Cheap Eats: Midtown's Cypress Street Pint & Plate
Here's beer in your eye
The last time I toured a brewery, they made us all wear those thick, plastic protective eyeglasses as we walked through the production area. "Protective eyewear must be worn at all times," stated a sign with authority. There must be some governmental office that requires such things — God forbid some errant beer might get in your eye. As I was eating a recent meal at Cypress Street Pint & Plate, I realized that it could use a similar warning sign on its menu. Not because I got beer in my eye, but because Cypress Street's kitchen is geared to a certain type of eater. The Cypress Street warning should read, "Beer goggles must be worn when eating."
Beer goggles are usually an excuse for a night gone wrong, a simple way of explaining how someone who had the appeal of a supermodel the night before came out looking like a stage-four meth addict the following morning. In the case of Cypress Street (and, really, many of the bars around town that do a stellar job serving up large volumes of very good beer), beer goggles are a way to walk out the door happy with your eating experience, rather than dwelling on all the faults. Take the pretzels with "IPA and cheddar fondue," for example. If you're not a few beers in, you'll be disappointed that the pretzels are too hard to be soft, too soft to be hard. You'll also be slightly dismayed by the sad little plastic cup of watery cheese sauce that is supposed to be fondue. Three beers later, beer goggles on, you'll be happily cramming your face with salty, cheesy, carb-laden stomach filler. Beer goggle success.
Cypress Street has been a Midtown hangout for almost four years now, but it gained a new executive chef, Richard Silvey, this past spring. When Silvey joined the team, there was talk of a new fresh/local/seasonal approach; but today's fall menu looks an awful lot like the summer menu did, filled mostly with beer goggle food. Sure, there are a few standard salads, but the overall menu tilts heavily to meat and cheese in close proximity, plus a wide variety of burgers and fried snacks. Given Silvey's background at places like Fritti and Pizzeria Vesuvius, it's no surprise to see a small pizza section on the menu, but that doesn't change the fact that the kitchen seems calibrated to taste buds under the influence of a hearty beer buzz. The short rib pizza sure sounds compelling, and the pickled onions adorning it bring a nice acidic bite to balance out the cheddar cheese and brisket-y shreds of short rib, but the crust suffers from saggy middle syndrome and the whole thing comes off as not much more than better than average. But it goes great with a good, hoppy IPA.
Cypress Street has a few menu items that sound more like a dare than a dish. Of course, there's the epitome-of-anti-health-food Sublime burger (aka Luther burger) with cheddar cheese and bacon, saddled in doughnuts instead of a bun. It's actually one of the best things on the menu, if you don't mind a bit of sweet with your beef and bacon and cheese. The delightful doughnuts from Sublime manage to bring the burger a pancakes-and-syrup quality that's not too far away from a McGriddle. (Yes, a positive McDonald's comparison just happened!) There's a Southern-fried riff on a Scotch egg — hard-boiled egg, pimento cheese, and sausage, all wrapped up in a crunchy panko shell. It looks like a Cadbury Creme Egg from hell, or maybe southern Alabama, but how a puddle of cilantro sauce ends up as the anchor in this dish baffles me. It simply doesn't work, and the elements of the dish seem to fight against each other rather than sing along in harmony. Likewise, barbecue egg rolls containing pulled pork and collard greens sound like a Southern score, but the pork is as mushy as a Sloppy Joe and the collards taste like they came straight out of a can. Beer goggles, where are you? Please save the day.
Luckily, beer does save the day at Cypress Street. The staff knows their stuff, they can describe the small but smart list of beers on tap in great detail, they even offer to bring you a taste if you want to try something. "Beer Geek Tuesdays" often bring a bevy of interesting brews on tap, and are definitely worthy of the beer geek title. Just go with an understanding that the food is there to support the beer, not the other way around. Get those goggles going, and you'll walk out the door with a satisfied grin. But try not to look back with a critical eye come morning time.