Austin Chronicle, Wes Marshall, September 18, 2009
First-time visitors have to be a bit surprised when they walk into Cypress Grill. It’s sitting in a strip mall surrounded by fitness clubs and dwarfed by the Costco shopping center across the street. Yet inside, the place couldn’t be any funkier or more comfortable if it were in a little shack on the outskirts of Calcasieu Parish. You’ll immediately notice the scents of bell peppers, onions, celery, and fresh seafood. But after you’ve settled into your seat, you’ll also notice the happy crowds and cheerful service. The place is small enough to feel intimate, yet all the tables have sufficient room to allow a sense of privacy.
The menu makes a few specific promises that might lead you to feel as if you’ve walked into a health food joint. All the seafood is freshly caught, and there are no growth hormones or antibiotics in the chickens, no hydrogenated oils, and no trans fats. Everything, start to finish, is made from scratch. Even the iced tea tastes as though someone put some effort into it, and the restaurant has a full-service bar with a good selection of high-end beers and exotic cocktails.
Our first visit was a total success. We were both hungry for a muffaletta ($6.49 for a quarter sandwich, $9.99 for a half, and $17.99 for a whole), and it was top-notch. The cold cuts and cheese were excellent, but the rich explosion of flavor from the homemade olive spread was what really caught our attention. The gumbo ($4.39/cup, $7.59/bowl) was luxuriously rich, loaded with sausage, chicken, and vegetables, all in a soup the color of dark chocolate.
On our next visit, we decided to try the appetizer sampler plate ($10.79), a meal in itself with a huge, lightly crispy and perfectly fried Cajun crab cake; two oddly inauthentic crawfish eggrolls; and three boudin balls. The last item was loose rice sausage rolled up with seasoned bread crumbs, all deep-fried and served with a spicy rémoulade sauce. If someone pronounced deep-fried rice and sausage to be the new health food, I’d order them by the dozen. The boudin balls were the best thing we tried at the Cypress Grill.
For the main course, our intention was to try the fried-oyster po’boy. The menu brags that the French bread comes straight from Gambino’s Bakery in New Orleans, and the po’boys indeed looked superb, but we got waylaid by the Cajun Classics part of the menu. The red beans and rice ($9.79) was exactly as described: creamy red beans, a scoop of white rice, and a huge hunk of sausage. This is one of those dishes where all the ingredients have to be perfect, and they were – especially the beans, which were creamy without turning to mush.
Cypress Grill’s crawfish étouffée ($12.99) is a classic version, made with a roux that is beyond blond but not quite dark, with a nice number of sweet, nicely cooked tails. The best of the entrées was the catch of the day (which we understand has been discontinued since our visit), a lightly blackened tilapia filet with the house Zydeco Cream Sauce, loaded with garlic aromas and crab flavors. Authentic, tasty, and fairly priced, Cypress Grill is highly recommended for folks who love Louisiana cooking.