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Quick Bite: Review of Oak Cliff’s New Nova

Nova owner/chef Kelly Hightower and his spinach and feta pizza

I’ve always been a big fan of Kelly Hightower. Loved his reinterpretation of Hattie’s after founding chef Lisa Kelly left. I thought his Kavala was a smart not-so-traditional play on Mediterranean cuisine, featuring the best chicken livers in Dallas. (God, I still miss those and, yes, you can miss chicken livers.) I was sad to see Kavala close. It had become a nice neighborhood restaurant for North Oak Cliff — not necessarily destination dining but that’s okay. There are plenty of those places to go around south of the Trinity these days. A few months back, Hightower announced that he was replacing Kavala with Nova, where small plates of global influenced fare and a lounge-like environment would transform this former Dairy Queen on Davis Street into a friendly, hip place to hang. Did Hightower succeed? Jump for my first impression.

Nova's roasted garlic hummus; the restaurant's atomic age like decor

Hightower is pretty smart. He gets that most of Dallas has never embraced the concept of small plates. Sad but true. On Nova’s menu, he neatly divides the fare into small plates (meant to be shared), entrees, and pizzas. It’s an appealing mix of approachable food and gourmet flourishes. Some dishes are popular holdovers from Kavala’s kitchen. A pizza starring spinach, feta, olives, and peppers was as sharp and tasty as ever, and I still contend that Hightower’s roasted garlic hummus is some of the best in town. It’s silky magic. The menu is supposed to change regularly but I hope some items become regulars. Chunks of salmon were glazed with sour yuzo miso and then blow torched into sticky sweet yet perfectly moist bites. New York strip was marinated in Vietnamese spices and served with chilled baby bok choy, chili peanuts, mint, and roasted tomato ginger sauce. It was a bracing entree: meaty enough to satisfy yet refreshing enough for a hot summer night. A fragrant bowl of P.E.I. mussels steamed in Sauvignon Blanc and oranges passed by our table. I’ll be ordering that next time. Jamaican beer can chicken rubbed in jerk spices and served on coconut rice was highly recommended and rightfully so. The crispy, fiery bird was spot on. The only misstep were the chicken parmesan sliders. They seemed pedestrian, more like something you’d find at Applebee’s rather than from a chef as thoughtful as Hightower. Nova has done a nice job of shucking its former Dairy Queen visage. It now has more of a lounge/gastropub vibe with plenty of Jetson like mid-century modern quirks. More so than Kavala, Hightower’s new Nova feels like a place you’d want to frequent often even if just for a beer and more of that amazing hummus. Sure, the place needs more beers on tap. And the air conditioning — though improved — can still be a bit spotty. But as far as neighborhood haunts go, Nova is off to a bright start.

5 comments on “Quick Bite: Review of Oak Cliff’s New Nova

  1. Spot on review Todd. I’ve been about four times now.

    Last time I was there they had chicken livers and I agree – very good. They have added a number of new dishes in the last week. I tried out their take on elote (SP?) i.e. Mexican corn soup. Fantastic with a tangy red whirl of some peppery fire in the middle with Mexican cheese. Also had a bit of a very tasty burger, bit underdone for me, but I like everything torched. Excellent quality meat.

    For now the beer-can chicken is my fave. Oh wait – the Caesar – did you try? I love their Caesar. Don;t know what it is – extra anchovy? But it is fantastic and has a subtle hidden heat.

    Everyone in the hood is so glad Kelly is back. It’s a five block walk for us. I hear they also have wi-fi. Can’t wait for lunches to start!

  2. Yum! Enjoyed the Jamaican chicken immensely! The only downside-I’m baffled as to why Kelly snagged the term “Gastropub” out of thin air? Surely, even he realizes you need to be a pub before you can be a “Gastropub”. Two or three beers on tap does not make it so..
    Smacks a bit of trying too hard to be the word of the moment. The food at least fits into the equation.

  3. Can they stay ahead of credit collections – will kelly keep his head in the game instead of his belly in neighborhood bars??

    Meh, I’ll give them 3 yrs. Tops

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