Murph's Supper Club
14th and U streets NW
Hours: 4:30 to 11:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 4:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday.
Prices: Appetizers $3.95 to $8.95, entrees $8.95 to $13.50.
Cards: American Express, MasterCard and Visa.
No separate nonsmoking area.
If you aren't a District government worker, you might not know that hidden in the Reeves Municipal Building is a jazz bar and restaurant specializing in seafood and soul food.
There's no sign outside the building, so it's surprising to find Murph's Supper Club -- a reincarnation of the old Ed Murphy's Supper Club on Georgia Avenue near Howard University -- off the lobby of the two-year-old high-tech hub of city offices.
It is an elegantly appointed bar-restaurant that touts "African-American Southern cuisine" and live jazz on weekends. There's even free parking in the basement lot.
Unfortunately, like many jazz clubs, Murph's seems to put greater emphasis on its music and ambience than on its food. While prices are reasonable, portions ample and service friendly, much of the food borders on dull.
There are some exceptions. A broiled catfish platter ($10.95) featured a firm, meaty fillet of fish, perfectly cooked and nicely seasoned.
An untraditional London broil ($9.95) consisted of very thin slices of beef cooked long enough to fall apart and smothered in a well-seasoned gravy with lots of onion.
We also enjoyed a Louisiana seafood gumbo and our side orders of vegetables. But other dishes often lacked even basic seasonings such as salt and pepper, and the fried foods we tried suffered from bland batters that overpowered natural flavors.
Starters at Murph's include a variety of fried dishes and soups. The gumbo ($3.95) was a real down-home treat, featuring chunks of hard crab in the shell, bits of chicken still on the bone, sausage, meat and rice in a dark, thick broth loaded with spices and hot pepper. Also available are catfish nuggets ($5.95), fried shrimp in a basket ($8.95) and deep-fried chicken "wingettes" ($4.95).
The menu says Murph's barbecued ribs ($10.95) are slowly smoked over hickory chips and layered with a special sauce, but they reminded us of ribs cooked with moist heat and then slathered with a thick sweet sauce with almost no tang or heat.
The ribs were thick, meaty and tender, but there was no discernible hickory flavor. And because the sauce and its seasoning had no chance to penetrate the ribs, the meat nearest the bone -- which should be the sweetest -- was pretty tasteless.
The croaker ($10.25) was an ample portion served breaded and deep-fried. The meat was flaky and fresh but needed salt and pepper, if not some kind of spice. Croaker is a bony fish and this was no exception.
The Southern fried chicken ($8.95) was a big disappointment, a breast quarter only, coated with a thin batter devoid of seasoning.
We also did not care for the chitterlings ($11.95). It came as a stew of long-simmered pig intestines, which must be carefully soaked and cleaned to be at their best, and these were not.
Main dishes come with two vegetables from a choice of three to five. The yams were cooked until they oozed sweetness, doused with brown sugar, cinnamon and other aromatic spices. The greens were simmered long, but were still a bit crunchy and well drained of cooking liquid.
The green beans were cooked Southern-style, which in this case meant until they started to fall apart. The cole slaw was above average, with coarsely chopped cabbage mixed with a flavorful, not-too-sweet mayonnaise-based dressing. The potato salad was prepared with lots of mayonnaise and flecks of chopped pickle.
There is a full bar, a limited wine list, but no red wine by the glass. We were impressed by the lengthy list of fruit juices ($1.50), soft drinks and non-alcoholic beer ($2.50 a bottle).
Service at Murph's is friendly, although at times it also seemed nonexistent. Waiters seemed to take a genuine personal interest in customers but occasionally disappeared for long periods. On one visit, it took forever to be seated; on another, we had a hard time getting an extra place setting. When our salads arrived, we came up one salad short, and none was served with dressing.
This is a pretty dressy place, with most men in coat and tie and women wearing a step up from office garb. At the center of the dining room is a handsome bar with lots of polished wood. The walls are decorated with African-style art.
The atmosphere is pleasant, with soft music in the background except on weekends, when live jazz takes over.