Boston: Fish and Chips at Matt Murphy's Pub
"Food that completely defies the old (and defunct) presumption that traditional Irish fare is stodgy and bland."
When I tell people that I work at America's Test Kitchen, they oooh and ahhh about all the free food I get to eat, how great the recipes are, and how fun it must be to work at a place that films its own TV show. I agree—it's definitely a cool place to work. But they're missing a critical perk: Matt Murphy's, a terrific Irish pub, is right around the corner from the office.
Brookline Village isn't exactly a burgeoning metropolis, but there are a few solid places to grab food and drinks, not the least of which is Murphy's.
It's where we take people to lunch when they get hired, where we gather to say fond farewells when people quit, and just our easy-to-walk-to watering hole for post-work drinks.
It's got everything we need: good draft selections and cocktails (the Arnold Palmer-esque John Daley is a great summer drink), a long wall of tables that we can cram around when there's a lot of us, and food that completely defies the old (and defunct) presumption that traditional Irish fare is stodgy and bland.
The most obvious example might be the Crispy Cod and Chips ($14). Boston has no shortage of Irish pubs, and every one of them peddles a plate of fried fish that leaves something to be desired. Either the batter is heavy or gummy or peels away from the fillets like soggy skin off of a piece of chicken, or the fillets are so poorly drained that the coating is almost juicy with grease. And, let's face it, most "chips" are the frozen variety, with little of that creamy-inside, crispy-outside contrast and even less potato flavor.
Here, the solution to the poor drainage issue isn't rocket science, but it's practical—and charming. What you get is a twist-tied newspaper bundle, the thick layers of paper cleverly blotting the fish and chips dry. The batter itself is pretty sheer, but it offers surprisingly substantial crunch, and does so without obscuring the delicate flavor of the fish itself.
Meanwhile, the spuds are just what Irish chips should be: skin-on, medium-thick, and a bit more creamy than crispy (these aren't bistro frites, after all).
The condiment choices are many: a squeeze of lemon and few splashes of malt vinegar cut through some of that fried-food richness, the controversial homemade ketchup (people tend to either love it or hate it) is warm-spiced and not entirely smooth, and the tartar sauce is creamy without that overly sweet Miracle Whip flavor that ruins most commercial products. I'd say the malt vinegar (plus the pickled onion) is all the embellishment the dish needs, but there's no reason not to keep all four options on-hand.
Matt Murphy's Pub
14 Harvard Street, Brookline MA 02445 (map); 617-232-0188