Knob Hill Tavern
By Rebecca Coudret (Contact)
Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Danny Kollker just smiled and looked at his cooking crew at The Knob Hill Tavern.

“They take care of things for me — Ed and Steve — and my son, Keith. When you have a good crew, you know they’ll handle everything.”

Photo by Vincent Pugliese
Knob Hill’s Stephen Crabtree works his magic
as he flips a New Potato and Vegetable Medley
as he prepared the dish for the Chef’s Challenge.

Head chef Ed Teamer, sous chef Stephen Crabtree and co-owner Keith Kollker make sure the fiddlers and other fare at the Knob Hill are a given every time they’re ordered.

“We’re known for our fiddlers, and everybody who comes in here knows they’re that same level of delicious every time you order them,” Danny Kollker said.

Restaurants are in the Kollkers’ genes. Danny and Keith have owned The Knob Hill in Newburgh since 1991; before that, Danny owned the Deerhead Tavern, but sold it in 2004.

Danny’s dad, Robert Kollker, owned Das Kollker Haus, an upscale German/steak house on Evansville’s East Side. And even though he was a staunch Democrat, in 1943 he began hosting an annual Hasenpfeffer Dinner for members of both political parties.

Despite the Kollker pedigree, Danny turned over the cooking duties to Teamer and Crabtree for the July Chefs Challenge.

Teamer said he looked at the slightly lopsided list of ingredients and “was ready to run with it.”

“I didn’t mind having two starches because they’re so different. I looked over the ingredients with Steve, and right off he knew he wanted to do his Vegetable Medley — and that included the potatoes. I knew I wanted to do a pasta salad, and it all went together well.”

For their two “extra” ingredients, Teamer chose strawberry ice cream — and halibut.


“Yeah, I know; it’s a bit out there. But I kind of resurrected a dish we did when I was a sous chef at the Petroleum Club,” Teamer said.

“I thought it would be a nice addition.”

The Rainbow Citrus Baked Halibut was at the other end of the flavor spectrum from the Fried Fiddlers.

Teamer used lemon, orange and lime zests to top the halibut, which he pan-seared on both sides in butter and then baked to finish the dish. The result was a mild, flaky fish with citrus flavors that burst through with each bite.

But fiddlers were the highlight of the July Challenge, and The Knob and its challenger, Jacob’s Pub, offered some of the best in town.

“I know some people are intimidated by fiddlers, but you don’t need to be,” Teamer said. “They’re farm-raised, no heads — but they do have bones, and that makes some people (leery) of them. Once you know how to eat fiddlers, I promise you’ll want them again.”

Teamer wouldn’t divulge the recipe for the batter, but said it’s “the best batter around. The fiddlers are consistent. It’s the batter that makes them special.”

Teamer said The Knob sells about 700 fiddlers “during a regular week.”

The day of the Challenge, and on a subsequent visit, the fiddlers were just perfect, with no greasiness at all. The batter was perfect — didn’t even need extra salt — and the meat slid off the bones easily. The combination of crunchy batter and soft fish worked perfectly on the taste buds.

For those intimidated by the fiddlers, The Knob also offers a catfish filet. Teamer said it’s good and has the same breading, but “there is a difference in flavor.”

“The kind of ‘wild’ flavor isn’t there, and that’s what makes the fiddler special. Whenever you leave bones in, no matter what the dish is, it makes the meat or the fish better.”

Crabtree also “borrowed” his vegetable medley from a previous restaurant experience.

“I’d done this before,” he said. “It was one of our main sides from the old Ashley Grill. It’s so good because it has so many fresh herbs in it — right out of Kathy’s garden.”

The medley includes tarragon, basil, sage, curry, mint and thyme, as well as salt, pepper and garlic.

“I go out every night and cut herbs,” said Kathy Bivens, manager of The Knob Hill. “They add so much to the dishes — and I love growing them.”

Photo by Vincent Pugliese
Knob Hill chef Ed Teamer places a Fried Fiddler on the plate as they prepare for the Chef’s Challenge.

Teamer and Crabtree know they’re cooking for longtime fans of the restaurant and vow to keep the quality consistent. But the two wish they could bring in some new diners, too.

“It would be nice to get more younger people in — people in their 20s, 30s,” Teamer said.

“I guess we just have to hope that our regulars bring their kids in often enough that, as they get older, they’ll still consider us a place to go for lunch and dinner and a nice place to spend an evening.”

“It’s hard to get people, especially young people, to think about (independent restaurants),” Crabtree said.

“The chains are so convenient — but you give up so much when you don’t try the local places.”

“We’d like to see them look at us as a ‘get-together’ kind of place,” Teamer said. “Sometimes I think people don’t realize what a nice, elegant, special place this can be.”