Heat It Up
New Albany’s The Exchange opens patio, creates popular summer menu.
BY MANDY WOLF DETWILER | PHOTOS BY JOSH KEOWN
It’s summer in the city, and that means seasonal offerings from many of the area’s top restaurants. At The Exchange Pub + Kitchen in downtown New Albany, menu items reflect the changing seasons and customers flock to the outdoor patio, which has become a destination for al fresco diners of all ages.
The restaurant originally opened in January 2010 in a location off Grantline Road before moving two years later to the newly-revitalized downtown New Albany district. With 125 seats in its main dining room and an additional private dining space for 40, the upscale casual eatery is already larger than many of its contemporary counterparts. Still, owner Ian Hall found the opportunity for more seating in 2015 when he purchased a lot next door and added on an indoor/outdoor garage-style bar and an outdoor patio.
“Outdoor dining is a big part of our business,” Hall says. “We typically average about 20 percent in increased revenues during the months of May to October. When we first opened, we only had three tables and 12 seats out front on the front sidewalk. Now, I would say we have one of the premier patios in all the metro area. We have live music on the patio on Friday and Saturday nights, and our crowds typically hang out later in the evening when the weather is great.
Patio dining offers challenges when it comes to battling the elements, but the rewards can be worth it when done right. “
The outdoor tables are covered with umbrellas,” Hall says. “This year we added an electronic umbrella/awning system that is 20 feet by 20 feet. It’s huge! It gives us complete coverage over the middle of our patio, (and we have) an outdoor ceiling fan. In the late evening, especially in the cooler months, we are able to fire up our two fire pit tables around our soft seating areas.”
What also makes The Exchange’s patio a popular destination is the fact that it is dog friendly, and several local pet-centered events have held fundraisers there. “My family and I are big time animal lovers,” Hall says. “We have two dogs –– Teddy and Brody –– and a cat named Cash. We thought it would be really great if our guests could bring their four-legged friends and enjoy dinner with their owners.
“We offer dog bowls for all our guest pets, and we have found our guests really appreciate us being dog friendly. We had a huge patio kick off party for the second year in a row, and it was a huge hit. We had close to 70 dogs visit over the course of the day (and) we had some local pet vendors join us and sell their products and services. Our chefs at The Exchange did a great taco and bratwurst bar, as well some special treats for the animals. We had a fenced-in play area equipped with a kissing booth, a potty area and Astroturf. My wife, Nikki, handled all the decor and did an awesome job. We have found that our guest counts on the patio have increased and more people are finding out our patio is dog friendly. All we ask is they stay on a leash and off the furniture!”
Outdoor dining does create staffing challenges, and Hall says it “definitely changes the footprint of our restaurant. If you think about it, we are essentially opening another restaurant every year in May. Our staffing has to increase, both in the back of the house and the front of the house. We are basically adding about 20 tables to our space, with the same size kitchen and bars that we have in the winter months.
“Since we do seasonal menus throughout the year, it’s important that we plan on that when doing development. We have to have dishes that are more prep heavy but quicker to execute when we add that many seats. It’s a monster no doubt, and our kitchen doesn’t always get the credit they deserve for putting out the amount of food they do. We are working on a kitchen expansion plan to give us more prep space, as well as a rooftop option above the garage bar. You have to keep moving if you want to stay competitive in this industry.”
The Exchange utilizes seasonal ingredients on both its dining and bar menus. Daily specials are created for both lunch and dinner, and Hall’s staff often comes up with new menu items. “We spend a lot of time talking food and tasting with our management team,” he says. “I don’t handcuff the team. I let them have creative freedom to create and develop, and I know that’s a big part of why our culinary and bar teams work so hard, because they are the ones putting their names behind the dishes and cocktails.”
“We also will go to the local farmers market to source some things for specials on the weekends, and sometimes we will have some local farmers just show up at the kitchen door with some of their products to see if we can use them.” –Ian Hall, founder of The Exchange
Plenty of thought goes behind The Exchange’s seasonal offerings. “We do a managers’ tasting with the team about a month before our roll out date to taste, tweak, criticize and finalize dishes,” Hall says. “Then we work for two weeks on those changes, and then bring in the whole kitchen team to prep and produce the dishes, while the front-of-the-house staff goes thru each dish one by one with our chefs to (learn) flavor profiles, pairing options and descriptions of cooking techniques. It’s a long process, and we do this four seasons each year, both for food and cocktails.”
Creating a seasonal menu affords restaurants to utilize local farms and purveyors, from the local beef used in their burgers to the blueberry jam sourced for a grilled cheese sandwich.
“We use farms like Lost Creek Acres, Grateful Greens, PDS Produce and Russell’s Veggies,” Hall says. “We are also growing some fresh herbs and tomatoes on our patio in some gardens one of our staff members did for us this year. We use The Pretzel Baker and Breadworks for some of our breads. We also will go to the local farmers market to source some things for specials on the weekends, and sometimes we will have some local farmers just show up at the kitchen door with some of their products to see if we can use them.”
Local ingredients are an integral part of The Exchange’s business strategy, and its one Hall says is appreciated by his guests.
“We get a premium product from these folks, and we like to support the community that supports us,” Hall says. “It’s part of our story, our staff gets to tell the guest where it came from and our kitchens get a chance to work with great products.”
Among this summer’s offerings are a stunning tuna ceviche that is paired with fresh watermelon, jalapeño, red onion, cilantro, fresh avocado and crispy tortillas and a Brie and Blueberry Grilled Cheese made with local blueberry jam, a drizzle of balsamic and sourdough served with kettle chips (bacon is a delicious upcharge that lends just the right amount of saltiness to the sandwich).
The fried chicken, served with a proprietary “firecracker” hot sauce, gouda mac and cheese, watermelon slaw and a black bean purée is also a popular dish, despite the summer heat. Aside from mouthwatering food, The Exchange’s bartenders create summer drinks that are also meant to tempt the palate. The Salt of the Earth is one of the restaurant’s bestselling cocktails, and it’s eye-catching as servers carry them on trays throughout the dining room. The sangria-esque drink features bison grass vodka (herb-flavored), elderflower liquor, pineapple, orange, vanilla simple syrup and red wine.
Customers drink “lighter in the summer, (with) more booze-forward cocktails in the winter,” Hall says. “I will say that our Signature Old Fashioned has been our best seller since day one, though. People love bourbon! Our beverage sales increase by about five percent (in the summer), so yes, warm weather leads to more beverage sales.”
The Exchange Kitchen + Pub is located at 118 W. Main in New Albany. It is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays. A limited bar menu is available 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner is served 5 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday. The bar is open until 11:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.