- 826 W. Main St., New Albany, IN
- Overall User Rating:
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- Kitchen hours — Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; the bar is open later.
Culinary trend-spotters get all excited about exotic ingredients, adventurous ethnic dining, locavore ingredients, artisanal burgers and whimsically ironic riffs on old-school dishes (foie gras and fried onions, anyone?).
But perhaps, away from the media spotlight, a counter-trend is emerging: the return of value dining in the form of blue-plate specials, all-you-can-eat dinners and inexpensive sandwiches — all prepared by kitchen folks who think of themselves not as chefs, but as cooks.
In times like these, value matters, and I’ve long wondered when we’d see the widespread return of the old-fashioned meat and three. That time may be upon us.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Bud’s Tavern (4014 Dixie Highway), a friendly bar and grill that outperforms its inexpensive price point with its focus on in-house, made-from-scratch cooking.
The folks at JR’s Pub in New Albany, Ind., are doing very much the same thing — and drawing in pretty good crowds as a result.
JR’s sits at 826 W. Main St., on the road that connects the city to the Horseshoe Southern Indiana Casino. It’s a bright, utilitarian space, with a long bar, plenty of comfortable seating, some outdoor seating (and what looks to be a pleasant patio under construction when I was last in).
The folks behind JR’s, Jon Ryan Neace and his father, John Neace, are also affiliated with Louisville’s River Bend Winery. There’s a full bar and a good collection of beers on tap, but this is the sort of place where you’d be more likely to play shuffleboard than sip chardonnay (though you could actually do both if you were so inclined).
The menu certainly includes some of those nondescript frozen appetizers that are the same all over, but read the menu closely and you’ll find clues to the best stuff — like a thick bowl of gumbo, richly flavored with spices that smell of the Delta, plenty of okra and satisfying chunks of home-made smoked sausage and tender chicken ($3/$6). This summer has been brutally hot, but rotating offerings like stuffed pepper soup and BLT soup ($2.50/$4) suggest that JR’s is committed to offering soups for all seasons.
Sit at the counter watching the food come through the kitchen window, and you may be astonished both by the size of the plates and by the tempting look of the dishes. A prime rib sandwich — smoked first, then finished on the grill — consists of a huge slab of tender, smoke-infused beef that tastes so good one might ignore the fact that the finish on the grill fails to completely heat the meat ($8).
In some portions of Indiana, fried pork cutlets are the signature regional sandwich. JR’s version ($5) is a thin, tender slice of pork tenderloin, cloaked in a crisp, grease-free breading, simply seasoned with salt and pepper, and its sizzling expanse spreading far beyond the circumference of the bun.
In fact, fried food is consistently fine at JR’s. A hand-breaded grouper sandwich ($6) is done up in the peppery Green River style. And if the sandwich isn’t enough, there’s an all-you-can-eat fish dinner with fries and slaw ($9.95).
Sandwiches include a superb Reuben ($6), house-smoked pastrami on rye with Swiss ($7), hand-formed burgers ($3.50 for a single, $5 for a double, and $7 for a double with beer cheese and red onion on a pretzel bun).
And there’s an ever-changing list of specials. Recent lunch specials have included Swedish meatballs over buttered noodles ($5), liver and onions with mashed potatoes and gravy ($5), a Cuban sandwich with fries ($6), grilled chicken salad with raspberry vinaigrette ($6) and Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes and corn ($5).
Recent dinner specials have included grilled mahi mahi with sides ($12) and baby back ribs with sides ($12).
In fact, there’s a smoker out back, and it’s not just used for those smoked prime rib sandwiches; pulled pork and chicken sandwiches are also on offer ($5), and though it seems I always manage to miss the rib specials, word is they’re worth seeking out.
You can email freelance restaurant critic Marty Rosen at email@example.com.