Review: Ox Lot 9_lowres

Ox Lot 9 is inside the Southern Hotel in Covington.

Ox Lot 9 derives its name from Covington's original planning scheme, which allowed space for farmers to tie up their oxen. Rustic elements inform the restaurant, which is a relatively undiscovered gem inside the Southern Hotel and an up-and-coming anchor for Northshore fine dining. Chef Jeffrey Hansell, who worked under chefs Robert McCormick at Montagna in Colorado and John Besh at Luke, has created a menu and ambience that are refreshingly simple and refined, elevating the humblest of Gulf Coast ingredients to new heights.

  Given the freshness and fine-tuned selection of seasonal ingredients at Ox Lot, it's not difficult to imagine a cadre of fishermen and hunters is sent out each morning on an epic quest for fish and game, returning at dusk with a menagerie of meat and seafood for the Ox Lot team to prepare.

  The menu rotates frequently and in early fall dipped heavily into hearty, nostalgia-inducing and rib-sticking hunter's camp dishes with great reverence for the integrity and composition of each dish's main ingredient.

  A rustic comfort food theme is best expressed in Ox Lot's take on classic French choucroute garnie, a spread of cured meats and pickles (or sauerkraut) that fights the chill of winter. Ox Lot's version arrives as a considered, regionally influenced spin, with a plump, fireplug-shaped link of juicy garlic sausage and a succulent, crispy-on-the-outside boudin patty that steals the show from a petit set of ribs, which offer earthy heat but have a texture too sinewy to enjoy. The dish is topped by a puffed, deep-fried, translucent swell of pig skin teetering on the tower of meat. This ode to meat pairs nicely with one of the boiled peanuts served as part of an accompanying pickle dish.

  From the choucroute garnie or the equally elegant charcuterie board, it's easy to progress to the restaurant's gamier dishes. Locally trapped, flash-fried frog legs should be served with a bib (or two) as diners will quickly find themselves slathered in decadent, fiery hot butter sauce. A milky, tender fried quail is a sportsman gourmand's dream, plated atop red-eye gravy and creamy grit quicksand with bacon-flecked rainbow chard and compressed apples forming the kind of sweet-and-sour greens about which a Southern exile would dream.

  Small plate standouts also include the oyster patty, featuring plump oysters in flaky puff pastry topped with aromatic, absinthe-tinged cream sauce, and blue crab-topped tomato salad, which offers one of the menu's best options to cleanse the palate between heavier courses.

  Ox Lot's inventive seafood dishes feature several fish that speak to the depth and breadth of Louisiana marine life. The almond flour-crusted pompano balances the crackly, finely battered skin with tender, light flesh and shows how alternative flours (almond, rye, tapioca) can elevate a dish.

  For those interested in spinning the boozy wheel, the bar offers a "fix" option, which allows imbibers to select a base spirit from which a specially tailored cocktail is made. My concoction's standout element was a house-made, spearmint-infused rye with bright, sweet notes of mint smacking against the rye's nuttiness in a tussling of forest flavors. Other woodsy pairings — a sherry-based bubbly cider and a tart, gingery take on applejack brandy — are equally autumnal and pair well with the seasonal menu.

  Dining at Ox Lot 9 can taste like a culinary retreat to rustic environs, helping to rejuvenate the palate and mind.