A Different Kind of Catfish

This effervescent vodka, lemon, and basil cocktail comes straight out of the Mississippi Delta

Since the Cotton House opened in Cleveland, Mississippi, at the end of July, business has already been booming. That’s partly because, as Cleveland’s first and only boutique hotel, it provides a wealth of charm and Southern hospitality to the little Delta town. It’s also thanks to chef Cole Ellis, who helms both the Delta Meat Market downstairs—a refreshed, larger iteration of the original location across the street that garnered him a James Beard nod for Best Chefs in America in 2017—and the brand-new Bar Fontaine on the rooftop.

This rooftop perch’s food offerings—small plates such as rosemary focaccia with whipped ricotta and pasta dishes like fettucine tossed with brussels sprouts and peppers—have a southern European flare, but the drinks stay true to Mississippi. “The bar manager, Matthew McCain, and I started playing around with the idea of having our drinks menu incorporate Delta-style names and local ingredients,” Ellis says. He recommends the Rail Car—Four Roses bourbon, cane syrup, and pecan smoked lemon—or this lemon, basil, and vodka concoction made with Jackson, Mississippi’s Cathead vodka that’s refreshing enough to beat the end-of-summer heat even in the so-called most Southern place on earth.


  • Yield: 1 cocktail

  • The Catfish

    • 2 oz. Cathead vodka

    • 1 fresh basil leaf

    • 2 dashes meyer lemon vinegar

    • 6 oz. Basil Lemon Soda (see recipe below, or use a store-bought substitute such as San Pellegrino Lemon Soda)

    • Sparkling wine

  • Basil Lemon Soda (Yield: about 4 cups)

    • ¼ lb. fresh basil leaves

    • 1 cup sugar

    • 3 cups water

    • Juice of 9 lemons with the zest

    • Pinch of salt


  1. For the cocktail: In a shaker, mix vodka, a basil leaf, and vinegar, muddle together. Add soda, stir, and pour over ice in a 12-oz. collins glass. Top with sparkling wine.

  2. For the Basil Lemon Soda: Place all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Let steep for 10 minutes. Strain. Add cooled contents to soda canister and charge.



  3. Recipe from chef Cole Ellis of Bar Fontaine.