Murphy’s also has a small retail wine shop. Name another neighborhood bar and grill that has that. But maybe we should dub Murphy’s a bistro, because it also has invested in a Coravin wine system. This gizmo enables wine to be extracted without removing the cork, thus preventing the bottle of wine from oxidizing.
Big picture: It enables restaurants to offer more expensive wines by the glass, but at a more affordable price.
Cheers and thank you, such as for the Claude Riffault Sancerre that I paired with a satisfying appetizer of flash-fried calamari with a sweet apple cider mignonette, then kept sipping on through entrees like a plate of Gulf shrimp and cheese grits with a sofrito too sweet for my palate and forkfuls of my dining partner’s health-kick pick of fillets of grilled Georgia trout atop toothsome wheat berries, green beans and carrots.
Murphy’s is not reinventing the wheel with classic offerings like a burger with bacon, Swiss and avocado mayo, with a side of truffle mac-and-cheese that our server happily swapped in place of fries. Or with roast chicken that, despite a nice tarragon accent, didn’t top the charts for this staple poultry offering. But I wouldn’t go to Murphy’s looking for new-new American cuisine.
I’d go to Murphy’s because the dishes are prepared well, and are complemented with thoughtful touches that add up to solid, seasonally inflected, composed dishes. Take, for example, a Wednesday special of venison. I wouldn’t expect a neighborhood restaurant to set that medium-rare, deeply flavorful piece of meat atop a take on tabbouleh that included white and black quinoa and green fava beans. Color. Texture. Flavor. Bite after bite after bite.
Likewise, with a salmon steak that held gorgeous sear marks served over a better-than-average housemade gnocchi speckled green from an herbaceous oil blended with basil, pea shoots and other spring greens, gently tossed with peas and more fava beans. And, again, with a Friday special of a succulent veal strip loin that became a near garden bed for a scattering of brilliant purple violets.
Dessert here is a delight. The signature Tollhouse Pie of dark and white chocolate, walnuts and vanilla ice cream was enough to make me swoon. More so when ordering it with the recommended Dow’s 20-year tawny port. My table fought over that pie and the other sweet endings that comprised the Dessert Trio — a vanilla bean panna cotta and the Bonzo, a layered dessert of fudge brownie, cheesecake, dark chocolate mousse and whipped cream — a steal at $8.
Which brings me to my final point: value. Considering the seasonality and execution coming from the kitchen; beverages — wine, in particular — that attempt to match the food in quality and offering; service that is both proficient and pleasant; and a space with so many nooks and crannies that it’s hard to say which is the best seat in the house (it depends on why you’re there), when I take a seat at Murphy’s I am getting a lot for a reasonable price, and far better than any other “neighborhood” restaurant I know.
Like I said, I want to move in.
Overall rating: 3 of 4 stars
Food: upscale neighborhood restaurant serving American cuisine
Service: casual, amicable and on-point
Best dishes: daily specials like veal strip loin and venison, Tollhouse Pie
Vegetarian selections: Most starters, three-cheese flatbread, chickpea hummus, vegetable pasta and side dishes
Price range: $$$
Credit cards: all major credit cards
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays, 5-11 p.m. Saturdays, 5-10 p.m. Sundays; brunch: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays
Parking: valet and street parking
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: moderate
Patio: yes, covered
Address, phone: 997 Virginia Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 404-872-0904