Cox’s Hot Chicken opened recently in downtown New Albany. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

As hot chicken continues to slowly emerge in the Louisville area, Cox’s Hot Chicken joins the fray of flying feathers, opening recently in downtown New Albany. After a first visit, my main takeaway is that the word “hot” is not the emphasis here.

That’s not to say I didn’t like my first meal at Cox’s, just that it wasn’t quite what I expected. I had to adjust mid-meal, but I ultimately walked away satisfied.

Cox’s is in the space formerly occupied by Big Four Burgers + Beer and District 22 Pizza, with the former now being a Cox’s branded sports bar. The latter Cox’s is mostly a carry-out and delivery business, with just four tables inside the small restaurant.

Cox’s sides are hearty and tasty. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

The upside is that the adjoining smaller business has a license to deliver beer as well as food, so it carries hours that cater to those late-night cravings, with a couple dozen canned beer options.

I stopped in for lunch a few days before the sports bar opened, so I ate in the small dining area on the carry-out and delivery side, which is decorated in a barn-like red and white with chicken portraits on canvas, some faux-vintage signs and beer décor.

The sports bar focuses on local sports and also retains the old South Side Inn Bar & Restaurant sign that used to hang out front, a nod to the building’s longtime tenant and downtown New Albany staple.

The menu focuses primarily on chicken and sides: You’ve got quarter-chicken meals, chicken and waffles, drums and a chicken sandwich. You can also get family meals to go, and sides range from mac and cheese to greens to a “Big-O-Biscuit and Gravy.” A lunch option offers a two-piece with a side and drink; I did a quarter white with mac, and ordered an extra side of mashed potatoes, which the friendly woman taking my order called “legit.”

On the sports bar side, the menu includes a few small bites, sandwiches and salads, and there also is an array of burgers, from the Big-O Breakfast (topped with fried egg, bacon, bourbon syrup) and a monthly wild game rotating burger.

Getting back to the chicken, the four heat levels at Cox’s are labeled “Fried Gold” (which I would assume means unsauced), “Signature,” “Cluck!” and “Holy Cluck!,” with the latter being the hottest. Since hot chicken places can be notorious for turning things up, I ordered “Cluck!”

The sports bar side retains the old South Side Inn sign as a nod to the building’s past. | Courtesy of Cox’s Hot Chicken

While the skin-in mashed potatoes were at once creamy and lumpy (more smashed potatoes than traditional mashed), they were certainly tasty, and the mac and cheese was slightly peppery with rich, creamy cheese covering firm noodles.

The two sides I had were good, and they made me want to try the greens or the biscuit.

The meal also came with a small side of the house gravy, which is thick and creamy and made with jalapeno peppers.

Yes, it sounds odd, but it’s quite interesting, as the peppers don’t add heat so much as they add a flavor level one doesn’t normally expect from country gravy. Nice touch, and a nice addition to the potatoes and as a dipper for the chicken.

And that brings me to the chicken. The ample breast and whole wing were a glistening red-orange, and I got my palate set for some tasty spice that, ultimately, wasn’t there. The flavor was pleasing, yes, with just a hint of sweetness, a touch of black pepper and a vague hint of some red pepper, but the expected burn never came.

The chicken may not be inherently hot, but it’s quality and tasty. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

As I ate, a man at the table next to me who had ordered his chicken at the highest heat level asked the counter clerk for some extra Holy Cluck! sauce, as his chicken wasn’t giving him any heat. So, it wasn’t just me.

I continued eating, and a few minutes later, a manager emerged and, one by one, asked diners if they were enjoying their meals. I told him I was but that I felt the heat could be ramped up a bit in the Cluck! sauce.

He said, “We don’t want to kill anybody,” and then told me that any customer who wants more heat can simply ask for it, and the kitchen will kick things up as high as requested. He even noted the cooks have access to ghost pepper extract for those who really want to fire things up.

He brought me a cup of the Holy Cluck! for dipping, and that’s when the flavor really came to me, with a more distinct honey sweetness, black pepper and cayenne peppers. Not super-hot, mind you, but a tickle of burn to go with a solid flavor profile.

Next time, I’ll know to ask for something more intense, but by design, Cox’s Hot Chicken appears to cater more toward the folks who want only a hint of spice. That’s understandable, but it might be worth it for Cox’s to add a sign near the counter informing customers they can get super-spice upon request.

Regardless, the chicken is high-quality and well-cooked, and the sides are plenty worthy, too. I walked out with a happy belly.

Cox’s Hot Chicken, located at 110 E. Main St. in New Albany, is open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to midnight.

Kevin Gibson covers everything from food to music to beer to bourbon. He loves bacon, loathes cucumbers and once interviewed Yoko Ono (pissed her off a little, too). Check out his books, “Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft” and “100 Things to do in Louisville Before You Die.” He has won numerous awards for his work but doesn’t know where most of them are now. In his spare time, he co-hosts a local radio show and plays in a band called the Uncommon Houseflies. Check out his blog, 502Brews.com, or feel free to call him names on Twitter: @kgramone.


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