Just a few minutes in the car from my office is a bar worth visiting. The only reason I hadn’t made the short trip was a lame one – that trip was just south of downtown.
Across from where I had sipped coffee at South Side on Lamar and seen The Fray perform at the Palladium Ballroom is an intimate space full of books, booze and unsuspecting plates for dinner.
The Cedars Social boasts on Facebook about its full rows of alcohol bottles behind the bar. The pride continues onto the pages of the cocktail menu that lists the drinks around $12 each (and many are higher).
The bartender here makes a worthy potion. The old fashioned and Tom Collins were acceptable standards. Any of the seasonal cocktails or “misfits” are more creative and worth experimenting.
The bar area is quickly packed on a Saturday night, but if you’re able to snag a table in the small dining room, you can explore some more flavors beyond muddled fruit in alcohol.
Expect to have a lot of paper on your table while you make your selections through the sharable small and big plates. One item is a blue file folder that has the pages of cocktail options. If you’re here on a weekend, one small sheet will be the weekend menu. Check that one if you’re in the mood for a selection of oysters. These offer some more explorable plates (with a bit higher price tag). The standard, two-sided sheets have the full menu.
There’s plenty to pique your interest on the small plate list. The truffle macaroni and cheese will take the spot as a favorite. I always use hesitation when knowing a chef is using truffle – whether it be fresh, salt and especially oil – but this pasta is only delicately laced with the flavor that takes the bowl to a whole new level of savory.
The shrimp and grits is also a plate you’ll want to share with your table. Texas Gulf shrimp are lined up on top of white cheddar and Parmesan grits. While the shrimp were standard, even someone who doesn’t get excited about grits will scrape up the last of this cheesy side item. The Kobe meatballs are small, tender balls of meat, ones that have a surprisingly crisp exterior to a warm, tender center. Most important, they’re perfectly seasoned and topped witha simple, traditional sauce.
The lamb chops could be a meal on their own. They’re simply seasoned and cooked perfectly, just below medium rare. What takes these a step beyond an area steak joint is the Luxardo cherry jus that sits beneath them, waiting for you to swipe the tender meat through it for a sweet pairing. On a recent visit, we tried for the grilled oysters, which caught our attention with garlic butter and Parmesan cheese, but the kitchen was out of them. A small plate that should be ordered on your own (only because sharing doesn’t seem like a realistic option) is the oxtail ravioli, a special that hopefully will make a regular appearance. Each bite is a buttery and savory meat encased in a (just under al dente) fresh pasta.
The small plates kept our interest. Large plates that look worth a try are the truffled, roasted chicken with lentils, Mediterranean olives and cherry tomatoes and a Berkshire pork rack with cassoulet and crispy brussels sprouts.
We did test our stomach sizes a little further by going for the hand-cut garlic-Parmesan fries, where more truffle oil is poured out. Salty, a little oily and plenty crunchy, these are the consistency all garlic fries should be.
The special desserts, listed in chalk on the wall with other specials, listed a German chocolate cake that had run out before we had the chance to pursue a slice. By that time, we were too full to test out the Italian cream that was also listed.
Witha menu so extensive and items passing expectations, this one is worth another visit. Very soon.
The Cedars Social
Location: 1326 S. Lamar St. in Dallas, 214-928-7700
Hours: 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
Service: laid back, just attentive enough
Ambiance: cozy, noisy and intimate
Alcohol: full bar