Gospel Bird quickly became a dining darling in downtown New Albany after it opened in late 2015, but owner Eric Morris pressed the pause button early this year.
He closed the main restaurant for a few days to renovate not only the interior, partly to dampen sound and partly to simply make the space warmer, but also reset the menu, choosing a rotating, fluid approach while keeping some of the restaurant’s signature Southern favorites.
The interior of the place features hardwood floors, architectural salvage adorning walls and serving as dividers, original ceilings in the old downtown structure, exposed brick and a fireplace to top off the cozy vibe.
Outside is the signature bar fashioned from a 1968 Airstream camper trailer, along with a new and improved covered dining space with picnic table and bar seating. It’s here that Gospel Bird will roll out another aspect to the restaurant this Thursday, May 24 — Sausage Fest.
Billed as the kickoff to grilling season, Chef Scott Dickenson will grill house-smoked sausage links, bratwurst, cheeseburgers and baby back ribs. Come hungry, because it’s $25 for all-you-can-eat meat ($20 for military veterans). Buckets of domestic bottles will be $8 to help wash down all the seared flesh; you can also get that beer deal on Wednesday nights on the patio.
The restaurant also recently reopened during lunch time, with a pared-down menu every Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
I met my friend Butch at Gospel Bird for lunch recently to check out the digs and have my first taste of the signature Yardbird sandwich that I’d heard plenty about.
The succinct lunch menu nevertheless offers plenty of other temptations, though, from the Mop Sauce Brisket Sandwich (topped with a house Carolina sauce), to General Tso Pork Belly Tacos and a chipotle black bean burger, not to mention “hot plates” like Thunder Thighs (country-fried chicken thighs), smoked brisket and sticky ribs. Sides range from fries to chorizo baked beans, and on the day we visited, mac and cheese was also an option.
I was fixated on the Yardbird, while Butch ordered the roast beef and Gouda sandwich, which consisted of two layers of thin-sliced beef that were rolled up and stacked in two levels. I’d never seen that presentation before, but it was certainly eye-catching.
In addition to an ample layer of smoked Gouda, the sandwich also came with some tasty and sinus-opening horseradish sauce, lettuce and tomato, and was served cold. The bite Butch shared with me told me he’d made a pretty good choice, and the side of thick flavorful grits was a nice choice as well.
The Yardbird was more than a mouthful, piled with fresh, crunchy coleslaw, cheddar cheese, a couple of slices of bacon and Gospel sauce, all on top of a southern fried chicken thigh that was enormous. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a chicken thigh that large. How big was this bird, anyway? I had to wonder if it died fighting Godzilla.
Anyway, the sandwich not only was more than I could handle — it tasted just fine a day later for a second lunch — the flavorful Gospel sauce made me a believer, reminding me of sort of a spicy version of a Dijon mustard. I liked it so much that I found myself using my index finger to dab drops of it off my plate. The bun was a heavy on sesame seeds, light, yet almost biscuit-like, and it worked nicely with the ingredients.
The side order of collard greens was also eye-opening. Most Southern and soul food restaurants I visit turn up the black pepper and other spices in their greens, which often have a bit of spice to them naturally. Add in vinegar, and you’ve got an earthy, savory classic.
But the Gospel Bird’s take on collard greens tosses in what tasted like a little black molasses to add a hint of smoky sweetness into the flavor blend. The earthy greens then turned into something quite different from what I was expecting. I like the spice, but it was an interesting and flavorful change of pace.
In short, three and a half years and a few changes to keep the place fresh, Gospel Bird keeps on keeping on. It’s a deserving destination just across the Sherman Minton Bridge.
Gospel Bird, located at 207 E. Main St. in New Albany, is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., plus Tuesday through Thursday, 5-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5-10 p.m., and Sunday.