“May you have food and raiment,
a soft pillow for your head.
May you be forty years in heaven
before the devil knows you’re dead.”
— An Irish Blessing
Cynics who used to deride Irish food as the worst in the planet would have cautioned you to say a prayer before you ate it, but not necessarily in Thanksgiving for what you were about to receive. For years the Emerald Isle has captured the imagination with its numberless shades of lush greens, smooth as silk whiskey, stout Guinness beer and poetry that can bring you to the depths of desolation or the heights of alacrity. What the land of saints, sinners and poets had not, until recently, ever been known for, however, is its cuisine.
Historically, just about the kindest things that were said about Irish food is that it was mundane and uninspired. The stereotypical cavalcade of culinary mediocrity included boiled potatoes, boiled cabbage and boiled corned beef.
That, as they say, is then. Conscious of their beloved nation’s reputation, a new breed of creative Irish chefs (“wacky renegade cheese makers, people curing meat, exploring traditional Irish food ways, cooking well” in Anthony Bourdain’s words) has debunked the myth that Irish food is the worst in the world. Best of all, they did it by using locally grown ingredients: freshly caught seafood from local waters, high-quality produce grown on fecund Irish soil, regional cheeses and free-range pork, beef and lamb. Discerning palates need no longer fear Irish food.
Hurley’s Coffee, Tea and Bistro on Fourth Street is betting the old reputation of Irish food won’t deter potential guests. It certainly didn’t deter Amy Horowitz, associate broker at Re/Max Premier Realtors who was effusive in praising Hurley’s and encouraging me to visit. Amy, in fact, collected much of the information on which this review is based.
Both the Hurley family which owns the restaurant and chef/general manager Dan Brittingham have a proud Irish heritage. They feel their menu represents the Irish “roving/wanderlust” idea and takes its influence from many cultures. Irish-influenced items (or interpretations) on the menu include the Irish farmer’s breakfast, breakfast scones and potato leek soup.
Unlike the “Irish pub in a box” template, Hurley’s Irish themed concept was designed and built entirely by the staff. The Hurley family collected many of the items over a number of years, with an eye toward opening an Irish-themed restaurant when the time was right.
That Irish theme is definitely not overdone. In fact, it’s surprisingly subdued and includes one wall dedicated to traditional Irish musical instruments including a mandolin, fiddle, banjo and even the mournful Uileann bagpipe. Crossed cricket bats hang over the station at which the wait staff picks up their orders. The Irish theme also applies to several menu items which bear the names of Irish landmarks (such as Limerick) and names (Maigan). The atmosphere is casual and includes both a fireplace and big screen television. Wi-Fi connectivity is available for diners who like to stay connected.
Chef Brittingham, a recent transplant from Seattle with more than 18 years in the restaurant business, has been with Hurley’s almost from its inception. He came in pre-opening and helped with the restaurant’s construction, menu and recipe development, hiring, training, and implementing the point-of-sale system. The chef has essentially done it all in the restaurant business, from “fine dining to short-order and everything in between.” He worked in some of Seattle’s best kitchens, including the world-famous Beth’s Café, home of the 12-egg omelet. What inspires him most is reinterpreting comfort foods.
Hurley’s opened for business on December 15, 2008 and business has been growing ever since. Discerning diners have come out in droves to support Hurley’s and some have already become daily regulars. Weekday lunch business has been steady while weekends are typically busier, drawing patrons from both the neighborhood and several groups, including a BMW motorcycle club, a cycling club, a women’s club, and the after-church crowd.
The facts that it is wonderfully eclectic and everything is made from scratch are undoubtedly the keys to its early success. Made-from-scratch offerings include soups, sauces, relishes, tarts, scones, pastries, jams and jellies. Breakfast showcases omelets, huevos rancheros (albeit made with that bane of my spell-checker’s existence “chili”), build-your-own and grab-and-go breakfast burritos, pancakes, Belgian-style waffles, and a hearty Irish Farmer’s Breakfast.
Lunch offerings include grilled panini, soups, salads, daily specials, and Reuben sandwiches, a specialty of the house Amy calls “the best.” Hand-battered onion petals, homemade seasoned chips, hand-cut French fries, and fresh spring mix salads are offered as sides. Hurley’s serves breakfast (6:30 – 11AM Monday through Friday and 8AM through 3PM on weekends). The menu includes four varieties of freshly ground coffee, and nine blends of Tea Forté’s handcrafted, gourmet teas.
Hurley’s rotates the styles and flavors of coffee to keep things interesting. Their offerings have included Snickerdoodle, Dark Secret, Mesa Sunrise, Colombian and “Cuppa Joe,” among others. The haven’t actually offered Irish (flavored) coffee, but may try putting it into their rotation.
All Hurley’s soups are made from a house-made vegetable stock. The big hits were some classics — Tomato and Basil Bisque, and Potato Leek Soup.” When the weather gets warm, Chef Brittingham plans to serve a chilled avocado cucumber soup garnished with a watermelon-jicama slaw, and a chilled fresh pea soup. Next winter, he says he’ll offer an Irish Beef Stew.
Dinner has, thus far, been offered only on one very special occasion, the day in which people of all ethnicities are Irish–St. Patrick’s Day. That event was so very well-received, the restaurant will look for other opportunities to do special dinners. According to the chef, specials will also reflect holidays and other occasions–like offering matzoh ball soup at Passover, Friday fish specials, and a Lenten lunch special on Ash Wednesday. Hurley’s is also are looking at offering a dinner service down the road, but wants to be careful about expanding its service too quickly.
Hurley’s St. Patrick’s Day dinner, by the way, featured a number of Irish-influenced offerings that by themselves might dispel any myths about Irish cooking: the Connolly Cobb salad (an old Gaelic recipe with fresh dill, parsley, scallions tossed in a warm mustard vinaigrette and topped with carrots, beets, eggs and potatoes), corned beef and cabbage, Gardner’s pie (shepherd’s pie), bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes) with sautéed asparagus and Guinness gravy, fish and chips, and a dessert trinity that included Chranachan (toasted almond and oat cream pudding), Young’s double-chocolate stout cake, and Irish cream cappuccino.
Visit an Irish pub or restaurant and the last thing you’d ever expect to read on the menu is the audacious claim “best salsa in town!” Ron’s Homemade Salsa and Chips makes that claim on the appetizers section of the menu. It’s not a conventional New Mexico style salsa. In fact, in the parlance and practice of New Mexican restaurants, it’s more a “pico de gallo” than it is a salsa.
Semantics not withstanding, it’s a colorful salsa crafted with chopped red tomatoes, red onion (which has always looked more purple than red to me), cilantro, green pepper, salt, pepper and garlic. That’s it! No chile or jalapeno. It is a very fresh salsa packing a lot of flavor if not piquancy. The homemade chips have the fortitude to hold the weight of the salsa, but not the width I like for Gil-sized scoops.
Other appetizers include Maigan’s parmesan artichoke spinach dip and Jenny’s chicken quesadilla. It’s okay that there aren’t a lot of appetizers on the menu because lunch entrees are accompanied by appetizer-like sides. Besides, between the entrees and the sides, you’ll have more than enough to eat.
The Reuben is quite good, one of the very best in the Albuquerque just as Amy told me. Thin-sliced corned beef is piled high with melted Swiss cheese then topped with Thousand Island dressing and sauerkraut on toasted marbled rye. The tanginess of the dressing and sauerkraut are the perfect counterpoint to the distinctive sweet and full-bodied taste of the gorgeously swirling marbled rye. The rye is lightly toasted, just enough to bring out the bread’s vibrant flavor.
Another sandwich option is the Limerick Philly made in a way you might not see in the mean streets of the City of Brotherly Love. Like many interpretations of the iconic Philadelphia cheesesteak sandwich, Hurley’s rendition takes license. If you’re expecting to duplicate an experience at South Philadelphia’s legendary Pat’s King of Steaks, you might be disappointed. If you want an excellent sandwich, you’ll be happy with this one.
Like the classic Philadelphia cheesesteak, the Limerick Philly is crafted with thin-sliced steak but there similarities end. Other Limerick ingredients include sauteed onions and mushrooms with Provolone and cream cheese on a hoagie. The steak is of high quality and absolutely delicious, a perfect complement to the rich cheeses and sweet onions. The sandwich is served hot which means the two cheeses melt and make a delicious mess of things, but it’s a delicious mess that may leave you wanting to lick your plate afterwards.
Five creative burgers are also available, including a vegetarian burger (substituting Hurley’s veggie black bean patty for meat). All burgers are served with the restaurant’s house-made burger sauce, leaf lettuce, tomato, red onion and your choice of sides. The “Old Fashioned” burger, served with American cheese, is the only one which might not capture the imagination. That’s not to imply that it’s boring in any way. It’s just that the other burgers are constructed with more flair and imagination.
The 3 B’s burger, for example, is comprised of bacon, blue cheese and Hurley’s house-made red chili espresso BBQ sauce. While the combination of blue cheese and bacon can be very salty, the saltiness is tempered if you pile your burger with the other ingredients. It also helps that the red chili espresso BBQ sauce is an interesting amalgam of taste combinations that prove very complementary as well as moistening for the burger.
Like the mad scientist mixing chemical beakers hoping to concoct something brilliant, I took my side dish of green chili coleslaw and spooned some of it atop an already engorged burger. A burger which didn’t need any improvement was indeed improved by the sweet-piquant flavor combination of the coleslaw. It’s probably not for everyone but fellow culinary experimenters.
The sides are worthy accompaniment to the sandwiches. Choices include plain, apple or garlic mash; hand-cut French fries, hand-battered onion petals, sauteed vegetable of the day, a green side salad or homemade and seasoned chips. Our waiter candidly informed us that the sides most often left on the plate at meal’s end are the chips and the sauteed vegetables.
We didn’t leave any country potatoes (a compromise from an accommodating waiter) on our plate. That’s because these potatoes are perfectly fried, skins and all. Cubed into bite sized pieces and salted lightly, they’re soft on the inside with a dark golden sheen on the exterior with the taste you would like from French fries.
The hand-battered onion petals are also quite good. Lightly battered onion petals and shavings are piled high on a vertical wire basket. They’re reminiscent of onion rings without the extraneous batter some restaurants tend to lay on thickly. My dining companion, a discerning onion ring aficionado, called them among the best she’s had in the Duke City.
Baked goods are showcased under glass by the register. They include cherry cheese Danish (pictured above) and one of the largest apple turnovers I’ve ever seen. Though the pastries are sizable, much of their girth is a superfluity of puff pastry. The amount of fruit is drastically underwhelming.
Hurley’s is one of those restaurants in which you just might utter a prayer or two of thanksgiving afterwards for thoroughly enjoyable meal. My thanks to Amy Horowitz for recommending the restaurant and her outstanding fact-gathering for this review.
Hurley’s Coffee, Tea and Bistro
6100 4th Street
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 9 September 2009
1st VISIT: 15 March 2009
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Waterford Rueben, Limerick Philly, Chips and Salsa, Hand Battered Onion Petals, 3 B’s Burger