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Bank Street Brewhouse & Brasserie is well worth the drive to New Albany

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Fine brews and food are available at Bank Street Brewhouse & Brasserie.

In my role as a dining critic for Louisville magazine, I get about 800 words in which to have my say.

That isn’t a lot when you consider the task of summing up two to three meals’ worth of virtues and maladies of food, drink, service skills, décor and ambiance (often there’s no space left to mention these two at all).

So I often turn in my copy regretting I didn’t have the chance to write more.

Well, if the place was good, anyway.

If the restaurant wasn’t so hot, I’m glad the editorial choker collar gets yanked at 800.

Therefore, in the quest to share all (well, some) of the info that’s fit to blog about the local restaurant scene, I want to use this space monthly to shine a little more light on places I really liked and wanted to say more about.

The February 2011 issue of Louisville magazine features my review of Bank Street Brewhouse & Brasserie, the Euro-gastro-pub creation of Roger Baylor, Amy Baylor and Kate Lewison, partners in the NABC Pizzeria and Public House (known for years to brew fans as Rich O’s Public House and Sportstime Pizza.) In short, I liked the place a whole lot more than space allowed me to say.

Here’s why:

1. It’s got a cool vibe. If you’re a fan of the Public House, the Brewhouse bears a similar “beer sophistication” feel. The microbrews here are quite good (if you’re driving from Kentucky, be smart and get a few glass growlers and take some to go) and the staff does a marvelous job of sharing its opinions about and knowledge of those libations.

The spacious room, visible brewing equipment and Spartan décor give it a garage feel, but the Franco-Belgian-inspired foods coming from chef Joshua Lehman’s kitchen dispel any notions about a low-rent experience. Additionally, patrons here appreciate and understand the beer and the food; in other words, this isn’t a corner tavern pouring cheap, soulless lagers and serving pickled eggs from jars. It’s first and foremost a restaurant.

Even then, I suggest you get a seat at the bar, a formed, sealed concrete creation with lights embedded randomly into its horizontal surfaces. Looks like something out of Star Trek or an early Star Wars flick. Plus you can see into the kitchen if you get the right perch.

2. Since – as a critic – I’m supposed to taste multiple dishes in one visit, I don’t get to linger slowly over just one item, which in real life, I prefer to do. When next I return, I’ll do precisely that with the croque madame ($12), one of the most soul-satisfying ham, cheese and Blue Dog Bakery wheat slice striations I’ve ever eaten. (I recommend washing it down with a medium-hoppy ale.)

3. You might catch Roger Baylor there. I’ve interviewed him multiple times—once at the Brewhouse—and was concerned he’d recognize me during my review visits. But he was present neither time, which was a mixed blessing because he’s an interesting guy to talk to and he’s passionate about his beer and building a craft beer culture in New Albany.

4. I rarely have specials when I’m eating for a review because there’s no assurance people reading that copy 45 days later will get to enjoy them. But Lehman’s specials on both nights sounded simply incredible. That this talented chef gets to exercise his creative muscle in this understated setting is a tribute to his bosses’ willingness to do something a bit daring. Costing $20 and up, they’re easily 50 to 100 percent higher than items on the standard menu. But based on my regrets over not being able to order any of them, I consider them a treat well worth trying.

5. The rebirth of downtown New Albany is well underway, specifically its restaurant population. There have always been a handful of small cafes and seedy dives in the area, but with the addition of Bank Street came Toast on Market, Wick’s Pizza and several other truly respectable spots that make the drive from Louisville worthwhile. Much like my wife and I do on Bardstown Road, you could plan to stay several hours, park your car and hop between bars and restaurants, nibbling and noshing as you go.

6. Perhaps my only real complaint about Bank Street is its website, which doesn’t bear a current menu. So unless you want to learn the story of the Brasserie itself (yeah, it’s interesting), don’t bother visiting it.

If you go, it’s located at 415 Bank Street in New Albany. Just Google the directions or call 812-725-9585.

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