Mark and I were amazed as we pored over the menu at Veronica’s, a favorite local restaurant in Carencro that specializes in daily plate lunch specials. It was our second day in Louisiana and some of the menu items we had never heard of before: Smothered Okra, Catfish Courtboullion, Crawfish Ettouffee, Shrimp Creole, carrot soufflé. On this visit Mark decided to have the smothered okra which was smoked sausage, chicken and okra in a brown gravy over rice, picture below. The price was reasonable at $9.00 for a plate lunch.
We ate at Veronica’s twice during our stay and it was a busy place, frequented by locals. The second visit Mark had the chicken fried steak and I had the stuffed baked chicken with mashed potatoes, carrot soufflé and macaroni and cheese. Veronica is the main cook at this restaurant and her family helps her out serving the food. Ordering is done cafeteria style at the counter where you choose your entree with two or three sides and they dish it up for you right from the steam table.
We found another great plate lunch spot called Creole Kitchen in Lafayette itself.
Located in a neighborhood of small older homes, this tiny eatery was close to running out of food by the time we arrived. I had fricassee chicken with rice and gravy, black eyed peas, greens and a corn muffin. It was delicious and the price only $8.00. It looks to me like rice and gravy is more popular for plate lunches than mashed potatoes and gravy. It could be because this is a rice growing region.
Louisiana prides itself on great food and some foods are pretty special to them with frequent advertisement on buildings, signs or billboards. Probably no food gets more advertisement or notoriety than crawfish. People here are crazy about it and eagerly await crawfish season which usually begins around the first of the year and goes through the spring. They are served different ways, boiled in the shell or in dishes with one of the more popular being crawfish étouffée. The nearby town of Breaux Bridge calls itself the “Crawfish Capital of the World” and hosts a yearly crawfish festival in the spring. Crawfish étouffée was first created in Breaux Bridge. Below is a picture of a restaurant that we never visted but I loved the signs out front.
While staying in this area I had crawfish étouffée a couple of times, twice at buffets and once at Prejean’s, one of the most well known restaurants in the area. I thought the creamy spicy dish with small pieces of crawfish tail was quite good. Crawfish are so small I am not sure they are worth the trouble since it takes time to pull off the heads and shell them. Perhaps I would feel different if I had them just boiled and not in a sauce. I am a real novice when it comes to understanding crawfish eating. Prejean’s serves the étouffée with a crawfish pie, see picture below.
Gumbo is one of the most popular foods down here, it’s served everywhere. I had gumbo a few times at different restaurants and at first wondered where was the okra, the tomatoes and rice already mixed in the soup. The main feature in gumbo I had eaten out west was okra. Actually the word gumbo comes from the African word for okra. But here in Southern Louisiana, gumbo consists of chicken, sausage or seafood in a dark brown gravy called “roux.” There is usually no okra or visible vegetables. Below is a picture of the gumbo we had during our first day traveling through the state.
One day Mark and I went to the Prairie Acadien Center, run by the National Park Service in the small town of Eunice. Each Saturday they have live music as well as a food demonstration and the day we were there, they were cooking up gumbo. Our chef was a local carpenter by trade who loved to cook and came often to the center for the demonstrations.
The chicken, sausage and turkey neck gumbo was simmering in the pot when the demonstration started and although our chef did spend a few minutes describing ingredients that went into the soup, he soon veered off to stories about alligators and nutria, a large rodent similar to a muskrat. We found out that since nutria have overpopulated the land and are a nuisance, there is a bounty of $5.00 at the Sheriff’s Department for every tail brought in. In the audience was a family of six from Singapore who were living temporarily in Texas. Another park ranger and our chef had one of the girls in the family stand up to show that the largest alligators had a jaw capacity that could swallow a person this size. Not sure what our visiting family thought, but the conversation became quite entertaining although we were learning more about local wildlife than cooking gumbo.
Meanwhile, as Chef Paul talked wildlife and local customs, the more on task lady ranger checked out the gumbo and did not appear satisfied with the results. She said it did not have enough roux and stirred more in from a jar. For those that might not know, roux is made by cooking oil or fat and flour together on low heat until it browns. This is what thickens the gumbo and gives it a richer flavor. She explained that no one made their own roux any more since it takes approximately one and a half hours to cook it to a dark brown. I took a picture (above) at a grocery store of locally made roux recommended by Paul. For some reason, a jar with a mixture of cooked oil and flour does not seem appealing to me, something I would have to get used to if I was cooking Louisiana gumbo like a native.
Mark and I were curious to try Boudin, a very popular staple here. Boudin is a type of sausage made with pork, rice and seasonings. The day after Thanksgiving we stopped at Billy’s, a popular shop with a fast moving line almost out the door. Boudin, Boudin Balls and pork cracklins are the primary things sold here. When making boudin balls sausage is taken out of the casing, breaded and then deep fried to a golden brown. We tried several kinds including crawfish, pork and pepper jack cheese. We also got a small order of cracklins or fried pork rinds, another popular food. We thought the boudin balls were pretty good, but probably not the kind of thing we could eat a lot of. Mark liked the cracklins better than I did. Below is a picture of the case containing boudin balls and cracklins.
Po’Boys seemed to me to be the most popular sandwich item in Louisiana Cajun country. They are usually made with either catfish or shrimp, but I also saw oyster Po’Boys. Seafood is very popular in Louisiana and shrimping is big business in the gulf. I had several shrimp Po’ boys which are simply fried shrimp on a French or hoagie roll with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. My favorite Po’ Boy was the Kickin’ Shrimp with grilled onions, bacon, cheese and jalapeño mayo, (except no mayo for me, not a fan of the stuff). Below is a picture of Anchors Up Grill located right on the gulf coast, proud home of the Kickin’ Shrimp Po’boy.
Speaking of shrimp, one of my favorite meals while staying in the Lafayette area was the Nola Shrimp and Grits at Bon Temps restaurant. The jumbo shrimp were served with the heads on which was new to me. They came with what the menu called a New Orleans style BBQ sauce that did not taste to me of BBQ but was rich and delicious. The jalapeño and cheese grits were a great complement.
The dessert of choice in this part of the country seems to be bread pudding, often served with a liquor sauce. The best we had was at a fantastic BBQ cafe in the Baton Rouge area, called Cou-Yons. Everything was great here including the bread pudding with Jack Daniel’s whiskey sauce. We were surprised how much whiskey was in the sauce, what a kick!
Southern Louisiana has many eating establishments and not just restaurants, cafes or fast food joints but little hole in the wall places – some were just little sheds or shacks off the side of the road offering a variety of Cajun fare. Reminded me of the taco trucks in California. The picture below was next to a long dirt driveway with a tiny wooden building at the end.
One food that I wanted to try at a restaurant but never got the chance was alligator. At a local butcher shop we found some frozen alligator, but decided not to try cooking it at the trailer. Maybe next time!
Louisiana definitely has some good eats. We have certainly been well fed in this state!
Next time I will talk about the wonderful Cajun music unique to this area.