Times have changed in Ireland, the United States, and New York.
The Irish started immigrating to the United States in the 1800s. Because they were fleeing poverty and hunger, they came as laborers and service staff emigrating across the country.
People used to say, “The Irish focus on potatoes.” Well, that’s not true today. Whether an Irish chef or an Irish restaurant, you will enjoy some fine fare.
When asking about a well-known Irish chef, many New Yorkers will think of Bobby Flay and his famous Mesa Grill New York Restaurant and Bar Americain, burger places in Garden City, N.Y.; Lake Grove, N.Y.; Cherry Hill, N.J.; Eatontown, N.J.; or Paramus, N.J.. He has certainly made his mark serving exceptional food with a wide variety of prices and a dynamite television show.
Nevertheless, with St. Patrick’s Day a few days away, this month’s focus is on another Irish American chef as well as Irish restaurants.
Chef Kerry Heffernan
South Gate’s executive chef Kerry Heffernan brings 20 years of culinary excellence, experience, and leadership to the kitchen in Central Park South, and has become known for his seasonal American dishes. However, chef Heffernan has done his due diligence around the world and in New York City restaurants such as at Montrachet, Le Régence, Restaurant Bouley, and as a sous-chef, working with chef Tom Colicchio at Mondrian before landing his first job as chef de cuisine at One Fifth Avenue.
Under the direction of chef Alfred Portale, Kerry designed the restaurant’s signature fish menu. Chef Kerry later became the executive chef of the Westbury Hotel’s famed Polo Restaurant.
In 1998 chef Kerry opened Union Square Hospitality Group’s Eleven Madison Park, as executive chef and went on to become a partner. He introduced his elegant seasonal cuisine. Under his leadership, the restaurant continues to receive accolades with a tie with Per Se on “Zagat Survey’s Top 20 Most Popular Restaurants in New York,” the James Beard Foundation’s Award for Outstanding Service in America, Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence, and Esquire Magazine’s “Best New Restaurant.”
Chef Kerry is as involved outside the kitchen with numerous volunteer services including: Share Our Strength, Project by Project, City Meals on Wheels, Kids for Kids, and both the Central Park and Madison Square Park conservancies.
An avid saltwater fly fisherman and snowboarder, chef Kerry is happy in his new home at South Gate on Central Park South. He sees the park as a seasonal inspiration and ideal backdrop for his cuisine.
Kerry was kind enough to share several demonstrations of his dishes with us.
Irish Restaurants in the NYC Area
Most have Irish or Irish-American owners who have taught the behind-the-scenes chefs the traditional dishes they feature. I discovered them to be quite protective of the chefs’ names. I think they prefer not having to train new ones.
The list I’m focusing on is from a personal friend, Gail Gerson-Witte who has dined and reviewed all of them. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting some of her choices, and they are always top-notch.
Tracks Raw Bar & Grill (Penn Station) ranks high on Gail’s scale. It is a “Dining Car” and considered a great party buy, by her press club. When inside, it is almost like a train car designed by Charles Morris. It features railroad memorabilia as well as a 110-foot bar constructed by Irish carpenters. Owners Cathy and Bruce Caufield encourage you to linger and enjoy new and traditional fare.
At the Shamrock Inn in the Bronx, owners Rosetta and Chris Lawless worked here many years before purchasing. They focus on American cuisine with numerous Irish specialties. Drinks range from Manhattans and Martinis to Southwicks and Guinness beer. There is always a good crowd, reasonable prices, and good food.
We are leaving New York, but only across to New Jersey which is a daily commute for many of you to one of the old Irish restaurants with famous dishes.
Blackthorn Restaurant & Irish Pub in Kenilworth is a favorite. It is a family affair with Eugene and Rosemary Gillespie, Karen who designed the menu, Eugene Thomas who is the bar manager, and Laura, (all Gillespies), along with the talented general managers and chefs have created a team that ensures the success of any dining event. Blackthorn prides itself on offering reasonably priced Irish and American specialties.
“This eatery is truly Union County’s best bang for the buck with outstanding food, friendly service, and dazzling homemade desserts. But the appetizers with top-shelf ingredients and unique imaginative preparations are just wonderful,” says Gail of the Blackthorn.
To list all the great and well-known Irish or Irish-American establishments in New York City would take up the entire newspaper.
Personally, I’ve always enjoyed a quick meal at Rosie O’Grady’s. It gets three and four star reviews and the food is good, but not fancy. My affinity for it goes back to growing up and hearing the song “Sweet Rosie O’Grady.” It is amazing how one’s past can influence you not to be quite as objective as usual.
Please remember, you can always contact me and ask questions or request what you would like to see covered in the future.
Maralyn D. Hill, The Epicurean Explorer, is a freelance writer and president of the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association. www.ifwtwa.org