Eighty3, a globally inspired eatery, is tucked inside downtown’s Madison Hotel and features the new American cuisine of Chef Max Hussey. The hotel manager likens Hussey to a disc jockey thanks to his inviting personality and announcer’s voice, and this designation seems fitting.
Hussey’s specialty is remixing classic dishes with a southern spin, and for a group of aspiring food writers, he previewed a curated collection of eighty3’s small plates and entrees on its seasonal menu. The dishes are as appealing as the chef himself.
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A collection of small plates from Chef Max Hussey at eighty3 in the Madison Hotel.
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Skillet cornbread crusted with honey and jalapeno pepper butter.
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Okra sliced horizontally and tossed with arugula and Creole remoulade.
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A delicious take on fish 'n chips served with coleslaw and tartar sauce with capers.
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Beignets, beer-battered and fried crispy, made with Gulf shrimp.
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Crabmeat lasagna made with housemate feta and garnished with begonia blossoms.
Shrimp beignets topped with a puree of honey, brown sugar, Serrano, and Fresno red jalapenos build around juicy Gulf shrimp, beer-battered and fried crispy. The bit of heat pairs well with the shrimp’s understatedsweetness, as do the garnishes: sunflower sprouts on the plate and edible marigolds sourced from nearby Millington. The small, plump flowers offer more than just a pop of color, Hussey explains.
“The days of inedible garnish are gone,” affirms Hussey as he recalls the superfluous trimmings that were once the culinary norm. “Thank God thedays of a kale leaf sliced diagonally as a topping are gone,” he says with a chuckle.
But Hussey does draw inspiration from other early experiences in the kitchen. When he cooked for an Indian restaurant without prior training in the culture’s food, he became intrigued with an oriental version of a Southern staple – okra. Unlike usual okra prep, Hussey cuts the vegetable vertically instead of horizontally. Next, he flash-fries the okra, tosses it with wild arugula, and drizzles the dish with a less-spicy take on the classic creole remoulade. Colorful amaranth sprouts also add a subtle earthiness to the memorable dish.
So does eighty3’s signature cornbread, served in an eight-inch cast-iron skillet and sliced into quarters. The sweet smell of the steaming bread owes its aroma to the crust’s honey jalapeno butter glaze, which fades from a golden yellow center to caramel-brown around the crispy edge.
While small plates alone can serve as entrees for some, Hussey also serves more substantive fare. His crabmeat lasagna introduces house made feta cheese and Béchamel to rolled-out pasta sheets and jumbo lump crabmeat. The dish is elevated with fresh herbs and edible begonias, which round out the entire flavor profile and “help you want to eat more,” Hussey explains.
This is a good thing, because next up is a Southern take on traditional fish 'n chips. Hussey breads freshly caught catfish with corn flour from Oxford’s The Original GritGirl. (Hussey refers to owner Georgeanne Ross’ delay grind grits as a delicacy and anticipates her call every Tuesday morning to confirm eighty3’s weekly delivery.) After frying the fish, he pairs it with classic coleslaw, tarter sauce with capers, and the same edible begonias found in the crabmeat lasagna.
Another entrée is bacon, lemon, and thyme-stuffed red trout, roasted whole. Let that sink in; it’s as good as it sounds. The almost candied aroma of the dish alone could be enough, but Hussey pushes the envelope again by topping the fish with a thick bacon cream sauce and peacock kale, a delicious hybrid between Brussels sprouts and purple kale that’s currently caught in a gastronomic tug-of-war between three different produce purveyors for trademark rights. Seriously.
Like any good DJ, Hussey also serves a surefire hit to close things off. For our group, the sweet finale is called the Happy Accident. Once tasked with preparing a bourbon pecan pie in half an hour, Hussey inadvertently crafted a fusion of pecan pie and pecan-flavored brownie. He was instantly hooked on the custard flavor and eggy texture and now lathers his brownie-meets-pecan pie creation with a caramel glaze. The fun invention has become a standard front desk amenity at the Madison Hotel, where eighty3 is located.
Eighty3, 83 Madison Ave. (901-333-1224 )