Covey Kitchen + Cocktails
As an Elder Millennial, I’m old enough to remember the old Rush Lake Motel that used to occupy the space where the Hotel Eleo now stands at 1514 SW 14th Street. Back then, I remember driving down SW 16th Avenue and thinking “well that’s not sketchy at all!.” Fast forward to 2020, and the University has built a brand new six story, 173 room luxury boutique hotel in its place. And with it, comes one of the better surprises I’ve experienced in the last few years, in the form of a small restaurant called Covey Kitchen + Cocktails. Since quietly opening back in August, I feel it is not getting its due given its location and lack of signage.
Overlooking a spruced-up Rush Lake (now featuring elegant gentle water explosions) and the UF Health medical kingdom, the restaurant is a clean and modern minimalist space. While the dining room is not particularly big, only being able to accommodate 96 guests indoors, it’s a kind of restaurant we have been missing. This is an upscale-leaning modern restaurant devoid of white table clothes, and is appropriate for casual dining, business dinners, and dressing up for a date night alike. I find the dining room to be really classy and comfortable, whose ample natural light, blue/white tones, and minimalism feels a bit like a slight imitation of The Modern at MoMA in New York City. Of course, I mean that in the best way possible considering The Modern is a two Michelin-starred restaurant.
The cuisine, while billed as Florida-inspired, I feel is much broader and more of a Modern American cuisine. These are very approachable dishes prepared well, using quality ingredients, and presented beautifully. All things that make their $12 to $26 entrée price points all the more reasonable, and bucks the trend by actually being a good restaurant in a hotel ‘round these parts. Chef Charlie Keller, a veteran of the NYC restaurant scene and a former chef at the UN, has put together a winning menu in my opinion.
The Buttermilk Fried Chicken ($18) is actually brined before frying to a light crisp, served with a play on proper Cajun dirty rice in risotto form (prepared with chopped chicken livers, mirepoix, and all) and braised savoy cabbage. This is also available in sandwich form ($12) with pickled veggies, pimento cheese, and a side of thin cut fries. The Short Rib ($26) is real short rib served with farro, carrot, and horseradish. The meat is slow cooked and coated in a demi-glace that isn’t so overwhelmingly rich that you can only stand to eat a few bites. While the Key West Pink Shrimp ($20) is served with Jimmy Red heirloom grits and an Atlantic clam & confit tomato ragout.
Other highlights include a delicious classic Shake Shack-esque burger ($12), and a brussels sprout salad (pictured - $9) with shaved red onion, pecorino, hazelnut, and a grain mustard vinaigrette. The Bahn Mi ($13) sticks out like a sore thumb on the menu but is otherwise really delicious and made with slow roasted pork belly, country ham, house-made pate, pickled veggies, mint, cilantro, and an aioli. Oh, and some really fantastic deviled eggs ($6) made with a hint of black truffle and topped with crispy prosciutto di parma.
The restaurant does feature a beautiful bar that serves beer, a small wine list (by glass or bottle), and a small cocktail list that is still under development but whose highlights include the Triple Helix (Hendricks gin, Lille’s blanc, and Kettle One vodka) and the Perfect Fig (rum, ginger beer, fig, and lemon). I’m told the dessert menu is still under development as well, and only features a bread pudding, red velvet cake, and Florida citrus pie for now. Open 7 AM to 10 PM every day, they also serve a lunch menu that is scaled down with more salad and handhelds, and a breakfast menu that is highlighted by items like a French Toast Bread Pudding (whipped ricotta, Vermont maple syrup, and a seasonal compote) and the Short Rib Hash (short rib, russet potato, poached egg, and salsa verde).
So yeah, I really enjoy the food here. The service, thanks in part to a small dining room, was very attentive and professional on both of my visits. Chef Keller went table to table, a manager was omnipresent checking in, and the servers were a joy. If I were to complain about anything, I would say the valet-only parking situation is silly, even though it is complimentary for diners and likely an enjoyable amenity for most of you who are not crazy overprotective OCD weirdos about your cars. On both visits, my car was driven no more than ten feet and parked out front. When I came back out, the valet was moving another car so I had to wait to get my key despite almost standing right next to my car. And yes, I do realize this is serious first world problem whining, but it’s worth noting.
The other complaint is they do not offer any dining discounts to UF Health employees, which I found to be curious considering their location and relationship with UF. There are many medical professionals who would likely take advantage of its proximity and dining options before or after their shifts. But much like its cocktail and dessert menus, these are all things that are still a work in progress.
Given the limited seating, I would highly recommend booking a table ahead of time if you plan on dining during peak dinner hours on weekends. You can do so on the Hotel Eleo website under “Dining”, as well as peruse their menus. This place gets my thumbs up and it’s only going to get better. Your next date night spot awaits you.
(The too long did not read version is: “This place is good as shit” – Kristin Nobles as she stuffs her face with fried cauliflower)