- 3306 Plaza Drive, New Albany, IN, 47150
- (812) 948-6501
- Overall User Rating:
- (27 ratings)
- Lunch: Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Dinner: Monday-Wednesday 5-9 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 5-10 p.m.
- Official Web Site:
When the New Albany Exchange Pub & Kitchen opened last winter, owner Ian Hall described it as a “diamond in the rough,” a description you’ll still find on the restaurant’s website.
Based on early visits, I thought it was a bit too rough for its own good, and might not survive in a fiercely competitive marketplace.
For one thing, the concept (a gastropub) and the location (tucked away in a suburban commercial development) seemed ill-suited to one another. Moreover, on early visits, the food struck me as competent but undistinguished.
I continued to drop in from time to time, and watched as Hall and company experimented with a host of strategies designed to lure a steady base of customers. They tweaked the menu, experimented with discount specials, and pretty much tried everything they could.
Then, a couple of months ago, the rough edges started falling away and the diamond started to gleam.
The first time I was really impressed was when about eight of us met there for lunch and every one of us raved about our meals. My burger, made from local beef, was cooked perfectly to order ($8.50). My neighbor’s beer-battered cod sandwich, served on hefty slices of marble rye, was crisp and juicy ($10). Someone else had a California Club, grilled chicken garnished with sprouts and green and yellow slabs of avocado, all stuffed into one of Klaus Riedelsheimer’s wonderful pretzel hoagies ($10). And someone else lunched on a beautiful salmon Nicoise salad, made from meticulously fresh greens, lovely fish, tender red potato and crisp-tender spears of asparagus ($10). Those aren’t everyday lunch prices, to be sure, but this was no everyday lunch, either — and when looking for less expensive lunchtime meals, I’ve discovered that Chef John Pool’s kitchen serves an excellent, filling bowl of soup for $4.50 (black bean chili is always on the menu, but recently I feasted on a sublime herb-inflected chicken-vegetable soup that I’d have been delighted to encounter in a Paris bistro).
To be sure, New Albany Exchange is still in a suburban strip, but look closely at the furnishings and you’ll see robust tables made from weathered planks reclaimed from Hall’s parents’ farm. Seating is comfortable, whether at the long bar or the generously spaced tables. And service is friendly and knowledgeable (though this is not the place for a rushed, fast-paced lunch).
Where the lunch prices might strike some as a bit steep, the dinner prices offer extraordinary value and quality. A perfectly seared piece of locally raised skirt steak starred in a recent order of steak frites ($16), finished with a luxurious dab of herb-infused garlic butter and accompanied by crisp, fresh-cut sticks of fried potato. A spicy glaze of cooked apples was the perfect autumn sauce for a thick pork chop, served with garlic mashed potatoes and carved carrots flavored with fresh thyme ($17). And a recent order of Voodoo Pasta, a piquant tangle of thick pappardelle noodles and seared shrimp, was superb ($14 with shrimp, $12 vegetarian).
In the realm of bar snacks, New Albany Exchange performs as well as a gastropub should, offering a fine, smoky beer cheese (served with one of Klaus’ pretzels), chipotle hummus and Pacific oysters on the half-shell ($9 for a half-dozen, $17 for a dozen).
Add to the fine cuisine an excellent beverage program that includes outstanding draft and bottled beers, attractively priced cocktails and a short but serviceable wine list, and it seems likely that New Albany Exchange is going to be around for a long time to come.
Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that Hall’s mother, Diane, is in charge of the pastries. Based on a recent chocolate éclair, she certainly ought to be!