Shaw’s nearly 3-year-old Morris American Bar finally has fare to pair with its reliable cocktails, starting with an inaugural lineup of pâtés, dips, and fermented snacks fit for a glitzy afterparty.
Morris’s newly named chef Mark Federman was most recently traipsing the country with Cirque du Soleil, tasked with treating its $400 VIP ticket holders to show-stopping meat and cheese spreads before, during, and after each acrobatic show. But when COVID-19 hit in March, all upcoming tour dates — along with his glamorous gig — were cancelled, catapulting him back into D.C.’s pandemic-stricken job market. Luckily, Morris was looking for a chef to kickstart a food program that translates well to takeout.
For his new gig back on his home turf, the Via Umbria and Zaytinya alum plans to dazzle Shaw diners with some of the same upscale drinking snacks he mastered on tour last year. He reveals both former President Jimmy Carter and Usher sampled his starters during Cirque du Soleil’s stop in Atlanta.
Highlights off Morris’s edible menu ($9-$17), which went live on Tuesday, August 11, include a roasted red pepper, pomegranate, and walnut dip; pork shoulder pâté packed with cognac-soaked cherries; charcuterie boards filled out by wild boar and black truffle salami; salmon cured with mezcal and citrus flavors; and an endive salad flecked with grapefruit, sumac, and Point Reyes blue cheese.
“Cheese and charcuterie is something you want to have at a cocktail bar,” says Federman, who’s big believer in getting the first impressions of a meal right. “The first and last things you eat are the most memorable part.”
Morris beverage manager Doug Fisher uses freshly cut fruit to muddle and garnish a fresh crop of summer cocktails ($13) like a strawberry caipirinha and the “Silly Rabbit” (Irish whiskey, pomegranate, cucumber, absinthe, and elderflower).
Federman’s arrival represents a reunion with Fisher (the pair worked together at the George Town Club in 2016). After building meat and cheese displays for the members-only club, Federman further honed his charcuterie craft at Via Umbria in Georgetown making sausages, curing meats, and leading butcher classes.
Federman also plans to tap into his ceviche-making days at China Chilcano with a rotation of raw fish dishes on weekends (think a Mexican-style snapper ceviche and tuna poke).
Customers can order anything to-go, or opt to spread out across the patio or the whimsical, blue-toned drinking den that’s tucked inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The 1,400-square-foot bar’s socially distanced layout opened up room to add a temporary kitchen, which could be built out further over time if the program succeeds.
Towards the end of his short run with Cirque du Soleil, he upped its pre-and-post show game by making all crackers, breads, and jams from scratch and sourcing local cheeses during tour stops in Miami and Houston. He hopes to do the same at Morris, along with curing more meats, if space permits.
He’s already appreciating the perks of working at a small-scale bar over a VIP circus tent.
“I have the time to do more and make it sort of a really buzzing experience — everything is handmade by me and Doug,” he says.
Morris was co-founded by Top Chef alum Spike Mendelsohn and business parter Vinoda Basnayake (Casta’s Rum Bar and Heist Lounge).
Hours are Tuesday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to midnight.