In Synch with the Season at Irish House

Dec 22, 2011

You might expect meatloaf at a pub, and the way things are going with the gastropub trend these days you might even expect a few high-brow touches along with it.

Still, I wasn't initially expecting one made of heritage cattle from a family-run ranch in New Iberia, nor that it would be slathered with foie gras butter, balanced on fried walnut bread, and served at the Irish House bar by the same guy who just took the two minutes necessary to properly draw off my Guinness pint.

The fact that said meatloaf is actually a modestly-portioned appetizer and comes from a kitchen concurrently preparing chicken wings, herb-crusted redfish, burgers and duck stuffed with brie and figs reveals a few different sides of Irish House. Since chef Matt Murphy and his wife Alicia opened this huge, busy, multifaceted place in August, it's quickly become a smoke-free watering hole for bar regulars, a destination family restaurant and an events hall for Celtic-themed programming. As it happens, that mix makes it a handy ace in the hole for holiday time. With our own houses filled with guests, Irish House is a hospitable, happening spot to retreat from the kitchen.

Murphy, a Dublin native, was previously executive chef at the local Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which in 2010 named its M Bistro in his honor. It was a surprise, then, when he left the Ritz just a year later, but he says today he was driven to start a place where his young children (quadruplet girls and a fifth daughter) could grow up as New Orleanians with an anchor to their Irish heritage. That's proven an evocative draw for many others, and a roster of events, weekend performances by local and touring Celtic acts and Monday night's open music sessions by the bar have already helped suffuse the place with convincing character.

Murphy is joined in the kitchen by fellow Irish transplant Ross Muggivan, who previously ran the short-lived through brilliantly named chip shop the Cod Father, and also Donald "the Butcher" Wyatt, a lieutenant from his Ritz days. They're out to correct some stereotypes about Irish cooking, blending deeper traditions -- like colcannon, a delicious, disarmingly simple side of potatoes and greens - with a timely influx of contemporary tastes --- like seared lamb belly over polenta cake or fried planks of farmers cheese on char-grilled romaine.

For as many roles as Irish House serves, it seems there's a different menu, so just keep in mind that if the shepherd's pie you had at lunch brought you back for dinner, you might not find it again on the evening menus. Then there's the sheer size of the place. There's the bar, the main dining room, private event rooms, a patio and even a gift shop. That's a lot for any enterprise to manage all at once.

Still, the ambitious schedule of Irish House gives access to the gloriously daunting Irish breakfast, a heaving platter of eggs, beans, tomato and imported Irish meats that's worth rousing your holiday guests some morning to come sample. And the place is big and casual enough to shallow the antics of antsy kids (it's a pub after all) while serving food to please the gourmets in the clan (it's a pub run by a fine-dining chef after all).

1432 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, (504) 595-6755