You might expect to find 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 New Iberia's Gonsoulin Ranch slathered with foie gras butter and sitting on fried walnut bread, all served at the Irish House bar by the same guy who just took the two minutes necessary to properly draw off a pint of Guinness.
That meatloaf actually is a modestly portioned appetizer and comes from a kitchen concurrently preparing chicken wings, herb-crusted redfish, burgers and duck stuffed with brie and figs. That variety 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 — like a spiffier successor to O'Flaherty's, which has been gone since Katrina.
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, previously was executive chef at the local Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which in 2010 named its M Bistro in his honor. It was a surprise when he left the Ritz just a year later, but he says he wanted to create a place where his young children (quadruplets and a fifth daughter) could grow up 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 have helped suffuse the place with convincing bonhomie.
Murphy is joined in the kitchen by fellow Irish transplant Ross Muggivan and Donald "the Butcher" Wyatt, a lieutenant from Murphy's 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 farmer's cheese on char-grilled romaine.
It seems there's a different menu for as many roles as Irish House serves, and the shuffle between them can be a bit problematic. If shepherd's pie at lunch brought you back for dinner, you won't 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. Service sometimes bogs down between the varied spaces.
Still, the ambitious schedule of Irish House gives access to the gloriously daunting Irish breakfast, a heaping 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.