Chicken, sports, beer, memories of South Side and more
BY D. TODD APPLEGATE | PHOTOS BY CHRISTIAN WATSON
Normally, I try not to set expectations when I review a restaurant, especially a new one. But with my latest assignment, Cox’s Hot Chicken & Sports in New Albany, this mindset was challenged.
First, I knew it would be a struggle to walk into an establishment that, as of November, occupies the space that was once home to the iconic South Side Inn Bar and Restaurant. Second, being a lover of fried chicken, especially hot chicken and specifically Nashville hot chicken, with “hot chicken” in Cox’s name my taste buds had some preconceived and anticipatory notions as well.
Thus, on a recent Wednesday for lunch, it was impossible to enter Cox’s without reminiscing of the great food and fond memories from the legendary South Side, a mainstay in the downtown New Albany dining scene for years. (Most recently this building housed Big Four Burgers and District 22 Pizzeria.)
Interestingly, I found that the general floor plan of South Side had been maintained as I remembered. I felt like I had stepped back in time and the large “South Side Bar and Restaurant” sign in the middle dining room was a pleasant reminder that Cox’s appreciated the history also. For those of us that exited with tray in hand to the right from the South Side cafeteria line, a full-service sports bar now occupies the back wall of the former dining room. It felt welcoming and familiar but refurbished with a new look and exciting vibe.
Pleasantly appeased of my first concern and nostalgia aside, it was time to focus on the chicken.
I love fried chicken, always have, and am constantly searching for good fried chicken. Fortunately or unfortunately, fried chicken prepared in a cast iron skillet, the ideal method, in my opinion, tends to be the barometer by which all chicken is measured.
But chicken has evolved over the years, and there are now many varieties to choose from and a plethora of restaurants offering this ever-popular item. There are fried, broasted, grilled, baked, pressure cooked, and roasted preparations, and original, spicy, hot, Nashville hot, golden, Cajun and other varieties to consider. Plus, there are sauces to evaluate in the overall equation.
I applaud Cox’s for not being “chicken,” so to speak, to put its version of the fried bird out there and provide a new niche in the ever-expanding New Albany food landscape.
After looking around, I ordered three Sticky Fingers ($7.99 with one side and choice of sauce) and three Giant Drummies ($7.99 w/side). You can order six for $13.99 or nine for $19.99 as well. I opted for Mary’s Greens as one side and Mac & Cheese as the other. For starters, Alexandra, my friendly and patient server, recommended the Fried Pickle Spears with ranch dipping sauce.
While waiting for the pickles, I perused the rest of the menu and reviewed the three-page beer menu. The dining menu is divided into five sections and has something to please just about everyone, including appetizers, sandwiches (including a Fried Cod Sandwich served fish ’n‘ chips style for $10.99), sides, burgers and salads. There also is a children’s menu.
The fried pickle spears I ordered were a home run and were as crisp and firm after frying as any pickle I have ever had. The ranch dipping sauce was a perfect complement to these crunchy and munchy gems. A cold beer and these fried pickles while watching sports is enough to keep you coming back to Cox’s.
With the taste buds tantalized, out came the chicken, sides and choice of sauces served on silver trays with red and white checkered picnic paper. I immediately went for the chicken and was not disappointed. It was “hot” chicken, meaning it was served from the fryer hot and crispy. Cox’s serves their chicken original style and provides a choice of sauces (Original, Cluck, Holy Cluck, or Clucking Scary) on the side to deliver the desired heat. For sake of completeness, I tried all of the sauce options and found that they all had a base sweetness to them and slightly different flavor profile with increasing heat level. My favorite was the Holy Cluck. The Clucking Scary was certainly hot but not inedible hot and would not completely scare the bravest away.
My side of Mary’s Greens was terrific and reminiscent of the South Side greens of yesteryear.
Cooked with bacon pieces and both sweet and tart at the same time, they were delicious. I’m still pondering the mystery flavor or secret spice. Maybe a slight splash of Asian mirin and/or flavored soy? The ample portion of the Mac & Cheese side was creamy and utilized curly cavatappi as the pasta choice.
The beer menu is extensive and includes both domestic and imported draft and bottled selections and a surprisingly large number of craft beers with a focus on local breweries which was good to see. Cox’s also has plenty of bourbon, spirits and wine to choose from, in addition to nonalcoholic beverages.
Next door with its own entrance is Cox’s Carry Out. It has a reduced menu featuring only chicken and sides. Incidentally, there are four tables inside the carry-out location that may be perfect for those wanting to grab a quick lunch or dinner. Both New Albany Cox’s restaurant are wheelchair accessible from the Main Street entrances.
Also, Cox’s recently opened a second location at 134 Spring St. in Jeffersonville in the former Big Four Burgers location. It will be similar to the New Albany establishment but will also feature a second-floor venture with a local brewery.
So, come meet, eat, drink, hang out, watch some sports and enjoy. It will be a party “fowl” if you don’t try it!
Cox’s Hot Chicken & Sports
114 East Main St.
Cox’s Hot Chicken
134 Spring St.