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Fresh flavors and spicy dishes are stars at Oak Cliff's Nova


1417 W. Davis St., Dallas. 214-484-7123. www.novadallas.com.

5 p.m. to 2 a.m. (kitchen closes at midnight) Sunday-Saturday

Posted 1:46pm on Wednesday, Sep. 01, 2010

In only a month, Nova has won the hearts (and stomachs) of local diners. Quaint and dimly lit, it's the first gastropub to open in Dallas' Oak Cliff area.

There's wine and a modest beer list, but no official beverage menu just yet. The focus is on fancied-up dishes, like blowtorch salmon ($9) and cinnamon-cured pork tenderloin ($21).

Kelly Hightower, the co-owner and chef best known for his stint at Hattie's, even threw in one of his classic appetizers: the roasted garlic hummus ($7). On my last visit, it was first on my list of things to digestively annihilate.

Served with toasted pita bread, the hummus was creamy with a tangy pinch. A tiny pool of olive oil ensured the mixture stayed moist despite my repeated pita dipping. As a bonus, it's served alongside a cool cucumber and tomato salad -- a relief from scalding summer days.

Overall, the menu is simple but well thought out. There are enough differences in each dish to warrant multiple visits. But don't even think about getting attached to any one item: Nova changes most of its dishes every other week.

One item staying put is the Jamaican beer-can chicken ($14). According to Nova staff, it's their most popular entree. And if you're down with poultry, you'll surely enjoy Hightower's Jamaican interpretation. It's cooked with Walkerswood jerk spice, a semisweet Caribbean rub that includes scallions, nutmeg and thyme. The chicken was tender and zesty; the heat from the spice heightening with every bite. Cool down with the accompanying coconut-flavored rice and sweet tropical salsa. Fresh pineapple and cantaloupe cubes help create an arousing juxtaposition with the chicken's fiery rub.

The Nova burger ($10) is a worthy contender for Oak Cliff's best burger. (Bolsa and Eno's Pizza Tavern, beware.) It's a compact, seasoned patty topped with bacon and blue cheese, served with crispy asiago cheese-sprinkled french fries. The flavors are robust, so time your bites. From the stark flavor of the cheese, the smoky taste of the bacon, to the juicy beef patty, there's more than enough flavor to spoil your taste buds. No element is without purpose. Even the tomato slices -- fresh and bright red -- were seasoned individually. In a battle of the burgers, the Nova Burger is likely to bring home the bacon. Afterward, you'll recoil at the very idea of trying anything of lesser quality.

Last but not least (because it's my favorite food), I tried Nova's four-meat pizza ($14): a conglomeration of sausage, hamburger, pepperoni and sopressata salami on a four-cheese blend. The cheese, sauce, and toppings were all in balance. The sausage was noticeably sweet and spicy -- a handmade addition right out of Jimmy's Food Store, a local, well-known supplier of quality Italian products. The rest of the ingredients, such as the pepperoni and salami, added to the pizza's kick. At the end of each slice, you're rewarded with a crispy crust.

I've been a fan of Hightower's since the era of Hattie's (just down the street), but I really enjoyed his latest venture. From the looks of it, so is everybody else. He's officially made it on my potential future husband fantasy list. (Don't act so surprised.)

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