Being a Tourist and Being a Survivor

Sometimes I forget how lucky I am. I get to live in New Orleans and moreover, my place of work is on Frenchmen Street, just a street away from the Vieux Carré, the French Market and all the interesting sights, sounds and aromas of the Quarter.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with playing tourist in your own hometown once in a while, and lucky for me, I get to do just that several times a week. I really do love meandering through the French Quarter, mingling with the people who don’t see the city with my local (somewhat jaded) eyes. This morning, in glorious weather, I had to walk to a meeting at Jax Brewery. As I tooled through the Quarter I caught whiffs of crab boil and simmering seafood, cooking pralines, coffee and beignets, and fresh fruit in the French Market. (For all you cynics, there was no garbage or rancid beer smell on my route through the Quarter!). I also had the pleasure of enjoying the daily music from local bands playing at the Market Café and the Gazebo on my way both to and from the meeting. Makes you realize how lucky we are to live here and to be able to experience the sensual pleasures of New Orleans every single day. God, we’re so lucky to be able to live here!

It’s also great to be part of a community that has picked itself up from the depths of hell post-Katrina and is working to recover from one of the worst catastrophes in this country. Overall, we’ll always have at least a vestige of PTSD, and it amazes me when I learn stories of people who’ve come back from the bottom and are strong enough to not only stay alive, but to prosper.

One of those people is Chef Matt Murphy. A former chef at the Ritz-Carlton, Murphy endured a near-death experience when he contracted a very rare infection called necrotizing fasciitis in his leg after accidentally tripping over one of his daughter’s toys at home. He ignored the minor injury at first, but by the time he decided to go to the hospital two days later, he was almost dead. He was rushed into surgery then put into a medical coma for six weeks to allow his body to heal. During that time he had 16 surgeries and he needed three medical resuscitations.  Pretty difficult stuff for a man who is a professional chef, with a wife and five little kids to support.

Murphy, originally from Ireland, fought his way back to recovery. The Ritz-Carlton gig came to an end, and now Chef Murphy—fully recovered—is the chef de cuisine and proprietor of The Irish House at 1432 St. Charles Avenue (corner Melpomene), the former site of Taqueros Coyoacan.

The Irish House

Joseph and I and our friend Vidar had the pleasure of eating dinner at The Irish House last night. I knew the place had been transformed into a “pub,” but had no idea what to expect. Taqueros was a wide-open space with an open kitchen. The Irish House renovation has enclosed the kitchen, included a shop in the back of the house for Irish-made goods and a performance space, and extended the bar. The feel now is dark and cozy, and tables are separated into booths and smaller conversational areas. Our hostess, Aine (pronounced On-ya) O’Doherty, from Donegal in Northern Ireland, is a singer-songwriter who also performs at The Irish House. The restaurant now has regular Irish music to complement its pub atmosphere.

We were distracted from ordering our dinner by trying to decide what to drink—there are so many beers available on the menu. There’s Guinness on tap, along with a selection of other Irish, international and domestic brews. A total of 76 beers and ales grace the pub’s beer menu.

I had no idea what to expect of the food. The place is in our ‘hood, and we’d been to Taqueros numerous times when it was open, so we thought we’d try it. We didn’t get a chance to sample the entire menu, but we’ll certainly be back because every entrée was delicious; real comfort food. For an appetizer, we shared a truly sinful truffled chicken tart made with wild mushrooms, smoked gouda, cilantro and puff pastry. Delicious! I had the hard cider-braised pork cheeks with apple potato scamp (read buttery mashed potatoes with apple), which was out of this world. The meat was perfectly cooked and literally melted in your mouth, and had a delicious au jus gravy that was perfect. Joseph had flavorful beef medallions, cooked just medium rare, with astoundingly good cheddar gratin, bacon-green pea puree and peppercorn sauce. Once again, a big winner. Our friend enjoyed seared salmon filet with colcannon (a buttery seasoned mix of potatoes and cabbage), cherry tomatoes and beurre blanc sauce. Our friend Vidar, being Norwegian, knows his salmon, and he pronounced it superb. We were way too full for dessert, but I noticed a table nearby having a piece of cake that made my mouth water just to look at it.

The Irish House is open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, and also has a pretty interesting menu of bar food that includes burgers, bangers and mash, fish and chips, oysters and wings, and is available from 3 p.m. to close.

Opening a seven-day-a-week restaurant that serves food from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. (they’re closed only from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.) is a pretty ambitious undertaking for anyone in the restaurant business. But if anybody can do it and make it a success, Chef Matt Murphy—not only a super kitchen talent, but a physical survivor and fighter—can make it happen. He’s well on his way.