The answer to Cajun cravings.
By Hope S. Philbrick
My friend Erin, editor of partner publication Deep South Magazine, lives in Lafayette, Louisiana. That is not the most interesting thing about her, but it does help to explain how and why she stepped up as tour guide during my recent visit.
One morning, Erin suggested we get some boudin for breakfast. I agreed to be polite, but I wasn’t expecting to be wowed. I’ve had plenty of boudin and, quite frankly, while I adore Louisiana cooking, I’d rather have jambalaya, étouffée, gumbo or just about any other Cajun or Creole dish.
But we pulled up to Johnson’s Boucanière, entered the quaint little place on the Cajun Boudin Trail, and I was struck by its charm and enticed by the aromas. We ordered a few links to-go and a friendly clerk fished them out of a steaming pot and wrapped them in paper. The boudin kept plenty hot while we ventured to the local farmers’ market and then back to her office to break into the boudin.
And, well, wow: It was the best boudin I’ve ever had (so far). It was so good that I would have bought some more to bring home, except that I was going to be driving around for another week before reaching my own refrigerator.
The boudin was not greasy, it was heavy on the meat/light on the rice, spicy without burning your taste buds right off, and just gosh-darn good. It made for a satisfying snack but could also be served as part of a meal.
That wasn’t the only place we ate that changed my mind about something.
Sushi has never been something that I crave. I can take it or leave it. But there was no reason to suspect she’d take me anywhere bad, so off we went to Tsunami Sushi.
Like all sushi, it was beautiful. It was also delicious. We tried three rolls: alligator, crawfish and vegetable.
I now crave sushi.
It proved to be a perfect meal on a humid evening, satisfying without bloating your stomach, and I loved how local Cajun ingredients were incorporated into the whole.
I’ve long been a fan of shrimp po’boy sandwiches, but the version at Olde Tyme Grocery would be hard to beat. The crusty bread was still soft enough to avoid crumbling into pieces like too many such sandwiches often do, it was stuffed with a generous amount of fresh fried shrimp, and the made-to-order boys could include lettuce, tomato, mayo, ketchup, hot sauce or whatever fillings you prefer. Alongside my po’boy, I sipped Abita Root Beer, the best root beer I’ve ever had (so far). (Fortunately, I discovered that it’s available at my local grocery store; I hope you can find it at yours.)
For a peek at where most tourists are lured, even if they don’t have the luxury of a local to serve as a personal guide as I did, we stopped by Randol’s Restaurant & Cajun Dancehall for dinner one evening. No wonder it’s a popular recommendation of the Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission. This joint is jumping with live musical entertainment, folks of all ages moving around on the dance floor (some gracefully, others not so much), and a festive vibe. The menu is packed with classic Louisiana favorites like crawfish étouffée, gumbo, fried alligator, boudin balls, oysters on the half shell, barbecue shrimp and more. Here the goal seems to be more about fun than pure foodie delight, but it’s easy to just take it all in and let the good times roll.
Sunday brunch at Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro proved to be a great grand finale to my first food tour of Lafayette. The place’s upscale vibe and the chef’s “fresh, seasonal, local” philosophy align with my personal preferences. The menu is billed as “eclectic Creole” and includes several New Orleans Creole classics like oysters Bienville & Rockefeller, barbecue shrimp, Turtle Soup and redfish amandine. Knowing that I’m an avid fan of shrimp & grits, a lowcountry dish popular throughout Georgia and South Carolina, Erin suggested I try grits & grillades, which gives shrimp & grits a Creole/Texas spin by topping corn grits with smothered beef tips. The hearty (not to be confused with heart-healthy) dish made me wonder, why isn’t barbecue & grits a thing here in Georgia? It totally should be. Everyone at and within earshot of our table was raving about whatever they ordered, so you can’t really go wrong here. Just arrive hungry because the food is rich and the portions are generous.
Lafayette is the capital of Cajun cuisine and its dining scene warrants further exploration. After such a tasty first impression, it’s a task I’ll happily take on.
1111 St. John St.
Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro
507 W. Pinhook Rd.
Olde Tyme Grocery
218 W. Saint Mary Blvd.
Randol’s Restaurant & Cajun Dancehall
2320 Kaliste Saloom Rd.
412 Jefferson St.
Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission
1400 NW Evangeline Thruway
Lafayette, LA 70501
Our partner publication, Deep South Magazine, is based in Lafayette, Louisiana. Click on over for insights from a local.
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
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