- 415 Bank St., New Albany, IN, 47150
- Overall User Rating:
- (0 ratings)
- Tuesday-Thursday, 2-10; Friday-Saturday, 11-11; Sunday, 12-8. Kitchen service ends one hour before closing.
The burgeoning commercial scene in downtown New Albany over the last 18 months has been something to behold. Not long ago, the city’s history seemed its most prominent asset. Vintage architecture – elegant old banks, theaters, warehouses, and office buildings bearing the names of businesses long since gone – were stately reminders of days when the river city was a thriving center of shipbuilding and industry.
All of a sudden, New Albany seems to have found its future. A sparkling new YMCA facility, long a centerpiece of the city’s development plans, is drawing throngs of people. And a downtown dining scene that was once best known for housing the diminutive burger joint Little Chef and the inexpensive enormity of the salt-laden meals at the old Southside Inn, has become a bona fide dining district, with enough diversity and quality to lure folks from all over the region.
And yet, a very neighborly feel pervades the scene. One recent night at Bank Street Brewhouse & Brasserie, the downtown outpost of Roger Baylor’s New Albanian Brewing Company, the tablehopping had such a frantic, happy pace that I thought I’d stepped into the middle of a 1950s musical comedy.
Except, that is, that people in '50s musical comedies don’t dine on pommes frites accompanied by dipping sauces like fragrant lavender syrup, house-made mayonnaise and luscious pine-green pesto. ($6). They don’t slide their knives through a wedge of potatoes Anna ($7), built by fusing paper-thin slices of potato into a buttery delight flavored with smoky bacon and a perky dollop of crème fraiche. And they certainly don’t start their meals with salads that assemble tender haricots verts, roasted cloves of garlic, slivers of shallots, and pickled onions ($7.50), or delicate slices of pear, crimson dried cranberries, toasted pistachios ($7).
When it opened, last spring, Bank Street suffered from a lack of focus that bordered on incoherence. Schedules and menus were hard to track, and the bill of fare had the feel of an ill-considered experiment that veered from extravagant sandwiches to minuscule salads and soups that looked like satirical reminders of the extreme minimalism of early 90s nouvelle cuisine. The only thing that was reliable was the quality of the beer program, which builds on and expands the reach of New Albanian’s reputation as an excellent artisanal brewery.
Over the months, though, Chef Josh Lehman, former sous chef at Le Relais, found his footing, and now offers a menu that’s concise, generous, well-considered, and consistently well executed. His Croque Madame ($10) is an object of beauty – a thick brick of a sandwich, made from excellent ham, prosciutto, Emmentaler, and a slather of perfectly made mornay, topped with a fried egg that’s looks like sunrise on a plate. His chorizo hash ($9) elevates a humble concept to glorious heights; it’s made from Fiedler Farms chorizo, meticulously diced potatoes, shallots, picked red onions (pickled onions are a recurring theme in Lehman’s dishes, for good reason), crème fraiche, and another good egg.
The kitchen evokes the rustic spirit of continental country cooking in dishes like a braised pork shank that looks like a sturdy tower until it falls apart at the touch of a fork ($16). And their take on shrimp and grits is simple and clean: it features pink, tender shrimp on a soft bed of Weisenberger grits with a drizzle of lemony brown butter sauce so fine that I’d happily swap it for any of the more traditional examples I found during a recent swing through the South Carolina Low Country.
Bank Street occupies a former garage – in summer the bays open to let the place spill out into the city, but in winter those glass windows leak enough cold air that diners can often be seen bundled up against the chill. Service is smart, well-informed, and quick. As for its character, Lehman and Baylor call Bank Street a “gastropub.” It’s a term so often misused in the U.S. as to be almost meaningless. But if ever a restaurant fit the profile – a great beer program, sophisticated cuisine with a mix of continental and regional American cuisine, and a congenial sense of community - Bank Street is the place. And though beer is the focus, the restaurant shows it commitment to locavore values by striving to stock a short list of regional wines (and given that Kentucky is only a few minutes away, it’s simple enough to offer an assortment of regional spirits). Speaking of spirits, on Sundays, from noon to three, the bar offers a Bloody Mary buffet ($7) lets people start their day with a gentle do-it-yourself buzz that draws on oodles of olives, peppers, and hot sauces, as well as horseradish, herbs, and celery sticks, plus a menu of sandwiches, soups, and salads that culminates with a generous basket of tender beignets ($6) sprinkled in cinnamon sugar that prompted my pal Judy to compare them – aptly and favorably – to fresh, hot Krispy Kremes – except that these beignet can be paired with New Albanian’s exquisite Thunderfoot Imperial Cherry Stout.