Cypress Grill

"This small restaurant is tucked away in one of these nondescript strip malls in far Southwest Austin, on the way to Oak Hill," writes Claudia Alarcón. "Cleverly using their prescribed rectangular strip-mall portion, Cypress Grill is a comfortable space with a neighborhood bar atmosphere."

Cypress Grill

4404-L W. William Cannon, 358-7474

Sunday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-11pm

Most new restaurants these days are uniformly fitted, sadly, into the strip-mall format. This makes it difficult for restaurants not only to be noticed but also to achieve a comfortable atmosphere and a personality of their own. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover Cypress Grill.

This small restaurant is tucked away in one of these nondescript strip malls in far Southwest Austin, on the way to Oak Hill. Cleverly using their prescribed rectangular strip-mall portion, Cypress Grill is a comfortable space with a neighborhood-bar atmosphere. Creative use of inexpensive items, such as a pair of secondhand spinnakers draped along the ceiling to conceal the air-conditioning ducts, add color to the no-frills décor. The cute freestanding bar along the back wall next to the kitchen gives the impression that the place is bigger than it really is and adds a homey touch. It is obviously a place where regular customers enjoy gathering for drinks or dinner. While waiting on our appetizers at a nearby table, an older man walked in and headed for the bar. The young bartender received him with, "How ya doin' today? The usual?" which gave me hope that there would be good things to come.

The menu combines tasty American fare with some well-executed Louisiana dishes, one of the owners being a former Baton Rouge restaurateur who insists that "the fact that we serve a few Louisiana dishes doesn't make us a Cajun restaurant." The young and friendly waitstaff is willing to answer any questions and accommodate requests.

The appetizer choices are rather generic: quesadillas, chicken tenders, and the like. But their Spinach-and-Artichoke Dip ($5.95) is one of the best I've ever had, fresh and creamy, served with homemade toast rounds. The cup of Chicken Gumbo ($3.95) was delicious, reminding my Louisiana-born-and-raised dining companion of her home state's authentic cooking, and a perfect match for their very good top-shelf margaritas ($6) made with fresh limes and Herradura Silver.

The house specialties and nightly specials are served with a side salad of crisp baby greens and tomato slices, with your choice of homemade dressings. The chipotle ranch and the balsamic vinaigrette were very tasty. We sampled their Fried Seafood Combo of catfish, crawfish, and soft-shell crab ($16.95), and while it was good, it is nowhere near Shoal Creek's fried seafood. However, the Crawfish Étoufée ($10.95) was really very good, chock-full of crawfish in a nicely thickened roux, and the Crawfish Linguini ($9.95) with sautéed mushrooms in a Cajun-spiced cream sauce was very satisfying. Their Old-Fashioned Burger ($5.25, an extra 60 cents for cheese) came with the works and was cooked just right. The seasoned fries were crispy and hot.

The surprise of the evening was the Muffaletta ($8.95), arguably the best I've had outside of Central Grocery in New Orleans. The bread was just right, the ham was grilled, and the tangy and salty olive dressing was a perfect foil for the creamy melted Swiss cheese. I was impressed. Equally impressive was their Bread Pudding ($4.95) served warm with the classic bourbon sauce.

Overall, the Cypress Grill is nothing fancy or spectacular, but it achieves its mission as a comfortable neighborhood restaurant with good, honest food at fair prices, in a part of town with very few dining options.

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