Best Of Both Worlds
● Published by Aimee Cormier
By Amanda Jean Harris
Syrupy & Savory
When Billy Guilbeau tells the story of the Boudin King Cake, he starts with a homeless man sitting outside the shop he owns with his twin brother — Twins on South College in Lafayette — on a cold winter morning at 5 a.m. The story goes something like this: The twins opened their doors in the wee hours (the bakery and restaurant doesn’t open until 9 a.m. daily) to a man down on luck looking for a warm spot and a cup of coffee.
“My brother realized he was homeless and offered him money. The man offered to work, but my brother gave him the money as a gift expecting nothing in return,” Guilbeau says. “That man prayed and said we would be blessed.”
It was but a few days later the head of UL’s Philosophy, History and Geography Department and owner of a website for boudin and another for king cake arrived at Twins with an idea. “Bob Carriker asked if we could make a boudin king cake and we went to Earl’s, bought the boudin and cracklin and we tried it,” Guilbeau says.
Within a few days they ordered 70 pounds of boudin and were cranking out the cakes. The phone was ringing relentlessly by day one, the boudin was running out. The strange combo caught fire. And soon the USDA came calling. According to FDA regulations, Twins should have purchased the boudin wholesale via an approved facility — not retail from Earl’s.
“We had 400 orders for the next day. I asked if we could make the boudin here, would that work?” Guilbeau recalls. What could have thrown a wrench in the booming new twist on king cake was barely a hiccup. The folks from Earl’s said they could produce the boudin and cracklin at Twins and the problem was solved in plenty of time to finish the orders. “We knew it could be huge,” Guilbeau admits. “But even we didn’t know it would be what it was.”
While the unique flavor of the Steen-syrup topped concoction with its strong Acadiana roots is certainly a novelty, Guilbeau is quick to remember the promise of one homeless man. “When you give from your heart, I believe God blesses you.”
Fresh Out Of Freetown
From salty boudin and sweet Steen’s at Twins to a fresh take on tacos — in Freetown on Johnston Street sits another new standard in Acadiana eats — Taco Sisters. Beloved for their fresh and simple bites and hearty portions, the eatery is as fast as it comes without skimping on the ingredients.
Devotees like Nicole Cordova keep coming back (along with their children) for the value.
“The ingredients are fresh and flavorful. They don’t skimp on the filling and one taco is a whole meal,” she says. And for a bonus: “The GF (gluten free) wraps are actually soft!” (Finding a gluten free wrap that’s also soft is a unicorn in the world of GF eats.)
While the fish tacos are a fresh find at Taco Sisters, it’s down in Abbeville where you’ll find the best in traditional seafood. Think crab cakes and oysters done every which way.
“Our crab cakes start with Louisiana backfin and claw meat,” says one of the Shuck’s owners Bert Istre. “One recipe yields about 130 cakes and in that we have only one cup of flour and one cup of bread crumbs. That’s what makes our crab cakes special. It’s just a little bit of binding agent and all crab.”
The other twist to the quintessential Acadiana food — they grill the cakes rather than fry them. Top them with a dill sauce with a red pepper twist and there’s a rich combo with a hint of tart to finish it off.
The Old Fashioned Cajun Way
When looking for standards in Acadiana eats, The Yellow Bowl in Jeanerette is worth the drive. Opened in the 1950s, the little joint has a rep for killer gumbo. “We do only shrimp and crab gumbo,” says Blanche LeBlanc, manager. “It’s the same recipe we’ve had since the 1950’s and it’s delicious.”
When asked if they make their own roux, I fear the line has gone dead. “Yes,” Blanche says. “Made the old fashioned Cajun way.” And then it’s served as such — with potato salad and French bread.
“Our head cook takes great pride in our Cajun cuisine.” The kitchen at Prejean’s certainly takes pride in their slice of heaven — alligator cheesecake. If there was any doubt as to the devotion of the dish’s fans, it was solidified last year when the cheesecake took a brief hiatus from the menu.
“People drive here just for this item on the menu,” says manager Jonathan Vidrine.
In fact, so serious were the requests that Vidrine kept a wall full of notes from concerned patrons (all of whom were contacted when the item returned to the menu). A favorite note was from the Hallbacks in Texas: “We drove three and a half hours … if it [alligator cheesecake] isn’t coming back, we would appreciate the recipe.”
It’s no wonder patrons are digging for the dish on how to make it at home, the appetizer is a combination of smokehouse alligator sausage with fresh Gulf shrimp blended with cream cheese and creole seasonings and baked over a crust of parmesan and panko then topped with a rich crawfish Cardinale cream sauce. An appetizer the size of a meal.
The Circus Is In Town
When it comes to making it rich in the dish department, Bread & Circus Provisions on Bendel Road has a serious take on the traditional little slider. Served for brunch, the ponce and fried green tomato slider ups the flavor with jalapeño and cheddar sausage before a finish with tasso tartar sauce on a little buttermilk biscuit.
For a super sweet breakfast treat, there’s but one beignet spot in the middle of Lafayette — T’ Coon’s on the corner of Pinhook and Kaliste Saloom.
“We have the best beignets in Lafayette,” says manager Nicole Touchet. “It’s the closest you can get to a French quarter beignet. They’re a lightly fried sweet dough covered in powder sugar, served fresh to order.”
Tapas To Order
Cooking the dish to order isn’t exclusive to quick hits like T’Coon’s tasty treats. The chef at Pamplona’s on Jefferson takes made-to-order seriously with their signature dish — seafood paella. The joint known for small bites of the tapas variety that fill most of the menu has also become the spot for the traditional Spanish dish.
One of the owners, Andrew Payne, notes that paella is connected to one of Acadiana’s most beloved traditional dishes — jambalaya. “There is some history and heritage there. Jambalaya came from paella,” he says.
The dish is denoted on the menu at a wait time of 45 minutes to one hour. And it’s worth the wait. Flavored with uniquely distinct and quite yellow saffron, the dish is sautéed over the stove in a special two-handled paella pan and then baked for a delectable crust along the bottom. “We cook every order from scratch every time,” Payne says.
The Star Of The Saint Streets
There are enough “if you come to Acadiana, you gotta’ try this” meals to fill a book. But, nary a person can enter the Hub City without being directed to the unassuming little grocery store in the Saint Streets. Olde Tyme grocery has a simple menu with bags of chips and bottled drinks. They take but cash or check. And they serve never-fail, nail-it-every-time po’boys thanks to New Orleans transplant Glenn Murphee who opened the shop in 1982. From the Langlinais French bread to the heaping portions of roast or fried catfish, an Olde Tyme po’boy makes the basic beloved sandwich look new all over again.
A Quail-ity Dish
Just a short trek down to Tsunami on Jefferson, you’ll find the standard in sushi. Our favorite find? The sunflower. An artfully arranged and thin sashimi sliced portion of sear tuna in spicy ponzu is served with tobiko, masago, scallions and a pleasantly rich little quail egg.