First Look: Cypress Social Makes Maumelle Boulevard a Destination

There are few restaurant concepts as ambitious in the state as Cypress Social, and none more important to the surrounding restaurant scene in recent memory. After a few months of delays due to COVID, they are ready to open the doors next Tuesday (August 18th) to what will likely become a destination restaurant along Maumelle Boulevard.

Cypress Social is the latest from the Keet family’s JTJ Restaurant group (Petit & Keet, Taziki’s) located at 7103 Cock of the Walk Lane. As the address might tell you, it takes over the old Cock of the Walk building that closed nearly three years ago and served as the anchor restaurant for Maumelle Boulevard for decades.

While parts of Cypress Social might give you a few familiar vibes from Cock of the Walk, it is an entirely new restaurant from top to bottom.

“We ended up rebuilding everything from the floor joints to the roof,” JTJ chairman Jim Keet explains. “We tried to keep some elements from the previous spot, but it is completely new. We really wanted to build a destination location and thought through every element of the design to make it happen.”

Indeed just walking in the door the memories of the former place fade away. The building was designed with the help of Garry Mertins and built by Keet-O’Gary Construction. It is full of reclaimed cypress wood (hence the name) throughout. Every sightline gives you a view of the property full of fountains and the large pond throughout the entire restaurant. It has six carefully designed areas as well as three separate patios to give the restaurant flexibility to meet any needs the guests have.

Walking in you will find a large bar that has two separate areas flanked by a rentable lounge room with comfortable seating. Directly back is a large main dining room with a view of the pond. To the side is a separate dining room that can be rented with floor to ceiling windows looking out to the pond and a private patio area. Finally, they have an enclosed private dining area complete with hidden private bathrooms perfect for bridal parties.

They utilize each space well at the opening to give plenty of distancing to meet COVID regulations and provide a safe dining experience.

With so much thought into the design of the restaurant, the food and drink menus are equally thought through. The culinary team is led by Executive Chef Steve Binotti and Pastry Chef Sara Horton.

“We really wanted to go with a comfortable mix of Southern, Mississippi Delta, and Cajun-inspired cuisine,” Binotti says. “We wanted food that was full of flavor and thoughtful creation while still being approachable.

You will find cajun elements like shrimp and grits, red beans and rice, and redfish Pontchartrain; delta items like tamales, frog legs, and fried catfish; and traditional southern dishes like cornbread, fried green tomatoes, and pork chop. It is a strong menu balance where everything works well with each other while providing a wide range of food that will please most.

I’ve gone through menus with the culinary team in the past at Petit & Keet, and they pay careful attention to detail to get things right. Every dish is conceptualized and adjusted multiple times before it made the menu, and you can see where the opening delay gave them even more time for refinement. Like Petit & Keet, they plan to offer frequent specials that often see customer favorites make the permanent menu in future iterations.

The cocktail menu is equally thought through with veteran bar-man Rob Armstrong serving as the beverage director.  The initial summer cocktail menu plays well to the heat of the summer with a lot of fresh fruit purees throughout such as the Heavens to Betsy with watermelon, Gussied Up with a house cranberry compote, Bikini Bottom with pineapple, Hissy Fit which is a jalapeno-infused margarita with dragon fruit syrup, and they bring over their signature Peachy Keet frozen cocktail across the river. Everything we tasted was well balanced and delicious, as you would expect from a strong bar team.

On the wine side, the list is curated by Susie Long, who builds some of the best wine programs around. You will find a good mix of reds, whites, and rosés by the glass as well as a strong list by the bottle. Everything on the bottle list gives a better than priced quality from the lowest priced Anne Amie Pinot Gris (which is delicious) to the Silver Oak Cabernet which is one of my favorite bottles.

For beer they have a number of tap handles dedicated initially to the favorites of each core member of the restaurant. You will find a strong mix of local crafts from Stone’s Throw, Lost 40, Bike Rack, Superior Bathhouse, and Black Apple Cider. They will also have a number of local and regional crafts in bottles and cans as well as the typical mass-market domestics.

Cypress Social has all the elements to make Maumelle Boulevard a food destination and will likely have an impact on growth in the surrounding area. It is exactly the anchor spot the community needed. It opens for dinner on August 18th, reservations are strongly recommended.

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