NEW ALBANY — For the past 12 months, Ian and Nikki Hall have kept pretty quiet about their new restaurant — barely posting on social media. But behind the wooden doors of 302 Pearl St., they’ve been busy. Really busy.
The two restaurateurs, owners of The Exchange Pub + Kitchen and Brooklyn and the Butcher, have labored over every detail of Longboard’s Taco & Tiki, which opens to the public at 5 p.m. Friday.
Even when describing the restaurant’s concept, Ian Hall delves deep into the coastal origins of the Tiki bar — talking about its surprising start in California, not Polynesia, and describing the creator — an entrepreneurial New Orleans-native who drew inspiration from his trips to the South Pacific.
Take the level of research that Ian put into understanding the history of tiki and multiply it by a thousand to get Longboard’s food and drink menu. Over the years, Ian and Nikki have become known for the fare at their restaurants: high-quality and chef driven with carefully selected pairings. Longboard’s menu will be the same — albeit in a more fast-casual, order-and-sit-down, atmosphere.
James Moran, most recently the executive chef at Sullivan University’s catering arm, came up with the menu for Longboard’s, which will feature seven types of tacos, each with a different protein.
The tacos at Longboards aren’t authentic Mexican food. (That’s not Ian’s heritage, he said). Instead, they’re inventive. Ian calls them funky and fun with bright, crisp flavors: a taco with pork that has been braised for 12 hours, paired with a jalapeño cilantro aioli, charred pineapple, cilantro, onion and pickled corn.
Ian recommends you order your tacos with a side or “shareable.” The one he’s most excited about are the yucca tots, made with the South American root vegetable instead of potatoes, topped with avocado crema, pickled red onions, pico de gallo, manchego (cheese) and an herb puree.
Nothing on Longboard’s menu will be more than $10.
When you first order from Longboard’s at the front counter, you’ll also be able to choose and receive your alcoholic beverage of choice, served in a kitschy glass.
Ian and his general manager/beverage director Zach Ruoff, worked with American Beverage Marketers to come up with draft cocktails for the front: two margaritas, a daiquiri, a painkiller, a rum barrel and an el rollio — all using “different” ingredients, such as allspice, grenadine, two different styles of rum and three different juices for the rum barrel. Handmade cocktails will be available downstairs.
In addition to cocktails, Longboard’s will serve 12 bottles and cans — everything from your mainstream Coronas to regional craft brews, such as Sun King’s Pachanga Mexican-Style Lager.
Upstairs, Ian envisions Longboard’s as a quick-eats type of place. After customers receive their food, they’ll still be able to flag down a server with a yellow card. When done eating, the server will be able to swipe their debit or credit card at the table. Ian hopes that the system lends itself well to the time-crunched, lunch crowd. Longboard’s downstairs, though?
“… People are going to get lost in the basement,” Ian said.
Whereas Longboard’s upstairs is a clean, California diner, its downstairs is a low-lit, mod Tiki bar. Ian has built three booths along one wall; three tables, including a community one; and a bar, shaded by a thatched roof. Above, multicolored glass globes subtly light the room. In the back, artist David Thrasher is painting a game room with a pinball and a tabletop video game. At the bar, 10 more cocktails will be served, these also devised by Ruoff, including one called Green Means Go, which will contain tequila, cilantro, cucumber, agave and lime.
Currently, Ian is waving off hordes of locals testing Longboard’s doors to see if it’s open yet.
“I had no idea how many people in New Albany were looking forward to this idea of tacos and tiki,” he said.
But it’s not a surprise to people who know what the Halls are capable of, like Ruoff. He described them as “driven” and “ahead of the curve.”
“They really do their research and put in their time and effort to put out the best product possible,” Ruoff continued.
Knowing how popular the Exchange and Brooklyn and the Butcher already are in downtown New Albany, you might be wondering why the Halls would need to open a new restaurant.
“…If we don’t do it in New Albany, someone else will,” Ian said. "This is a hot market."
In 2011, the Halls moved the Exchange from Grant Line Road to Main Street. In 2016, they opened Brooklyn and the Butcher on Market, and instead of seeing business decline at their other restaurant, they saw an increase.
“I believe in downtown,” Ian said. “I believe in what we’re doing. I believe in all the people that are with us, and it’s worked out so far. And hopefully it will be three for three with this one.”