charcuterie) have as little to do with Lincoln’s tastes as Coquille St. Jacques or Burger King. (For the full story, see Wayne C. Temple’s excellent book, “The Taste is in My Mouth a Little”: Lincoln’s Edibles and Potables.)
Still, Lincoln’s ambience was fun without being oppressive, offering subtle history lessons in the bargain. Servers wear black tees emblazoned with an Alexander Gardner photo of Lincoln. Walls feature appealing Lincoln graphics designed by O’Neill Studios. A chosen few get to sit in an enormous, high-backed white leather banquette suggesting the throne-like marble chair of the Lincoln Memorial. We got to perch before a neon installation inscribed with the words of the Emancipation Proclamation—in hot pink. And one can’t enter or exit without treading over a floor composed of hundreds of thousands of Lincoln copper pennies.
The patrons—hip, noisy, distracted and as young and hungry as my host—seemed to spend precious little time debating Lincoln’s use of executive powers in wartime or his sincerity as a liberator. But in a tangible and hopefully memorable way, these kids, probably no better informed than the 12th graders who failed the NAEP test, were digesting Lincoln information as surely as they were consuming heirloom tomato risotto. Oh, yes, the better-informed servers even tell you which dishes Lincoln himself might have consumed—like the trout, oysters, corn on the cob and funnel cake with cherries. Here is the sort of painless, enjoyable history that ought to teach a valuable lesson to the lesson-plan writers. Good nourishment, for the stomach or the mind, only makes us want to consume more.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery