A few years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that I could walk right by a new restaurant in downtown New Albany without seeing it. But the downtown has grown.
I was in search of Longboard’s Taco & Tiki, and it took me a second pass to see the storefront, which is set back off the road a few feet, with no sign on the building front. I guess the cornhole game outside on the sidewalk should have tipped me off.
Well, I stepped inside, noticing a window sign and a board out front with posted hours, expecting to walk into a tiki bar. Instead, I was staring into a fast-casual restaurant.
Granted, it was a fast-casual restaurant painted in blue and gold, with a surf scene on one wall, but it wasn’t what I expected.
A menu board hung behind the order counter in the clean, bright space. You order your food there, take a number, and serve yourself on the sodas.
There are a few adult beverages available upstairs as well. It was about 5:30 p.m. when I arrived — early, to be sure I got a seat — and every table was full.
I saw a set of stairs leading downward, so I asked a nearby employee, “Is there more downstairs?” She smiled and nodded, so I descended and found myself inside a dimly lit small room that featured a seven-seat bar, four booths, a couple of round high-top tables, and a longer high-top for communal gathering.
Beach jams played, employees wore Hawaiian shirts, tiki décor adorned the bar, and the walls were papered in a light blue and yellow palm tree pattern. A flat-screen TV behind the bar drove the point home, as it was showing not ESPN but what looked like a live feed of a beach in Hawaii, so you can sit, sip your drink, and watch people far away swim and surf.
(I doubt it’s live, but I wanted to pretend it was.)
I took one of the three open bar seats, and a bartender quickly handed me a cocktail menu and explained the food and drink service. The large, square menu included a photo of each cocktail next to the name and ingredients — most of them are served in vessels that look like ancient tiki gods.
Some of them have umbrellas, and you might even get a flamingo swizzle stick.
Cocktails included creations like Heading South, sort of like an Old Fashioned but made with bourbon barrel-aged reposado tequila and chocolate bitters; a Mai Tai; a Creamy Colada; and the Freaky Diki Tiki, a mega-cocktail made to serve three or four people, with Plantation Rum, pineapple, grapefruit, agave and more.
It even comes with crazy straws, if the picture on the menu is accurate.
I ordered a house margarita (it just comes in a glass, sorry) and perused the food menu. The high-end grub wasn’t out of range price-wise, with nothing on menu over $9.
It’s small-plate heaven, with several taco options, bowls, sides and shareables, and a couple of desserts. Short and sweet.
One dish that caught my eye was the poke, made with Verlasso salmon, avocado, edamame and lots more, served with quinoa wonton chips. Crispy Brussels sprouts become elote, chilaquiles are topped with al pastor pork, and yucca tots come with pico, avocado crema and smoky herb puree.
The quinoa bibimbap bowl looks appealing, with pan-fried egg, gochujang aioli, red bell, cilantro, edamame, spinach, carrot and housemade kimchi.
Taco options include al pastor, Korean BBQ, carne asada, duck confit, vegetarian, ancho chili mahi mahi and pollo, but those names don’t tell the full story. For instance, the pollo taco I ordered came with big chunks of roasted chicken, black beans, charred corn, roasted red pepper relish, avocado chipotle garlic aioli, manchego cheese and pickled chilis on a corn tortilla.
Tacos range from $5 to $6.50. The pollo was a well-concocted, savory blend with ample portions. I paired that with the nicely seasoned al pastor and felt reasonably satisfied with only a couple of tacos.
I was mostly there to get an early look, though, so I plan to dig into the menu more on a later visit.
But for a restaurant that just opened on Friday, July 27, things seemed to be working pretty efficiently.
Chalk that up to the experience of owners Ian and Nikki Hall, who also manage the successful Exchange Pub + Kitchen and Brooklyn and the Butcher and who have been working on opening the space since last year.
A first look makes me believe they’ve knocked another one out of the park.
Longboard’s Taco & Tiki, located at 302 Pearl St., is open 5-10 p.m. (bar until 11), Tuesday through Thursday; 5 p.m.-midnight (bar until 1 a.m.) Friday and Saturday; and 3-8 p.m. Sunday. A note on the board said lunch hours will begin Aug. 14.
This story has been updated with the correct address.