If regional awards were handed out for great works of preservation and restoration (and who knows, maybe there are such awards, and I’m just uninformed), then The Exchange Pub + Kitchen in New Albany would be a pretty strong contender to win one.
The Exchange is located just a few steps from the Floyd County branch of the YMCA of Southern Indiana. The Y is a gleaming, glowing structure of glass and metal that’s as modern as can be. It’s certainly a major factor in downtown New Albany’s revival.
But if a work of glassy modernism has helped transform the formerly sleepy central city, it’s also true that creative restoration of the city’s building stock has played an equally important role.
The Exchange occupies a 19th-century building that started out as a stable and livery, once housed a poultry operation, then served as a warehouse, and then was vacant for a couple of decades. Developer Steve Resch bought the building a few years ago, renovated and modernized it, and now it’s a place of lofty brick walls; dramatic metal truss work; an enormous, industrial-sized ceiling fan; and a superb balcony that looks out over the dining room and bar.
It’s a spot well matched to the vision of Exchange owner Ian Hall. A couple of years ago, when Hall went into business on Grant Line Road (back then the restaurant was called The New Albany Exchange Pub & Kitchen), many furnishings were built of lumber salvaged from his family’s farm. Here, old floor joists and railings, wainscoting, transom windows and countless vintage design details have either been saved intact or repurposed. The result is a grand space that would be worth visiting even if one never planned to eat a bite.
But that seems a remote likelihood, since Rick Adams, formerly of the old L&N Wine Bar & Bistro and long one of the city’s best-regarded chefs, is heading up the kitchen.
At The Exchange, Adams and company have put together a menu that’s safely rooted in pub cuisine, but executed at a very high level. Some diners (including me) will be surprised at the lack of a single vegetarian entree or sandwich on the published menu, but the items on offer are well considered and look spectacular on the plate (and until the kitchen gets around to adding some vegetarian options, diners can certainly ask for accommodations).
The starter list includes plates of charcuterie ($12) and cheese ($11), as well as a piquant beer cheese (served with Klaus Riedelsheimer’s pretzel bread, $6.50) and a rustic rock shrimp gnocchi with tender little shrimp, toothsome house-made gnocchi, and a creamy, Parmesan sauce that offers the comforts of old-school mac and cheese (with an upscale dash of sophistication, $10).
Sandwiches include burgers and a croque madame (ham, a lush Mornay, tomato and bright yellow sunny-side-up egg, $13).
The entree list includes a strip steak ($24), grilled salmon in a tangerine-vanilla beurre blanc ($18), and braised short ribs with Lyonnaise parsnips ( $26).
With entrees starting at $13 for a generous portion of perfectly fried, beer-battered fish and chips (basa, and a silky, caper-studded tartar sauce) and hovering in the mid-to-upper teens, the dinner menu offers pretty good value.
A generous portion of steak frites ($16) was admirably cooked to order, and a slab of grilled pork tenderloin ($18) coated in a maple-brown sugar-bourbon glaze, plated with a winningly tangy mash-up of sweet potatoes and Capriole Farms goat cheese, was picture-perfect (and tasty to boot).
But pork, after all, is a forgiving meat. It’s the details that bear witness to a kitchen’s strengths or weaknesses. And if ever I’ve tasted a better order of haricots verts, it’s slipped my mind. These were just simple green cylinders resting beside that pork, but they had just enough give and resistance to be the perfect definition of crisp-tender. Somebody was paying as much attention to that side dish as to the featured ingredient.
Likewise, even at busy times, the front-of-house folks, led by Bryson Schoeneke, seemed attentive to everyone in the dining room. I’ve reviewed The Exchange and L&N in years past, and am recognized by the staff, but on my visits all customers seemed happy and well served, from beginning to end.
Speaking of the end, the kitchen staff puts together a nice creme brulee, and Ian Hall’s mother, Diane Hall, prepares some of the desserts, including what has to be one of the best eclairs in the region.
You can email freelance restaurant critic Marty Rosen at email@example.com.