Cathal Armstrong is finally opening what he considers to be a proper Irish bar and restaurant. The Dublin native, a fixture in the D.C. dining scene since winning over critics at now-closed Restaurant Eve, is weeks away from welcoming customers to an Arlington venue named after his grandparents in the recently rebranded Westpost development (formerly Pentagon Row).
Mattie and Eddie’s (1301 S. Joyce Street) represents a sort of culinary homecoming for Armstrong, who has published an Irish cookbook but currently spends his time running pan-Asian Kaliwa at the Wharf and American seafood spot Hummingbird in Old Town Alexandria. Armstrong’s Eat Good Food Group closed Eamonn’s Dublin Chipper in Old Town, but the chef says that was more of a fast food operation than a true Irish restaurant. Mattie and Eddie’s is marketing itself as a “farm-to-table” business.
“I’m looking to highlight the incredible raw materials of Ireland, but by way of this area,” Armstrong says. “The growing season in Virginia and Maryland happens to be close to the growing season in Ireland, which means the ingredients we can get here are similar to what you might find in Ireland at the same time.”
Armstrong is looking forward to recreating the annual oyster festival that takes place in Galway, but leaning on the mollusks found in the DMV instead. The corned beef, cured on-site for three weeks before getting served with cabbage and parsley potatoes, depends upon beef from the Shenandoah Valley. Other dishes include a sausage roll to share, black pudding with onions and typically crusty bread, and, of course, fish and chips.
“People forget that Ireland is a tiny island surrounded by some of the best seafood in the world and plenty of green grass for grazing,” Armstrong says. “I want to be sure to highlight our culture and our heritage through the food.”
The restaurant is also an opportunity for Armstrong to shine a light on his own personal background. Armstrong’s grandmother Martha (Mattie for short) was “the matriarch of our family, and a very strong-willed woman,” the chef says. She and her husband Eddie were curtain makers.
“They worked well into their 80s, but they always made time for gatherings around food,” Armstrong says.
The restaurateur is counting on two women to lead his newest operation: chef de cuisine Casey Bauer and general manager Hayley Mackin. While Armstrong says he’s excited to focus on Irish food, he says he’s also a little nervous to do it justice.
“We have a 5,000-year Irish history, and we’re very proud of it,” Armstrong says. “I went to one of two high schools in Dublin that only spoke Irish — we weren’t allowed to play music or sports that weren’t from our island. So I learned about Ireland from a very unique perspective, and want to be sure to give the country the credit that thousands of years of history is due.”