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High Cuisine in T-Town: Cypress Inn and River

The Cypress Inn restaurant is one of the very few fine dining destinations in Tuscaloosa.

CW / Laura Johnson

Kyarra Harris, Aaron Bonner

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Though Tuscaloosa is a city filled with bars and fast food restaurants, the fine dining scene is scarce, with only a few restaurants such as Cypress Inn and River filling the role.

Renea Henson, owner of Cypress Inn, said that the restaurant has been a part of Tuscaloosa since 1984. Though the restaurant boasts a catering and delivery service, an additional business for private parties and a “mobile kitchen,” its presence within the city started small as a franchise known as Cock of the Walk.

“It’s probably tripled in size since the beginning,” she said. “It had a limited menu. It was just catfish and chicken and greens, and they flipped cornbread. Well, that idea did not work, and so within just a few months, although many people remember it like it happened for years, but it was just a few months, it changed to the Cypress Inn restaurant.”

The restaurant got its name from the cypress trees on the property and the wood that the building was made out of. Cypress Inn takes reservations daily for private parties, events or just a night out on the town. For the first time since they opened, the restaurant is open for Thanksgiving Day this year and is currently taking reservations.

Brady Wright, the manager of Cypress Inn, said that keeping the casual atmosphere was important to the restaurant. He said that while the restaurant is often considered a nicer place to have dinner, both him and Henson wanted the restaurant to appeal to students on a standard college budget and still be able to have a meal.

“I think ultimately, the vision was a family-owned, family-oriented restaurant to take care of the community of Tuscaloosa,” Wright said. “We’ve been here for 32 years now, family-owned, and we’ve seen a lot of restaurants come and go, but we continue to be that staple of the city of Tuscaloosa.”

A newer edition to the fine-dining scene is River, located just outside of downtown Tuscaloosa. River has been in business for a little over 3 months, but already residents and students are familiarizing themselves with their “fine Southern dining” appeal. Drew Henson, the general manager, said the idea of the restaurant has been something he wanted to do for a while.

“I’ve been in the restaurant business for 35 years,” Drew Henson said. “Me and some friends got together and wanted to do something nice for Tuscaloosa, we had talked about it for four years.”

River is an independent restaurant, which Drew Henson said he and his staff have really enjoyed, because it gives them a chance to make chances and decisions on the restaurant without having to go through long processes.

“It’s a much smaller group of people in all the decision making,” Drew Henson said. “The owners are very close to the ground, and they hear what customers want. As an independent, we can do what we want without waiting for a corporate office. It’s been quite a collaboration amongst a lot of people to help make this restaurant.”

Drew Henson said the restaurant has been pretty busy so far, and they have seen quite a few students. Their head chef is from Tuscaloosa, which Drew Henson said has added to their unique menu what they call “progressive southern food”.

“I’m very satisfied with results, people seem to really like it and enjoy it,” he said. “It’s affordable. It’s approachable and really good.”

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High Cuisine in T-Town: Cypress Inn and River