A Culinary and Cultural Tour of Acadiana
Text by JR Rosenthal
Photos by Skip Kaltenheuser
Ron “Gator” Guidry was my first entree to the elegance and friendly charm of Acadian French culture in Cajun Country. Guidry, the soft-spoken, Hall of Fame left-handed pitcher for the New York Yankees, hails from the Acadian-mecca of Lafayette, Louisiana. While pitching in the media spotlight of the Big Apple during the salad days of great Yankee teams in the ‘70s, Guidry evoked the down-home Cajun blend of peppery humor and big-hearted warmth that makes a visit to the various Parishes of southwestern Louisiana so unique.
Guidry still lives in Lafayette, a medium-sized Southern city that feels like a small town, with its tree-lined streets, cafés and Catholic Churches-on-almost-every-corner. And yet this jumping-off point for a culinary tour of Cajun Country boasts a first-rate university (University of Louisiana-Lafayette) and a host of excellent restaurants and bars (see Acadian Highlights for recommendations).
THE CAJUN TOUR OF GUSTATORY GREATNESS
DUPUY’S OYSTER SHOP
Abbeville, LA—THE PARISH OF VERMILION
108 S. Main St.
Jody Hebert runs this local favorite with a deep respect for maintaining its tradition as the go-to place for oysters on the half shell, crab and crawfish. Dupuy’s Oyster Shop feels like a neighborhood hangout, with a small, rustic bar that is the ideal spot for enjoying several strong drinks before sitting down to a meal that authentically presents the jewels of Vermilion Parish cuisine. “When I bought Dupuy’s I knew that I was keeping alive a tradition for Cajun cooking that goes all the way back to when it opened in 1869,” says Hebert. “My goal has always been to dish out the great food that Vermilion Parish is famous for.”
My favorite local oyster specialties are Oysters De Ville on the half shell, char-grilled beauties with loads of garlic and butter, finished with Parmesan and Romano for a perfect crust; Oysters Dupuy, with a homemade crabmeat stuffing and a layer of pepperjack cheese that balances the spice in the crab stuffing with great depth of flavor; and Oysters Rockefeller, topped with a spinach cream sauce and grilled until the mozzarella boils and bubbles its way over layers of savory perfection.
Among other offerings at Dupuy’s, my top choice is the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake made with a spicy Bechamel (a mixture of flour, heavy cream and butter) as its binder and topped with crawfish, capers, diced tomatoes and drizzled with white wine and cream. The combination of the local lump crab, caught just hours earlier for maximum freshness, and the beautiful crawfish is enough to convince any serious foodie that moving to Abbeville and dining at Dupuy’s three or four times per week would be one of the greatest rewards for an obsession for Cajun culture.
No trip to Dupuy’s would be complete without an order of Fried Boudin Balls (boudin is a mixture pork, rice and vegetables) and Grilled Alligator Sausage on a Stick. What stands out most about Dupuy’s is that the food is locally sourced and is prepared with so much love and attention to detail that dining here borders on a religious experience.
Abbeville, LA—THE PARISH OF VERMILION
701 West Port Street
Other than the silly name, this eclectic purveyor of oyster dishes gone wild is a great hot spot in this beautiful Parish of Vermilion. Owners David Bertrand and Bert Istre have invented the most delicious oyster dressing you will find in Cajun Country—or anywhere, for that matter. What started as the house salad dressing (the Sugar Cane Vinaigrette) has evolved into a rarefied sauce that is the keynote speaker on one of the best oysters dishes ever produced.
Shucks Sugar Cane Pepper Glaze is the ideal pairing of sweet and spicy, and the perfect flavor complement to the smoky, sexy oysters that are fresh from the local oyster beds. The Candied Oysters are char-broiled with crumbled feta and blue cheese and drizzled with a generous helping of the pepper glaze. As the pepper glaze and cheese caramelizes over the oysters, the chemical reaction “candies” the oysters in much the same way that sugar clings to a delicate chestnut in the classic French confection Marron Glace (chestnuts in a sugar syrup). Suffice it to say, I was able to easily manage to eat 12 Candied Oysters (12 oysters are what you get with the Super Sampler).
Other highlights on what is an extensive menu of local favorites include an excellent Smoked Duck and Andouille Gumbo, Creamy Oyster Stew and Shrimp Remoulade.
STEAMBOAT WAREHOUSE RESTAURANT
Washington, LA—ST LANDRY PARISH
513 North Main Street
Chef/owner Jason Huguet is one of the most gifted rising-star chefs in the USA today. His knowledge of French/Acadian technique merged with his penchant for buying the best local seafood makes this elegant, yet informal, dining room a very special experience. My favorite element of the menu was the option of adding a side dish of Crawfish Etouffee to any main course for a mere $4.95. And trust me, gentle reader, this not your grandmother’s etouffee! The purity of flavor in the local crawfish is the star of this dish, rather than the richness of the sauce that you would usually find in the French Quarter of New Orleans. My favorite main dishes on Chef Jason’s menu include the Shrimp Betsy, large gulf shrimp sautéed in a broth composed of olive oil, herbs and spices with hot French bread for dipping; the Stuffed Filet of Catfish with a filling of crabmeat, shrimp and crawfish; and Crawfish Palmetto, pan-fried and served on a bed of wild rice pilaf and topped with a crawfish cream sauce and Louisiana tails.
- Blue Dog Café (337-237-0005) in Lafayettefeatures the paintings of New Iberia, Louisiana, artist George Rodrigue and the best Sunday Brunch in Cajun Country.
- Blue Moon Saloon & Guesthouse (877-766-Blue) is the hippest club/bar/hostel in Louisiana. A must for fun-loving types of all ages.
- Regatta Seafood & Steakhouse (337-774-1504) in Port Arthur (Jefferson Davis Parish) offers excellent food right on the water, with a great pier for boaters to cruise in for a meal, cocktails or whatever.
- Gator Chateau (337-616-4311) in the Louisiana Oil & Gas Park allows you to check out live alligators in an outdoor enclosure and to watch baby alligators in an air-conditioned viewing area.
- Stansel Rice Mill (337-536-6140) in Gueydan, Louisiana, makes the most delicious aromatic popcorn rice you will ever try. Located 20 minutes south of I-10 between Lafayette and Lake Charles, it also offers tours of its crawfish pond (in season).
- Bayou Cabins (337-332-6158) are the gateway to historic Bayou Teche and the place to stay in the historic town on Breaux Bridge located in beautiful St. Martin Parish. Owners Rocky and Lisa Sonnier are wonderful people who will take good care of all your needs.
- Shadows-on-the-Teche Plantation Home and Gardens (337-369-6446) is a must-see while in New Iberia. This elegant mansion was built in 1834 by a wealthy sugar planter, and was home to four generations before becoming a National Trust Historic Site.
- Mulate’s The Original Cajun Restaurant (337-332-4648) in Breaux Bridge offers Cajun music and rustic, authentic food in an informal and festive setting.
- Harbourage House Bed & Breakfast (337-826-4875) in Washington, LA, in St Landry Parish is the place to stay if you are looking for beautiful gardens, a lovely home and gourmet food in a vintage B & B.
IF YOU GO
American Airlines (800-433-7300) offers daily flights to Lafayette, Louisiana, from all over the USA and is the best option for making your trips efficient and cost-effective.