Date Night is back and Cypress Social is the spot

A certain amount of relief comes with being vaccinated.

You get to do more, without fear. It isn’t quite like the Before Times when you could do what you wanted when you wanted, but you can go to a game and sit in the sun, spend time with friends and family and go get some food that isn’t from a drive-thru or packed in a styrofoam container.

Dining out again also means that date night, with your spouse or with someone new, is also back, and there’s no lack of options in central Arkansas, from some very tasty chicken tenders to fine-dining in an old catfish house to an unexpected delight in Lonoke.

Remember, these observations are from a single visit by two people. A proper restaurant review should mean at least three visits to get a better handle on the menu and if the dining experience is consistent from meal to meal. Your experience may vary.

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Let’s start with the old Cock of the Walk, just off Maumelle Boulevard and on the North Little Rock side of the city limits.

Purchased by restaurateur and generally great human Jim Keet, the former catfish house was transformed into Cypress Social last year. Keet, who has a long history of operating restaurant chains and is currently running the Taziki’s franchises in Arkansas, also dabbles in fine dining. On the Little Rock side of the river is Petit and Keet. 

If you haven’t been, you should go. Higher-end prices but for extremely good food make it appropriate for date night or for a special occasion, like your anniversary or birthday or whatnot.

Keet took that formula and applied it to Cypress Social, and while the address is still the same, any trace of that old catfish house is gone. The building has been transformed into something almost approaching grand with inside and outside dining options.

On a recent Saturday visit, we were able to get a table, without a reservation, outside. The early evening was warm but not unpleasant, and the food was nearly perfect.

We started with Fried Green Tomatoes as an appetizer. The menu says they came with peppadew cheese spread, blackened shrimp and remoulade.

That was followed by a cup of Red Beans and Rice. The beans were cooked with ham hocks and andouille. They were served with a small mound of white rice and what was called “Cypress cornbread,” essentially a good but not great corn muffin. 

We split both and agreed that the tomatoes were crispy, the shrimp were tasty, and we would very much order the starter again, but the Red Beans and Rice were subtly seasoned and needed just a little more punch.

Entrees were a Duroc Pork Chop and Shrimp and Grits.

The pork chop came bone-in, was served “tomahawk-style” and drew audible gasps from a nearby table when it came out. It looked terrific and tasted better. I encouraged my companion to gnaw on the bone, caveman-style but she politely, and correctly, declined. The greens accompanying the pork were flavorful, especially as they co-mingled with the pork juices.

The Shrimp and Grits were a bit different from previous versions I’ve had. The shrimp were big and came with a terrific “New Orleans style” BBQ sauce. The grits had been formed into triangles then deep-fried to give them crispy corners.

Dessert looked enticing, and the prices were right at $8, but we passed, as we were both very full. We also didn’t order drinks. The tab was about $80 before tip.

Service was terrific.

We aren’t giving stars or a grade, but Cypress Social is the real deal, and if you’re looking for a date night spot or a place to celebrate a special occasion, then go. You won’t regret it.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner

Not every date has to be fine dining. Sometimes you want something fast, something good and something affordable.

Let me suggest Raising Cane’s. No, seriously, Raising Cane’s.

The menu at Raising Cane’s is pretty simple: chicken fingers. You get them in various amounts with crinkle fries, coleslaw and a sesame-seeded piece of garlic toast. Some really good dipping sauce comes with the chicken. A sandwich option is also available.

It is roughly $20 for two people to get dinner, and the drive-thru during Covid has been speedy and accurate. We made our first inside visit during a shopping excursion in Little Rock.

While the food is good after being packed into styrofoam and toted back home, dine-in is clearly superior. The crinkle fries and chicken are very crispy and hot. You can order the lemonade, have a few sips, then slip in some iced tea to make an Arnold Palmer.

Then, after dinner, celebrate your wife’s joy when she finds the $144 Vince Camuto dress at Ross for $14.99.