We all know how quickly and impressively downtown New Albany is growing, particularly in terms of its dining scene. Not to be outdone, downtown Jeffersonville is doing its best to keep up with some impressive buzz of its own.
Just a week and a half ago, we saw the opening of Pearl Street Taphouse, just steps from the Indiana end of the Big Four Bridge, and shortly before that we got the Portage House, a restaurant overlooking the Ohio River just a mile or so east of the walking bridge, serving Midwestern cuisine that is often Southern-inspired.
Set in the Queen Ann historic home built in 1891, the Portage House features a quaint décor, a deck on the river and a feeling that a family could have lived in the place just a few weeks ago.
A bar downstairs is cozy enough that it could be a basement hangout, while an upstairs dining room features a fireplace in an intimate setting, with only six or so tables. Hardwood floors and a variety of complementary décor — including a number of huge boat oars — make the place fun while also maintaining a quiet elegance.
The one-page menu gets right to the point, with oysters available from the raw section and a handful of starters highlighting a country ham plate, duck pate, char-grilled oysters and others.
Seven entrees range from a grilled cheese sandwich for $13 to a 12-ounce Indiana-raised ribeye steak for $35. Sides are served a la carte, with braised greens, tomato-stewed butter beans, crushed potatoes and creamed kale and farro at $4-$6 each.
My girlfriend Cynthia and I decided to start off a recent dinner by nibbling on the country ham appetizer, which comes with four hush puppies as well (odd, but it worked).
Served with sorghum mustard that leaned toward the mustard side, the ham was served sliced thin, sort of like a Southeast version of prosciutto. Salty and flavorful, it was a nice pairing with the sorghum mustard and a light start to the meal.
We ended up getting a variety of items for dinner: grilled cheese, three char-grilled oysters, and sides of crushed potatoes and braised greens.
The grilled cheese was quite a hit, and I’m only glad Cynthia was willing to share (it was her call). And while it seems I’m making too much out of a grilled cheese sandwich, it’s only because the Portage House went so far to make it delicious: It is made with Indiana goat cheese, taleggio and sorghum, and topped with a sunny-side-up fried egg, on thick-sliced Texas toast.
The combination of the creamy, slightly tangy goat cheese and the mild pungency of the taleggio was surprisingly appropriate for this sandwich, and it was only made better by the addition of the egg, which was fried just to the edge of yolk-hard. Not to be missed, and it was served with a crisp, fresh slaw that carried a hint of rye.
The potatoes were a simple addition to the meal. Potatoes and potato chunks of varying sizes were fried until crisp and then pressed or smashed so that the fluffy innards came popping out. Lightly seasoned, they were another highlight of the meal.
Meanwhile, the braised greens were a Southern classic, seasoned with pork and onions and carrying the familiar earthy flavor, tender leafy texture and just a touch of spice. I added a little bit of pepper to drive it home and was delighted with the result.
The char-grilled oysters, interestingly, were coated with a chipotle butter (and some lime) that didn’t hit my palate quite right. That may be because I wasn’t expecting the flavor profile I got; there was a sharpness in the lightly smoky blend that didn’t totally work for my taste buds.
While I enjoyed the oysters, I also was sort of glad I stopped at just three. Next time, I’ll get them raw.
But all in all, it was a tremendously enjoyable meal with a beautiful view of the Ohio River and the Louisville skyline. And there are plenty of menu items left to explore, such as the bone-in pork chop sandwich on potato bun, roasted chicken and grilled white trout with stewed lima beans. Cheers to Chef Paul Skulas, formerly of Gralehaus.
The Portage House also offers a modest wine selection, a few craft beers, a serviceable selection of spirits and a handful of craft cocktails.
In short, the Portage House is one of those places that would make a great date night or a catch-up spot for friends, with plenty of shareable dishes.
Hours at the Portage House, which is located at 117 E. Riverside Dr., are Tuesday through Saturday, 4-10 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.