Birch & Barley and ChurchKey have a new executive chef. Bill Williamson comes to the two-floor Logan Circle temple to beer from The Riggsby and before that, Osteria Morini.
He’s the second executive chef the Neighborhood Restaurant Group restaurants have welcomed in 2016, as Chef Nick Sharpe stepped into the role in April after Chef Kyle Bailey departed.
Since taking over, Williamson has already put his spin on all of the menus. One of his first orders of business was upping the pasta program at Birch & Barley, which now includes bucatini cacio e pepe ($16); chitarra with guanciale, pecorino, chili, and tomato ($18); and Williamson’s favorite, spaghettini nero with smoked uni, clams, leeks, and chili ($21). He describes the last dish as a little like clam chowder. “For me, there’s nothing more comforting than a big bowl of noodles in front of you. That’s what I get down with,” Williamson says.
The 34-year-old chef is embracing the business downstairs, party upstairs personality of the dual-concepts. While Birch & Barley, the downstairs restaurant, is more refined, he wants to have more fun upstairs in ChurchKey—one of the city’s preeminent beer bars. For starters he’s working on making tater tot waffles that he’ll turn into a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon inside and a fried egg on top. “It’s stoner food,” he says. He’s really into tots, because he’s also going to add totchos and disco tots to the bar’s menu.
Now that Williamson’s settled in, his next order of business will be working with Beer Director Greg Engert on beer pairings. “I do enjoy some beer but I’m not as nerdy as most of my co-workers,” Williamson says. “But I can appreciate the styles, the techniques that are brought into the fine craft beers we’re carrying.”
Williamson, a St. Louis native, initially worked in the finance sector from 2003-2006, but jumped ship for culinary school. Early in his career, the chef cut his teeth in Italian kitchens in New York such as Ai Fiori, Lincoln Ristorante, and Franny’s Brooklyn.
Williamson’s culinary perspective therefore leans Italian, though he’s comfortable working with wide-ranging ingredients and says he plans to nurture the relationships the restaurants have built with purveyors and foragers over the years.
Williamson is not totally new to Neighborhood Restaurant Group. He once worked with Chef Nathan Anda at Red Apron Butcher.
Birch & Barley, 1337 14th St. NW; (202) 567-2576; birchandbarley.com
Photo by Scott Suchman