It’s no secret that maybe our favorite restaurant is Oxlot 9 in Covington, happily only ten minutes from our home. We are almost as regular there as a woman whose table is always the same, right near the bar. When we were in yesterday, at an adjacent table sat such an enthusiastic first-time customer, he asked to see the “man responsible for this delicious food.”
We understand this reaction. We have it every time we are there, whether we have had the crab cake that man ordered, or the impossibly great lunch value of a $24 almost fork-tender filet mignon. Jeff Hansel and his team of guys behind the line in the open kitchen put out terrific food very consistently.
So we were very excited to hear that Hansell was expanding the brand east, opening in another boutique hotel in adorable Bay St. Louis. It is no chore to visit this little beachside town nearby, but here was a really desirable place to eat. (Trapani’s doesn’t cut it.)
I finally made it to the coast last week to see if The Thorny Oyster would thrill me as much as its Hansell flagship sister property Oxlot 9.
Another very handsome space like Oxlot, though very different, The Thorny Oyster is bright and airy with big windows and nice views of the bay. There is a small patio for outdoor dining.
The menu is just the right size, with sections of interesting offerings. We passed on the Raw Bar options, which were pretty extensive. Ceviche and crudo, Royal Red Shrimp, and local oysters were there, as well as snow crab. Two group versions of these items were also available, for $45 and $95.
My companion is a more adventurous eater, so choosing against all the raw menu items made me feel a little guilty. We got only cooked appetizers since I had to write this piece.
The deviled crab was unlike anything around here. It was downright glamorous, with a Hollandaise sauce on top. There were two to the order, and they came as a medium mound in the original shell, showing the very appealing orange indicator of having been boiled on the edges of the shell.
The large mound of stuffing in a crab shell always sends my radar up, but there were no suspicions here. Jeff Hansell is too reliable to disappoint. And we were definitely not disappointed. We both agreed it was actually very rich for a stuffed crab. It didn’t even really look like our familiar local dish. The stuffing had a burnt orange rather than muddy brown color, studded with spices and vegetables. It was a little creamier than other such fillers of crab shells, with an elevated spice level mitigated by the Hollandaise sauce. Here was a downright luxurious version of this familiar way to serve crab bits.
I have been curious about this dish since I had it, and it was great to see Jeff Hansell in the house at Oxlot yesterday. I called him to the table after that other man, the new customer, finished rhapsodizing about the crab cake he had just finished.
The chef surprised me with the ingredients of the deviled crab. Rice. Huh? He explained that he researched recipes and tried many of them, but ultimately settled on a less Gulf Coast and more Lowcountry version of crab stuffing, hence the name “Deviled” rather than stuffed. But rice?? No matter, it was utterly first class.
The other appetizer on the table was shrimp toast, an unexpected offering. I don’t actually understand shrimp toast, but it is always interesting and satisfying when I get it. This was gorgeous shrimp toast, completely encrusted with sesame seeds and served with unusual sauces. One sauce was clear and herbal, which seemed odd, but no odder than the thick orange sweeter sauce, a sweet and sour chili mayo. These shrimp toasts were overstuffed, with a heavy ginger component. I like ginger as a hard-to-identify-flavor, but this was assertive. These were delicious to me, but would be spectacular to ginger fans.
A more adventurous diner would love to explore more of the eclectic appetizer selections. Frogs legs, bone marrow, mussels, and clams (in separate dishes of course), and salt & pepper calamari. I would stick with BBQ shrimp, grilled oysters, and the smoked pork tamale. The other delicious Hansell restaurant, Smoke BBQ, supplies the smoked meats.
Our entree choices ran the spectrum from grand to silly. On the table was bouillabaisse, and a Filet-O-Fish sandwich. This should have been a tough choice, because there were some really great stalwarts offered on this entree menu, like a grilled half chicken, 16 oz.ribeye, whole roasted fish for 2, Trout Amandine, and something called Fish Caddy, with fish, shrimp, blue crab and pasta Bordelaise. All of these seemed appealing until a further scan of the menu revealed a Filet-O-Fish sandwich. What fun! I had to get it.
Jeff Hansell does wonderful fresh cut fries, but these were deliberately not, they were instead a doppelganger for McDonald’s oddly perfect golden brown, slightly greasy fries. This mound of fries accompanied the sandwich, itself a twin of the famous fast food sandwich. The bun was shiny and round, with a piece of fried fish poking out around the edges. The fish was not especially thick like the McDonald’s version, and the sauce was a green tomato chow chow slaw, but the taste of it all was oddly similar.
The other sandwiches were mostly predictable: A Thorny burger, lobster rolls, and a ham and cheese sandwich which I feel pretty certain would be anything but predictable.
My companion got Bouillabaisse, gorgeous in presentation, with the Hansell divine grilled ciabatta resting on top. The sauce was rich in consistency and flavored with the combination of all the shellfish. Generous amounts of seafood and really large shrimp enhanced the presentation of this French classic.
Due to time constraints for me, we passed on dessert. I recognized the signature Campfire from Oxlot 9 on the menu here. It is utterly unique and something to try.
The Thorny Oyster isn’t just an odd name for a restaurant, it is an actual sea creature, very elusive. From deep waters off the Caribbean, it is mostly seen in aquariums. Technically a clam, it is edible, but is mostly a visual, prized for its shell. The Thorny Oyster restaurant will be prized for its tastes.