When we headed over to the new Hull & High Water the other evening, our friend Don said he was afraid he would be a pretty tough judge. Just back home from a conference in Boston, he had taken advantage of the opportunity to sample some of Beantown’s finest oysters and fish.
A half-hour later, though, he was singing a different tune, and Mary and I and our friend Anne were joining the hymn of praise in four-part harmony.
Who needs Boston, anyway? Everything about Hull & High Water was good. Open since the end of September, this partner restaurant to nearby Gospel Bird has been packing in crowds, particularly on weekends, doing a surprisingly good job of replicating a Florida beach seafood shack. Except for the Southern Indiana fall and winter weather, anyway.
When evenings grow chilly, the big overhead garage doors come sliding down, turning it into a cozy if spartan room with painted schools of fish adorning the concrete-block walls. The adjacent bar room is weatherproof all year, brightened by wall-size murals of old-time sailing ships. A long banquette splits the dining room, and wood-top tables served by orange metal chairs are set with flatware wrapped in paper napkins and tucked into small metal buckets.
Hull & High Water hits a sweet spot between the price and ambience extremes of the region’s seafood and fish restaurants: It’s more fancy than the plethora of fish-sandwich spots, but not as upscale as the high-end fish houses. There’s plenty of fried food, but also a well-stocked raw bar, po’boys, Low Country boils, tacos, and fancy platters.
Starters, soups and salads are priced from $6 to $12, with a $20 basket of smoked wings as an outlier, but that’s just a dollar per wing for this mammoth starter.
About 40 main courses include fresh fish sandwiches of cod ($12.50), catfish ($12) or grouper ($16); signature sandwiches ($14 to $16); fish-and-chips ($16 to $25); and po’boy sandwiches with choice of eight seafood or fish ($12 to $17). Seafood and fish tacos are $5 for one, $12 for a trio.
Raw bar items are $8 to $28, and market price for the lavish seafood tower. Hearty Low Country boils are also tagged at market price.
The bar offers domestic and craft beers, cocktails, and a short but well-chosen wine list that offers excellent value at $15 to $35 a bottle, $5 to $11 for a glass.
Those memorable pan-fried oysters ($12, pictured above) made their case with large, fresh, luscious oysters cloaked in crisp, grease-free breading. About 10 sauces, mostly mayo-based and varying from mild to hot, are also provided with many dishes, with extras available at 50 cents each.
Cheesy corn hush puppies ($9) dramatically improved on the genre through the creative addition of whole yellow corn kernels and molten yellow cheese within a golden-brown exterior, dotted with queso blanco and served with chipotle aioli.
A fresh fried cod sandwich ($12.50) was served “Foggy London Town” style with the fish cloaked in a thick but light, firmly bound golden breading. It was very good, but not overly large for the price. It was served open-face on tasty buttered and grilled toast and garnished with lemon slices. A side dish of green beans was plentiful and very good. They were billed as “southern,” so we expected tender beans long-simmered with ham. These were grilled bright-green and al dente, but that’s all right, too.
A grouper platter ($17 for the one-piece option; it’s $25 for two) was served medium-blackened: juicy, firm and sweet flesh within a thin spicy blackened coat. A side of potato salad ($5) was heavily blended with a mayo-based dressing that I thought pretty good, although it would have gained personality with a shot of mustard or hot sauce to enhance the plain mayo.
Po’boys come on New Orleans-style soft white hoagie buns and may be fashioned from catfish cod, grouper, shrimp, oysters, andouille, or a vegan option, BBQ tempeh ($12). Curiosity raised by this offbeat option, I gave it a try and wasn’t disappointed. Crisp-chewy rounds of wheat-based tempeh bits and spicy barbecue sauce made convincing faux sausage, crammed into s split bun with plenty of lettuce, tomato, and jalapeño rounds and tangy barbecue sauce.
Baja-style fish tacos ($12 for three) made a very generous portion, crisp fried white fish tucked into three large tacos fashioned into doubled corn tortillas, then loaded with crisp cabbage slaw made, like the potato salad, with abundant mayo.
The only dessert available, pineapple cranberry caramel bread pudding ($7), sounded like an odd mix to us, but it proved surprisingly good. The fruit flavors were subtle, and the chunks of brown bread offered a good mix of soft, steaming interior with crisp, crunchy edges. A scoop of vanilla ice cream decorated with a swish of caramel put on the finishing touch.
With a couple of cans of $5 craft beers – Founders IPA and Hare Trigger – dinner for four came to just over $100. Our itemized share for two was $48.69, plus a $10 tip for our server, Noelle, who kept up with us on a busy evening.
Hull & High Water
324 E. Main St.
New Albany, Ind.
Robin Garr’s rating: 88 points