Photo courtesy The Passenger
Photo courtesy The Passenger

The Passenger still serves its signature half-smoke but if you’ve been to Tom Brown’s beloved neighborhood bar lately you may have noticed the food is more fun. There’s a Japanese sweet potato dressed in a pumpkin vinaigrette, ribs coated in honey, togarashi spice, and lime, and a hazelnut cake with Nutella krispies. 

Newly appointed Executive Chef Matt Almquist is the man behind the move to serve bar bites geared toward gourmands. The D.C. native who has been cooking in New York for the past six years returned home to be a part of the District’s culinary boom. “I was looking at cities and my friends down here were like, ‘You have no reason not to come here career wise,’” he says. “Career wise, it’s a great decision because it’s getting more prominent here. There are Michelin stars.”

After working at some of the Big Apple’s best restaurants (Le Turtle, Blanca, Jean-Georges), Almquist was looking for something a little less high-pressure. He calls The Passenger “totally unpretentious and fun” and says he likes to surprise customers with his food.  

Almquist is also in charge of the food at sister bar Left Door, so customers can expect some menu changes there too. 

His dishes at The Passenger celebrate vegetables. “I like to use meat as a seasoning instead of a main ingredient,” he says. 

Other highlights include blistered shishito peppers with fennel pollen and Meyer lemon puree, and an n’duja soft scramble with grilled broccolini and herb salad. In the future he hopes to put more charcuterie on the menu. Dishes are generally priced from $4 to $14. 

Almquist also plans to launch a supper club series eventually. “We’ll do liquor-themed ones with distillers paired with five-course tasting menus,” he explains. 

The Passenger, 1539 7th St. NW;  (202) 853-3588;