My first trip to the much-anticipated Cypress Social in North Little Rock took a little longer to happen than I wanted, but such is life during a pandemic when my indoor dining has been non-existent. As for takeout? Cypress Social offers it, but my inaugural visit wasn’t going to be takeout.
I had my sights set on that beautiful, pond-viewed patio, and this past Saturday evening provided the ideal time to enjoy a dinner at Petit & Keet’s sister restaurant across the river. By most accounts, Cypress Social has gotten off to a fabulous start, which is no small feat during these tumultuous times, but would you expect anything less from a Jim Keet restaurant? The man knows how to run a restaurant. The setting is gorgeous (no surprise) and the staff is top-notch (again, no surprise), but would the food and drink match these other elements?
The Stiff Upper Lip, a cocktail with a few subtle tweaks on the ever-popular old fashioned, was a nice start to the evening. Cypress Social spares no expense with glassware, as evident by the heavy, chiseled crystal that gave the cocktail a refined presentation. The drink paired well with our order of Homemade Cypress Cornbread, an appetizer that should fall under the category of “must order” with each visit. Served in a muffin format with a perfect balance of heat from the jalapeno and sweetness from the sugar, this cornbread rivals any version that I’ve had in the South.
My wife and I split a wedge salad, which came recommended by a friend, and proved to be a delightful meal-starter. Given my finicky nature towards bleu cheese, I tend to shy away from wedge salads, but Cypress Social has found a nice middle ground with the strong cheese. Neither the crumbles, nor the dressing overwhelmed the red onion, tomatoes, and chopped bacon, but it was the combination of ingredients coupled with fresh iceberg lettuce that made this salad another hit.
Entrees of Blackened Redfish Pontchartrain and Fried Catfish also got the thumbs up. The restaurant isn’t stingy with its entrée portions. Just check out the picture of the two massive pieces of cornmeal coated catfish. Served piping hot (trust me on that), this catfish was highlighted by a clean taste and crisp texture. You’d be best advised to break off a small piece, let that steam escape for a few seconds, and then dunk it in the accompanying tartar sauce. Hushpuppies reside on the plate, and while not bad, I wanted them to taste more like a fried version of the cornbread. A little punch of sugar would have helped, although I know many folks would disagree with this assessment.
My Blacked Redfish Pontchartrain with its massive piece of redfish topped with shrimp and sweet crabmeat lacked the creaminess of other versions I’ve had in the past, but this isn’t a knock. In fact, my lactose intolerant-self appreciated it. The dish had great flavor with considerable heat, and the fluffy white rice was an excellent canvas for the other ingredients. I only ate half of my redfish, and certainly wouldn’t hesitate to order it again, but I wanted to save a little room for one of the desserts I’d been hearing so much about.
Cypress Social employs its own pastry chef, a rarity nowadays in the restaurant world. Chef Sara Horton is her name and Lemon Thyme Poppyseed Cake with Blueberry Compote is her game. She does several other desserts, but that was the one we ordered last night. My goodness, did it delight. The cake is dense and lacks sweetness if tasted in isolation, but that’s not how this cake needs to be eaten. Get each element (lemon pastry cream, Chantilly, blueberry compote, and cinnamon streusel, with the cake) on the fork and it is pure magic with nuanced flavors and textures. A true sum of its parts, Horton’s poppyseed cake dessert achieves a perfect balance of sweet and tart flavors, with a light crunch form the streusel. Overall, it provided a glimpse of her creativity and talent and was an excellent end to an A+ meal.
We received stellar service throughout dinner, both from our attentive server and managers who checked on the table. As far as big picture goes, I like how Cypress Social keeps the menu fairly small. They aren’t reinventing the wheel with their offerings, but what they do, they do quite well. Sure, you might find other restaurants in the area that excel a bit more in specific dishes like redfish and fried catfish, but you’d be hard-pressed to name a place that puts the entire package of service, food, drinks, and setting together like Cypress Social does. Because of that, the restaurant is well on its way to becoming a true destination spot for Central Arkansas. Heck, it may already be there.