Mathew Ramsey
Mathew Ramsey Credit: Kate Warren

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The rule-breaking, avant-garde chef behind the viral PornBurger blog-turned-cookbook is opening a D.C. restaurant—Cold Beer—dedicated to globally inspired comfort food. “Cold beer is not everything we do, but it speaks to this celebration of simple pleasures,” says Mathew Ramsey. He has been honing his cooking and hospitality skills at some of D.C.’s top restaurants, including Pineapple and Pearls and Tail Up Goat, leading up to the 2020 launch of his restaurant in a location that’s still being finalized.

Ramsey has always approached food (and life) with an air of mischief. Just look at him posing in a robe with a knife in his mouth and an owl on his fist. Or this “Sext On The Beach” burger he built with ‘nduja aioli, steamed mussels and clams, crispy prosciutto, cheese, pickled shallots, a drizzle of oyster stout, and shellfish jus on a beef patty.

Washingtonians first got a taste of Ramsey’s food at his Bar R supper clubs, which were predominantly held in his former Bloomingdale basement apartment from 2014 to 2016. From an impromptu backyard accordion concert and a PornBurger tribute to Bill Murray to gnocchi tater tots, the only thing you could expect were surprises.

While the Cold Beer menu is long from being cemented, sample dishes include a crab fat-glazed cauliflower steak with black sesame yogurt, charred green onions, and crispy, pickled enoki mushrooms; upside down pork dumplings in a sweet corn caramel glaze with garlic scapes, cashews, and cilantro; and ramen fried chicken crowned with caviar. The latter features a bird brined in dashi and flavored with house-made ramen spice. 

Ramsey says he’s pulling from his world travels and obsessions, including some time spent in Japan as a child. “As a child going from Omaha, Nebraska to Tokyo, it flipped my whole world,” he says. “Mexican cuisine has also always been a predominant lean for me.” On weekends you can find him digging pits for pig roasts in friends’ backyards.

He describes the way foods from far away places will come together harmoniously in a curious way—likening it to how sharing a joint in high school broke down barriers between the jocks, “academically inclined,” and “angsty artists,” thereby making life a whole lot more interesting. “There’s joy that comes from cross pollination of flavors, ideas, and techniques,” Ramsey says. “I think unexpected delights come from mixing unexpected things.”

You don’t have to wait until 2020 to get a sense of Ramsey’s cooking. He’ll be hosting a series of pop-ups, starting with “Cornchella” on Sept. 23 inside Archipelago on U Street NW. He’s calling it a cultish worship of his favorite summer produce. An a la carte menu will be available from 5p.m. to 9 p.m. (or until when supplies run out). No reservations are needed. 

Save room for the “corn-ish hen” fried chicken sandwich that’s finished with corn caramel. To make the caramel, Ramsey employs a special powder that converts starches into sugar. There will also be a play on elote that marries corn with white miso blueberry butter. “Blueberries and corn—if it grows together, it goes together,” Ramsey says. For the pop-up, Ramsey is also making goat barbacoa tacos on corn tortillas. 

He’s prone to obsessing over a certain ingredient or dish until he’s taken it far enough that it changes diners’ perspective of what’s possible, like he did with burgers. “Corn has a very interesting relationship with humanity, especially on this side of the world where corn has been tied to our very survival,” Ramsey says. “My personal affinity for corn is it just tastes fucking delicious.” His favorite chips are Fritos and his favorite cereal is Captain Crunch.

Cornchella is a joint project with other local hospitality industry professionals Eddie Kim, Larry Weaver, Alex Clinton, and Sera Pisani. Drinks will include beer, wine, dram cocktails (miniature drinks), and non-alcoholic beverages. 

“It’s literally the last day of summer, so we’re celebrating the end of summer with a bang,” Ramsey says. “Rather, a pop.”