Around this time of year I usually announce some editor awards highlighting various areas of the food industry that deserve being called out. We will start announcing these over the coming weeks.
2020, however, was a year unlike any other. Opening a new restaurant this year takes someone who enjoys a certain level of punishment. Indeed we saw the majority of previously announced projects either push their date significantly or cancel it all together. There were very few pre-2020 unannounced restaurants open up.
Out of the handful of new restaurants that braved uncertain times, two really stood out to us as candidates. Brood & Barley in Argenta, and Cypress Social in North Little Rock/Maumelle. Both adjusted to the changing times wonderfully while still holding true to their core identity and bringing something unique to their respective areas.
For Cypress Social, the Keet family’s experience in opening a restaurant with careful precision was evident from the beginning. Long term I believe Cypress Social will have a bigger impact on their region of the metro area than any other single restaurant opening in the past 10 years. They pulled together a vision that I don’t think we will fully see until the area around them begins to fill up, and it is already showing signs of it.
As wonderful and forward thinking as Cypress Social is, in my book the best new restaurant has to go to Brood and Barley this year.
Where Cypress has the ability to change the Maumelle Boulevard area in a big way, Brood and Barley took a huge roll of the dice in trying to redefine an entire industry sector. It will be what gastropub/brewery/comfort casual dining is measured against for years to come.
If you have not been, Brood and Barley is a side project of Flyway brewing. They are brewing special beer, including their signature slow pour pilsner, and pairing it up with a food menu that really bats well above almost any other similar restaurant in the state. In fact the only other restaurant I can think of that can compare is Bar Cleeta in Bentonville, which is easily the best restaurant right now in the entire state. Give Brood and Barley a real year, not in the middle of a pandemic, and I think they fight for that title.
Part of what makes Brood and Barley special has got to be their beer pairing tasting menu. For $40 you get a 4 course tasting menu that changes frequently paired with 4 beers. It is possibly the best deal in any restaurant I’ve been, especially when factoring in the quality of both the beer and the food.
Chef Brayan Mcfadden worked his way here from Philadelphia , and you can easily see a lot of the Philly food influence in the menu. Beyond that he has a knack for pairing dishes with flavor and the accompanying beers that is simply better than anyone else around. He absolutely deserves to be up for a few chef awards.
Pairing him with Dave Burnette, who is arguably the best mixologists in the area has made for one of the strongest restaurants, not just new places, in the area.
In a year of less than half of the typical number of restaurant openings, Brood and Barley, Cypress Social, and a handful of other brave restaurateurs have all brought a strong quality despite the lack of quantity.
We will see what 2021 brings. At this point we knew of about 30 potential openings for the next year, right now there are only about 5. It will be slow out of the gate, but the standard for quality is set high by the 2020 openings.