If you’re a Louisville restaurant fan and haven’t made the journey to New Albany to taste that town’s ongoing restaurant boom, you’re cheating only yourself. The time to get there is yesterday, though many tomorrows will be available if the pace of business at these restaurants and breweries stays as is.
But you really have no excuses, folks. The Sherman-Minton Bridge doesn’t require a toll to cross, the mighty Ohio is not the River Styx and Hoosiers are just as ordinary as Kentuckians—well, save for their love of Cream and Crimson apparel.
But if you’re a normal lazy Louisville driver (I’m one of them, too, and a 15-minute trek anywhere seems arduous), you’ll probably stay put until something new and shiny thing opens. And if that’s the case, you’ll have that opportunity later this fall in Concrete Jungle, a new concept at 324 E. Main St. created by Eric Morris, owner of Gospel Bird.
Maybe that’ll get you there to see other Main St. places like Feast BBQ (yeah, it started there, not here), The Exchange, Floyd County Brewing Co., or even—gasp!—walk one block over to Market and Bank Streets where you’ll find Toast On Market, Brooklyn & the Butcher, Bank Street Brewhouse and Dragon King’s Daughter (which did start in Louisville).
“People are funny about that still,” said Morris, a Germantown resident and veteran of multiple Louisville restaurants. “I make the drive almost every day, and it takes no time.”
Partly because he’s going against traffic and partly because it really doesn’t take much time. So remember that when the wraps come off his new concept and you find yourself hankerin’ for a crazy mixture of global street food served casually. Morris says he’s rewritten the menu multiple times to create a balance between Mexican, Asian, African and other cuisines’ flavors to create something the area’s never tasted.
“We’ve written, literally, 14 menus … to hone in on what we see as interpretation of those foods,” Morris said. Chefs Scott Hoppel and Mike Richardson will join him in the kitchen, while chef Jessie Rippy will continue overseeing the kitchen at Gospel Bird. “I don’t want to call it fusion because it’s not that, really.”
Excitedly, he explained dishes like mussels, served with Peking duck and shishito peppers in the broth, as “a Chinese interpretation of mussels, with duck,” but not a fusion of those flavors. He talked of “crispy general Tso chicken tacos, crispy sesame seeds and rice,” with similar enthusiasm. Nachos won’t be the corn chip and ground beef creation we all know, he added, they’ll be layers of crisp, fried wontons with smoked Korean-style short ribs and Gochujang sauce and kimchee aioli. And if you like poutine, you’ll probably like his pad Thai fries “that will have everything in pad Thai minus the noodles.”
Steve Resch, the real estate mogul who’s revitalized many New Albany buildings that became the town’s best restaurants (including Gospel Bird), is the owner of the structure that’ll become Concrete Jungle. The large and spacious all-concrete space (hence the name) last served as an art gallery. How it will morph into a restaurant is still being decided, but Morris is excited to “get to work with a blank slate. … Steve’s excellent to work with, so I know it’s going to be great.”
Next up is obtaining permitting and adult beverage licensing, formalities Morris expects to be checked off soon. Once that paperwork is completed, construction begins.
“Sometimes these things take forever, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen on this one,” he said.
Interestingly, Morris said he’s considering using a “flex-casual” service model, meaning customers would order food at a counter and have it brought to their tables—which is technically fast casual. What he’ll add to the mix is additional staffers who will roam the dining room with wireless tablets to take additional orders for drinks or more food.
“I don’t want people to have to get back in line to order something,” he said. “I go to places where I think, ‘I’d like another beer, but I don’t want to get back in line to get it.’ That’s a missed sales opportunity.”
Flex casual could also help Concrete Jungle sidestep the current restaurant server shortage. Morris said the ongoing spate of openings has not only drained the market of experienced, dedicated and loyal servers, many in that role only stay a few months before jumping to the next restaurant opening.
“When they can make a bunch of cash that quickly, there’s not a lot of loyalty,” he said. “So maybe flex-casual will be one way to deal with that.”