Why did the foodie cross the river?

Market Street Fish House
Market Street Fish House in New Albany. Photo by Robin Garr.

LEO’s Eats with LouisvilleHotBytes.com

I went across the Ohio to New Albany last week and had me a big old batch of fried oysters, and they were fine, even though the month of May doesn’t have an “R” in it.

Happily, the old wisdom about avoiding oysters from the end of Aprrrril through the first of Septemberrrr has pretty much been repealed, allowing aficionados of the tasty bivalve to enjoy them year-round.

What’s the story? The old R Rule stemmed from two issues, one related to health and the other to enjoyment.

First, in the days before modern refrigeration technology, it wasn’t considered safe to ship oysters long distances in summer heat, and even the ice-filled refrigerator cars that whisked them north from the Gulf to hungry Louisville oyster-eaters on the old L&N Railroad suspended their runs during warmer months.

Second, oysters in the wild usually spawn during the summer, and because their little minds and bodies are focused on other things besides growing fat and sweet and succulent for our enjoyment, summer oysters tended to be under-sized, washed-out little blobs. Again, technology came to the rescue, and with the help of selective fishing for plumper varieties – not to mention farm-raising – it’s possible to enjoy the noble oyster without a summer break.

Circling around to the point, lovers of fish and seafood now have a delightful place to enjoy seafood and fish – mostly fried, but still – in New Albany’s historic downtown, as Market Street Fish House joins the Louisville area’s galaxy of temples of fried fish.

(With such landmarks as Stan’s, The Fishery, The Fish House, Hill Street Fish Fry and many more on the Kentucky side, Southern Indiana has been a bit under-served by comparison, with the almost-historic Clarksville Seafood carrying most of the load for Hoosiers.)

Market Street Fish House makes a worthy addition to the scene. Under the guiding hand of Dave Himmel (who helped open Bistro New Albany and later owned the short-lived Connor’s Place in New Albany), the Fish House opened last month in the space in the old Wilcox Block building that formerly housed Treet’s Bakery Cafe.

New management hasn’t changed the look of the place much, and that’s a good thing, as it’s an attractive, comfortable place to sit back and dine. Its two good-size rooms have pale gray walls with a few fish nets hanging around, and several mounted largemouth bass and such hanging on a trophy wall near the front.

Tables are set with green and white checked oilcloth and set with simple wooden side chairs that look like they’ve been around the block a time or two. Big glass windows offer a good view of the old-fashioned streetscape on New Albany’s Market Street.

Order from the counter, grab your ice and fountain drink, take a seat, and they’ll bring out your dinner when it’s ready.

Market Street offers a short, affordable and delightful menu of competently fried fresh seafood and sides. Everything is fried fresh daily except the clams, Himmel said; he makes them up in batches because the little fellas take forever to prep.

What do you want to fry today? Mild, white Icelandic cod, shrimp, clams, oysters and scallops are available at wallet-friendly prices ranging from $4.25 (for a small fish sandwich with one piece of fish) to $9.75 (for a scallop dinner). Dinners come with fries, hushpuppies and cole slaw. Fried mushrooms are $4.50 for a generous batch; fries a la carte are $1.75, and you can order up individual hushpuppies for a quarter apiece.

We summoned a hearty lunch that included a large (two-piece) fish sandwich ($7.25) and the aforementioned oyster dinner ($9.50). Himmel was also passing out samples of the fried mushrooms and onion rings, and of course we couldn’t say no.

The fish was excellent, lightly crusted with a crackery breading, served on a couple of slices of basic, unseeded rye. Homemade tartar sauce with creamy mayo and lots of tangy relish passed muster, and so did spicy cocktail sauce; oddly, less gourmet-style tartar sauce and ketchup are also provided in mass-market single-serving packets.

The oyster dinner ($9.50) consisted of about nine crisply breaded and flavorful bivalves a bit smaller than ping-pong balls but not nearly as bouncy. They were tasty despite that R-month rumor. Accompanying slaw was fine, shredded, crisp cabbage with a tart-sweet, creamy dressing. A dark-brown, golf-ball-size hushpuppy and ripple-cut french fries didn’t really knock my socks off, though.

A sample of onion rings and fried mushrooms were particularly impressive, crisp and lightly breaded, not loaded with a heavy coating, and served sizzling hot, with a creamy horseradish sauce for dipping.

A fine lunch for two came to $21.75, plus a $4.25 tip. It’s definitely worth the stop when you’re in Hoosier country, and even worth a trip across the bridge if you’ve got a hankering for fried fish.

Market Street Fish House
133 E. Market St.
New Albany
(812) 590-3377
Robin Garr’s rating: 81 points