William Morris felt like a kid on Christmas morning as soon as he saw the fire-breathing monster residing in the kitchen of the W Washington D.C.’s renovated lobby-level restaurant across the street from the White House. The chef de cuisine at Cherry, which opened for breakfast, lunch, and dinner today, made a beeline for the custom 15-foot wood-burning grill as soon as he saw it. The hotel claims its the largest hearth of its kind in the city.
“Holy crap, this is mine,” Morris recalls saying. “Alright, everybody get out of the way so I can go play with it.”
At the replacement restaurant for Pinea, which closed last year when the hotel’s $50 million facelift began, Morris wants as many ingredients as possible to come into contact with smoke, flames, and embers from fires he’ll feed with five types of wood (cherry, red oak, white oak, hickory, and pinot woods). Grillworks, the company behind the beast, has designed rigs for the Red Hen and Spoken English, among other popular spots.
Along with grates that can be moved up and down on corresponding wheels, the grill station features an enclosed firebox that can sear, smoke, or roast. There are also two wood-burning ovens that will cook pizzas at Corner Office, the forthcoming bar and beer garden downstairs.
In addition to the 60-seat restaurant, Cherry has a bar that features a replica of the Capitol’s domed ceiling. Cocktail Professor, an Amsterdam-based mixologist collective, designed the mixed drinks.
Morris is a longtime member of the D.C. restaurant scene who has cooked on the line at the Willard hotel, worked with the Michael Mina group, served as chef de cuisine at Brasserie Beck, and led the kitchen at Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s Vermillion. At the last stop, he says, he homed in on building relationships with farmers and developed a cooking style that’s “a little more polished, a little more mature.”
He wants the menus at Cherry to reflect a simple, comforting style. One of the dishes he’s most excited about is a side of carrots that get gently roasted in the firebox to develop a caramelized exterior before being dressed with mint, pistachios, and lemon.
“It’s got the texture of filet,” Morris says.
The grill will churn out brined, roasted chickens (half or whole) covered in toasted sesame-scallion butter. Hearth potatoes will come with cheese fondue, crispy chicken skin, and dill. Avocados will be charred, replicating the look of their skin, and accompanied with barrel aged hot sauce, lime, black pepper, and trout roe.
Dry-aged steaks will also come off the grill. Last week, Morris was playing around with rendering fat from a 45-day dry-aged ribeye just to see what he could do with it. With advance notice, Cherry also plans to serve whole suckling pigs and sides of beef for large parties.
The lunch menu features sandwiches packed with roast beef carved in the kitchen, grilled halloumi, and a chicken-based Spam substitute complemented with slow-roasted pineapple and fried leeks. There’s an oven-baked Dutch baby and wood-fired eggs in purgatory for breakfast.
To a certain extent, Morris knows he’s working without a safety net. Relying entirely on the logs and embers means he’s at the mercy of the sometimes finicky fire. From camping to professional cooking, Morris says he does has experience in the live-fire method that’s made D.C. restaurants like the Dabney and Maydan national sensations.
“To say that I wouldn’t be nervous would be a lie,” he says. “But am I confident and figuring everything out? Most certainly.”
Morris left his job at Vermillion in 2017 to address personal and family issues (he declined requests to elaborate). He says he still cooked every day at home and calls the time away a blessing.
“Sometimes you’re cooking in the restaurant so much that you kind of forget why you started this in the first place. You take on the role of a chef, there’s so many parts and so many hats that you wear, you kind of lose why you started it and the whole reason,” he says. “I want to cook.”
Cherry dinner menu by on Scribd
Cherry lunch menu by on Scribd
Cherry breakfast menu by on Scribd
Cherry, 515 15th Street NW; Breakfast served Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m to 10:30 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.; Lunch served daily from noon to 2:30 p.m.; Dinner served daily from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday brunch (starting June 30) served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.