Social Southern Table & Bar
3109 Johnston St., Lafayette
THREE STARS (out of four)
We begin our road trip survey of restaurants at Social, a new spot just outside Lafayette’s central downtown, and not far from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. It’s a modern place that works in a style aptly summed up in its name.
Pull up on a Saturday night, like we did, and it becomes obvious that this place has struck a chord with local diners. People jam the parking lot, sometimes getting creative with where they leave their vehicles, and during the prime hour it looks like a beeline headed to the front door. There is some outdoor seating if you want to watch people circle for parking spots, but inside is where you really want to be. The restaurant opens to a soaring interior, with a lodge-style ceiling, and walls paneled in multi-colored bar wood. Then there’s the big, glowing amber-hued bar, with what looks like a copper-colored pipeline leading over your head and curving down to the beer taps. These hold the keg lines, and you can trace them back to a big, glassed-in storage area also stocked with all sorts of canned beer, like an upscale convenience store. Around the dining room there are high-top bar-style tables, café tables and a number of deep booths.
Bartenders handled a capacity crowd professionally, focusing on one order at once. We had to wait for service, but once we were in the bartender’s sights he was attentive to us and had good recommendations. Service at the table was friendly and easy-going, though the pacing was off. First came a rapid-fire delivery of appetizers, followed by an awkwardly long wait for entrees.
Social is the name, and social dining is the game. That starts with appetizers designed to be shared. Naturally, we started with fries with a good, spicy aioli and a plate of deviled eggs, which tasted like they had a salty streak of crab boil running through them. Next it was the unusual “krab nachos,” which turned out to be a long plate lined with fried wonton chips piled with little salads of sushi-bar style imitation crab meat, spicy mayo and tobiko, the tiny, mild fish roe also used at the sushi bar. We also sampled an artfully arranged cold seafood plate, which had slices of pepper-crusted tuna tataki supporting boiled shrimp over a swirl of avocado- and tomato-based sauces.
Some of the entrees could qualify as shared dishes, and that is certainly how we used most of ours. The “social flatbreads” are a lot like oblong pizzas with unorthodox toppings. The one we tried mixed leeks, bacon and fried quail eggs under a mat of manchego cheese. Shrimp and polenta was a dead ringer for shrimp and grits, only the shrimp had a good smoky flavor and the polenta was creamier and smoother than most grits you get these days. A basic burger was cooked to spec, with a patty that looked hand-formed on a quality bun. But the star of the show was the fried chicken with biscuits, which looked like a whole basket of chicken (it was half a bird) fried golden with a pepper jelly sweetening the surface and foie gras enriching the biscuits.
Desserts go home-style, with carrot cake, apple pie and cookies and milk, though of course each has a twist. Cornflakes add crunch to the carrot cake, there’s a savory/sweet brie ice cream with the apple pie and the “milk” can be spiked like white Russian.
There is a full bar, and while the specialty cocktails are a focus all the bells and whistles around the beer selection makes it hard to ignore and clearly the most popular choice for many visitors here.
Social is an upper-mid-range restaurant, with most of the first courses between $7 and $14, burgers and flatbreads between $12 and $14 and most entrees under $20.
The Lafayette dining scene has been seeing more of a contemporary streak lately, and Social Southern Table is a leading example of the trend. You’ll get some local flavor here, recast in a different way than you might be used to at older, more traditional restaurants. It’s more of a regional Southern restaurant than a straight-up Cajun eatery.