Two Fat Bellies Hit the Road – Texas

April 13th, 2014 by virginia

This was my first official trip to Texas, and I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I had driven through it before on a cross country trip with my family, but we didn’t stop anywhere except a rest area somewhere along the highway. I don’t even remember which highway, or which towns/cities we went through. So I was kind of excited yet kind of nervous – most peoples’ reactions when we told them we were going to Texas was, “Why?”

Why indeed. For the food, duh. I wanted to taste Tex Mex cuisine, Texas barbecue, and pretty much anything else I could get my hands on that I wouldn’t be able to have back home. Texas seemed like a good place to be able to consume massive quantities of food and not be judged for it.

We did some sightseeing as well, of course. We had to kill some time in between all the eating so that we could make space in our stomachs for more food. There wasn’t much to see in Houston proper, our first stop, but we did spend a great day exploring the Johnson Space Center. We even got to touch moon rock!

The former Mission Control (a la Apollo 13)

The historic Mission Control (should look familiar if you watched the Apollo 13 movie)

The building where they do training for International Space Center missions

The building where they do training for International Space Center missions

Saturn V rocket display (you can see how big it was compared to J in the background!)

The ginormous Saturn V rocket display

The massive thrusters on the Saturn V rocket

The thrusters on the Saturn V rocket

Shuttlecraft Galileo from Star Trek

Shuttlecraft Galileo from Star Trek

We spent an epic afternoon eating in Lockhart, the barbecue capital of Texas.

Caldwell County Courthouse

Caldwell County Courthouse

We remembered the Alamo in San Antonio, plus a few other less well-known missions that were pretty beautiful.

The Alamo

The Alamo

Mission Concepcion

Mission Concepcion

Mission San Jose

Mission San Jose

Mission San Juan

Mission San Juan

Mission Espada

Mission Espada

We also strolled along the famed River Walk, underneath a twinkly canopy of Christmas lights. We were there during the day as well, but it’s much more magical at night.

A boat on the River Walk

A boat on the River Walk

Endless strands of Christmas lights

Endless strands of Christmas lights

And we saw the Texas State Capitol in Austin and the statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Oh, and a graffiti park. Yeah, there wasn’t a whole lot to see in Austin. But at least the food was good!

State capitol

State Capitol

Stevie Ray Vaughn statue

Stevie Ray Vaughan statue

Walls of graffiti

Walls of graffiti

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised – we had a great time, ate way more food than we should have, and I would happily go back to eat some more; there was still lots that we didn’t get to. All in all, our mini road trip from Louisiana to Texas was a huge success, and we look forward to our next adventure with J.

Apiary

April 9th, 2014 by virginia

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Just wanted to take a break in between the Louisiana and Texas trip to talk about a semi-recent meal we had at Aviary in NYC in February to celebrate our 16th anniversary as a couple. It was a notable anniversary for us because we were both 16 years old when we started dating, so sometime in between this anniversary and the next, we’ll have been together for more than half our lives. I think that’s a pretty cool milestone.

Since J came into the picture, it’s rare for us to have a dinner on our own. We either bring her along with us, or if we can get someone to watch her, we’re usually meeting friends for dinner or going to a party. So when Josh’s parents graciously agreed to watch her for our anniversary, we knew we wanted to have a nice meal out in the city, which is a rare luxury for us these days. After doing a bit of research, we settled on Apiary, a fairly under the radar restaurant with a chef we were both curious about – Scott Bryan.

We had both read about Scott Bryan in Kitchen Confidential, where author/chef Anthony Bourdain sings his praises. After leaving Veritas in 2007, however, we hadn’t really heard much about Chef Bryan since then. He seems like such a talented, passionate cook who is really just focused on the food, not all the PR and other hype surrounding chefs these days, and so we were eager to sample his offerings.

As a side bonus, we went on a Monday, when the restaurant offers no corkage fees. We stopped at Astor Wines nearby and picked up a bottle of white from Tuscany and a bottle of red Chateauneuf du Pape to go with our meal. I had researched the menu online beforehand so I had a good idea of what I wanted to order, but of course I needed Josh to agree with me. Our waiter also came up with a long list of recommendations when asked what dishes he preferred. Rather than going for the 5 course tasting menu, we decided to come up with our own tasting with four appetizers and two entrees, so that we could try more dishes.

While we waited for our food to come out, we noshed on the bread, slices of sourdough with a hearty yet crispy crust. It was delicious with the fruity olive oil that came on the side for dipping.

Sourdough bread and olive oil

Sourdough bread and olive oil

We told our waiter that we planned to share all the dishes, so the kitchen thoughtfully split some of them into two plates for us. For the first course, we were each presented with our own plates of hamachi crudo, and our order of grilled quail was placed in the middle of the table. The hamachi, which is yellowtail fish, was sliced thin and served raw with slices of avocado, hearts of palm, chopped chives, finely diced jalapenos, and a microgreen salad on top. The dish was dressed with a yuzu vinaigrette, and while I loved the pop of the acid and the freshness of the fish and vegetables, Josh thought there was a bit too much citrus on the fish that overwhelmed its delicate flavors. Overall though, we both thought it was a bright dish that woke up our taste buds and was a great start to the meal.

Hamachi crudo, avocado, hearts of palm, jalapeno

Hamachi crudo, avocado, hearts of palm, jalapeno

We were more mixed about the grilled quail dish, as we thought that was a bit odd for them to have presented us with individual crudos while the quail just sort of sat on the table and got cold while we ate our fish. Maybe they expected us to finish our crudo quickly, and then move on to the quail immediately? Logistically, it was also kind of hard to eat the quail while reaching over our crudo plates. I think our waiter saw us struggling a bit and quickly removed the empty plates and provided us with clean small plates to transfer the quail onto, which was a slightly¬† messy affair. The quail itself was well seasoned, but the meat was pretty chewy. Josh picked up his half with his hands and ate the meat off the bone, while I tried a more delicate approach with my knife and fork, which wasn’t very successful. It came with lentils on the side, curried spiced yogurt, and drizzle of paprika oil that added a bit more smoke to the dish. The flavors were intense and exotic, which we enjoyed, but it was hard to get past the chewiness of the quail.

Grilled quail, curried spiced yogurt, french green lentils, orange

Grilled quail, curried spiced yogurt, french green lentils, orange

For our second course, the kitchen split our order of swiss chard and ricotta ravioli. There were two plump raviolis in each bowl that were topped with a piece of fried sage, brown butter, and poppy seeds. The pasta itself was perfectly cooked and gorgeously delicate, both in texture and flavor. The brown butter was a tad greasy but otherwise appropriately rich, and worked well with the sage. The surprise element of the dish was the poppy seeds sprinkled on top, which added a nice dainty crunch to each bite.

Swiss chard and ricotta ravioli, sage brown butter, poppy

Swiss chard and ricotta ravioli, sage, brown
butter, poppy

The last of our appetizer courses was the grilled octopus, which they also split for us. Each portion of tentacle came with romesco sauce, chorizo oil, and arugula dressed with lemon. I took a bite and commented to Josh about how it was probably the most tender octopus I’ve ever eaten, and he looked back at me in surprise and said the texture was only ok. We traded bites and indeed, his octopus was much chewier, with a sort of bounciness to it, while I could have cut my portion with just the side of my fork. Coincidentally, this has happened to us before, where we each had two completely different tentacle textures from the same serving. I thoroughly enjoyed this particular preparation, especially the smokiness from the grill and from the chorizo oil. The arugula salad lightened up the dish and prevented it from feeling too heavy.

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Grilled octopus, romesco, baby arugula, lemon

For our entree course, the kitchen did that thing again where they split one of our dishes (the duck breast) and served the other one (the pork chop) whole at the same time, where it also sat in the middle of the table until we were ready for it. Nevertheless, the duck was simply fabulous – medium rare, beautifully pink, rendered skin, and perfectly seasoned. There were whole green peppercorns in the jus drizzled on top, which had gave each bite a little peppery pop and a slight floral hint. I wasn’t a big fan of the glazed turnips on the side (I found them to be slightly too bitter and acidic, although Josh didn’t mind them), but I enjoyed the pureed parsnips and chewy farro underneath. The duck was the real star of the plate though, and it was our favorite dish of the night.

Long Island duck breast, parsnip puree, farro, glazed Tokyo turnips, green peppercorn-armagnac jus

Long Island duck breast, parsnip puree, farro, glazed Tokyo turnips, green peppercorn-armagnac jus

Josh finished his duck first and dug into the pork chop, still having to reach awkwardly across his duck plate. The pork chop was massive, probably the thickest pork chop we’ve ever gotten at a restaurant, and was cooked through to medium as the chef recommended. It was served on top of a bed of black bean tinga, which is a Mexican style sauce made with chipotles. I thought the beans were just slightly too al dente for my taste, but Josh disagreed and liked that they had texture to them. There was a spiced avocado mash on top of the pork, but I didn’t taste any of the orange ginger glaze that was mentioned on the menu. I thought the pork was seasoned well and the dish had a lot of flavor to it, but it didn’t really wow us. We felt like it was something we can make at home, and Josh’s mom has a similar dish in her repertoire that involves simmering pork chops and black beans in a combination of salsa and tomato sauce. Obviously this was a much more refined dish than the one she makes, and the quality of the pork was vastly superior, but the flavors were almost identical.

Berkshire pork chop, black bean tinga, orange ginger glaze, spiced avocado

Berkshire pork chop, black bean tinga, orange ginger glaze, spiced avocado

I was stuffed to the gills by this point and didn’t even finish my half of the gigantic pork chop, so we were prepared to pass on dessert. Plus we heard from Josh’s mom that J was getting a little fussy and was probably going to be ready for bed soon, and we wanted to see her before she went down for the night since we had left for work before she had gotten up for the day. The waiter surprised us by bringing a vanilla panna cotta with our check, in honor of our anniversary. It was an incredibly nice gesture, and helped to cap off a lovely evening. The panna cotta was smooth and creamy, and we could see real vanilla bean seeds on top. It was served with raspberry coulis that was just slightly tart, which helped cut through the richness of the cream.

Vanilla panna cotta, raspberry coulis

Vanilla panna cotta, raspberry coulis

Overall, we really enjoyed our anniversary meal at Apiary. The meal hit some really high highs (the duck, the raviolis), and didn’t really have any misses. While the quail and the pork chop weren’t our favorites of the evening, they still had great flavor and would probably appeal to a lot of other people. I loved the hamachi and the octopus courses, but the kitchen showed a bit of inconsistency in those dishes as Josh’s octopus was far from the tender specimen I received, and his crudo had too much acid on the plate. As a side note, Josh later confessed that he’s actually not a big fan of octopus in general, because he feels it has no flavor, while I vehemently disagreed. See, even after 16 years together, there are still surprises in our relationship! But in general, we had a great dinner, and service was fabulous. Our waiter was knowledgeable, enthusiastic about the food, and came by to check on us often. With BYO Mondays, Apiary is a great place to go out for a nice, upscale meal without blowing your budget. They also offer a three course prix fixe menu on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays for $38, with items from the regular menu. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Apiary
60 Third Ave.
New York, NY

Lafayette Quickie – Prejean’s Restaurant

February 12th, 2014 by virginia

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When I was researching Lafayette restaurants, Prejean’s came up often in my searches. The reviews were mixed; some said it shouldn’t be missed, others wrote it off as being too touristy. When we checked into our hotel, they offered us coupons from Prejean’s that advertised a free gumbo if we ate there and presented the card. To be honest, that was a bit of a turnoff for me, and I was ready to pass on going but when the restaurant that we wanted to try closed for lunch earlier than we expected, Prejean’s was our only option.

I really wanted to have crawfish etouffee while in the heart of Cajun country, but we were also pretty full from the three pounds of boiled crawfish that we had just put away, so I had Josh order just a side of etouffee rather than a whole entree. I figured it would be much less food, plus we had to eat in the car because J had fallen asleep on the drive over from Breaux Bridge, and we didn’t want to disturb her. The serving was a big cupful and more than enough. The sauce was buttery and creamy – very rich. There were tons of crawfish tails mixed in, which I appreciated. We spooned the etouffee over the white rice they provided on the side, and it was a wonderfully hearty and homey combination. The etouffee was a bit on the sweeter side, and had lots of paprika and other seasonings. I think we liked the original etouffee we tasted at the Acme Oyster House better, but this was still a good version.

Crawfish etouffee with rice

Crawfish etouffee with rice

We also got a crawfish enchilada appetizer, which is supposed to be another one of their specialties. The enchilada was actually pretty tasty, with lots of cheese melted on top and some tomato-y crawfish sauce to round out the flavor. I wished there were more crawfish tails wrapped inside the enchilada though, as they got a bit lost underneath all the cheese and sauce. But it was a nice twist on a shrimp enchilada, and I’m glad to have tried it.

Crawfish enchilada appetizer

Crawfish enchilada appetizer

Overall I don’t know if we could really pass judgment on Prejean’s, as we only got an appetizer and a side dish to go. The food we tasted was good but didn’t blow our minds. If we ever do make it back to Lafayette, there are still other places I want to try for crawfish etouffee.¬† However, the enchilada was a great segue into the next part of our trip – Texas. We hit the road for Houston after leaving Prejean’s, en route to some really amazing Tex Mex food.

Prejean’s Restaurant
3480 NE Evangeline Thruway
Lafayette, LA

The Fruit Stand / Foti’s Market & Cafe – Breaux Bridge, LA

January 30th, 2014 by virginia

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When I was doing research on places to eat in or near Lafayette, I was primarily looking at restaurants that offered crawfish boils. Then I hit a snag – it wasn’t crawfish season. As a result, all of the places that I had on my list were closed or not offering boils this time of year. I was pretty disappointed but didn’t want to give up hope. When I saw that Breaux Bridge was the “Crawfish Capitol of the World”, I knew that it would be our best bet for finding live crawfish.

After our tasty breakfast at Meche’s Donut King, we asked the friendly young women behind the counter if they knew of anywhere to get boiled crawfish. They suggested either The Fruit Stand or Crazy ‘Bout Crawfish. The latter was right off the highway and looked a bit touristy, plus I couldn’t find a menu online that said if they were currently serving fresh crawfish. The Fruit Stand, on the other hand, looked like just that – a farmer’s market, not a restaurant. But there was a sign outside that said “boiled crawfish”, so we were pretty much sold.

Boiled crawfish!

Boiled crawfish!

The outer part of The Fruit Stand is Foti’s Market & Cafe, where you can order burgers, sandwiches, and other assorted grill/fry items. We went inside to the supermarket part of the store, which has assorted fruits, vegetables, seafood, and grocery items for sale. We asked about the live crawfish, which they said was fresh, but that because it was winter time, the specimens available were smaller, as the larger crawfish bury themselves deep in the mud to avoid the cold. We took a peek at the big bucket of crawfish, and they seemed pretty decent in size to us so we ordered up three pounds (the minimum) at $4.99/pound. We were asked how spicy we wanted the boil to be, and when we asked how spicy “spicy” was, it was recommended that we get the mild version. We didn’t argue, but wondered how spicy a boil could possibly be. Silly us.

We waited at a table back in the cafe area while they cooked up our crawfish, which was presented to us in a giant tray and topped with two boiled potatoes and a piece of corn on the cob. The crawfish were brilliant red in color, both from the shells and to the seasoning liberally applied.

Three pounds of boiled crawfish

Three pounds of boiled crawfish

After dropping off our tray, the guy who made the boil offered to rinse off some of the seasoning for us. We made the mistake of declining. Initially, the first few bites were great. The crawfish were sweet and perfectly cooked so that they were tender, not dried out or tough. The seasoning, which appeared to be predominantly salt, ground cloves, and cayenne pepper, had a nice kick. But gradually, that kick built. And built. Until we had tears in our eyes and runny noses. At first, we were cracking open and eating the tail meat, and then sucking on the heads. In the end, sucking on the heads proved to be too painful due to all the spice in the seasoning.

Crawfish and seasoning up close

Crawfish and seasoning up close

After drinking a lot of beer (me) and water (Josh, since he was driving) and chewing on the boiled potatoes, we decided to just take some time to let our mouths cool off while we shelled all of the tails at once. Once we were done shelling and had a mountain of crawfish meat in front of us, we wiped the spice off our hands as best as we could and proceeded to feast on the tail meat. I was sad to leave all the heads behind, but there was no way to get past the seasoning. Eventually, all I was tasting was the cloves and cayenne anyway, not the briny goodness of the head innards.

Tails, heads, and shells

Tails, heads, and shells

Considering this was our first crawfish boil, I thought we got through the mountain of crawfish well enough. We had no issues pulling off the heads and cracking open the tails with our hands. Even though these were off-season “smaller” crawfish, I didn’t find their size to be too puny, and the flavor was better than any frozen crawfish tails we’ve tasted before. The small size did prevent us from enjoying the claw meat, which yielded so little return that it was just not worth our effort to crack them open.

I have to admit that I wasn’t a huge fan of the crawfish boil seasoning used here, as I have an aversion to cloves. I don’t know if most boil seasonings taste like cloves, but the flavor was really overwhelming after a while and I wished that we had chosen to have the crawfish rinsed before we ate them. But the crawfish themselves were obviously fresh (we saw them alive) and their meat was sweet and tender. At $4.99/pound, I would be buying many pounds if I had access to these back home. Next time, we’ll know better that “mild” is still “super spicy”. Overall, however, I was just thrilled to have found a place that prepared crawfish boil in the off-season.

The Fruit Stand/Foti’s Market & Cafe
200 W Mills Ave.

Breaux Bridge, LA

Meche’s Donut King – Breaux Bridge, LA

January 23rd, 2014 by virginia

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After consulting roadfood.com for a place to grab a local-style breakfast, we drove about 15 minutes from our hotel in Lafayette to the neighboring town of Breaux Bridge. While Cafe des Amis was considered to be the best place for their Zydeco breakfast, it’s only on Saturdays and we were there on a Thursday. We decided to go for a more casual route with donuts and coffee, plus a few local specialties.

Kolaches originated in Central Europe and are pretty popular in Louisiana and Texas. They’re typically sausages wrapped in dough and baked, sort of like a breadier version of pigs in a blanket. I had tasted a kolache before, when a friend brought them to NYC from Texas, but never one that was warm and fresh. Meche’s was out of boudin kolaches but still had sausage and cheese kolaches available so we decided to try one of those. We opted for the jalapeno version, which had pieces of the spicy pepper baked right into the dough and gave it a nice little kick.

Sausage, cheese, and jalapeno kolache

Sausage, cheese, and jalapeno kolache

The sausage is more like a hot dog than an Italian or breakfast sausage, and a thin slice of cheese was wrapped around it and was melty and slightly gooey. The bread itself was soft, chewy, and slightly sweet. It was a great combination of salty, sweet, and savory.

Kolache innards

Kolache innards

We also tried the creole stuffed bread, which was a thinner, slightly denser dough baked around a mix of ground sausage, peppers, and spices. The sausage here was more like a traditional breakfast sausage broken up into small crumbles. It was an incredibly savory mix that was well seasoned and just exploded with flavor. I don’t even like breakfast sausage and I was in love with this stuffed bread.

Creole stuffed bread innards

Creole stuffed bread innards

And of course, we had to taste the donuts. We actually got to the shop shortly before they closed so there wasn’t a whole lot left to choose from. We decided to stay classic with a regular glazed donut and a chocolate glazed one. I had been hoping to try their beignets, which I read were like cinnamon sugar dusted yeast donuts rather than the more fritter-like beignets of Cafe Du Monde, but no such luck. Still, the classics were great. The donuts were fluffy and light, eggy with a slight hint of vanilla. I commented to Josh that they tasted like good french toast, in donut form (and minus any cinnamon). The glazes were sweet but not overwhelming so; they were the perfect pairing for cups of Community Coffee that we were drinking.

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Glazed and chocolate glazed donuts

We had a great breakfast at Meche’s Donut King, which I think might be a franchise as there appear to be other unrelated branches in Lafayette and elsewhere in Louisiana. But the donuts tasted fresh and didn’t have that chemical aftertaste that I usually experience with donuts from chains back home. The real stars of the meal, however, were the kolache and the creole stuffed bread. I’m partial to savory breakfasts in general, and I’d happily eat these every day of the week. I just loved the flavor of the stuffed bread filling, and the combination of the hot dog sausage, cheese, and jalapenos was something I might try to replicate here.

Meche’s Donut King
125 Courthouse St.
Breaux Bridge, LA

Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro – Lafayette, LA

January 21st, 2014 by virginia

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Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro was probably the nicest restaurant we went to on our Louisiana/Texas trip. We had eaten pretty casually while in New Orleans and were in the mood for something a little more upscale when we got to Lafayette. We hoped that J would be on her best behavior, but we also figured that it wouldn’t be too crowded on a Wednesday night so in case she did make a scene, she wouldn’t bother too many people.

The restaurant itself is in a beautiful space. There’s a big bar in front when you walk in, and the large room is split in two by a staircase to the upper level. The ceilings are tall and appeared to be painted tin with lots of intricate details. The hostess didn’t bat an eye when she saw us walk in with a baby, and after we settled J into a highchair, she brought over crayons and a coloring sheet – a good sign that this was a kid-friendly bistro.

After placing our order, we were presented with an amuse bouche made from beets. It had the consistency of an airy mousse and was savory and sweet at the same time. The amuse was a nice little spoonful to whet our appetites.

Beet amuse bouche

Amuse bouche featuring beets

The bread was sort of a flat, chewy loaf, served warm with flavored butter. After all the french bread we ate in New Orleans, it was a welcome change of pace. J was pretty content to only eat this bread for her meal.

Bread

Flat, chewy loaf of bread

We decided to share an appetizer to start. After two false starts (we tried to order bone marrow first, and then the rabbit bites, but they ended up being out of both), we finally settled on bacon wrapped dates stuffed with ricotta and pistachios. It’s a pretty classic salty/sweet combination, further enhanced by the rosemary-port glaze on the outside of the bacon. However, I wished the bacon was a bit crispier, as it wound up being more chewy. The ricotta in the middle added a nice creaminess that should have acted as a counterpoint to crispy bacon. Nevertheless, it was a nice little snack, and one that I may try to replicate at home.

The dates

Bacon wrapped dates stuffed with ricotta and toasted pistachios

For our entrees, I selected the Zapp’s Crawtator crusted drum while Josh chose the crispy duck. As usual, we swapped plates halfway through. The drum, which is a meaty local fish, was completely covered with crushed Zapp’s potato chips. The chips were still in good-sized pieces though, which I found a bit surprising, and the crust also wasn’t as crispy as I would have preferred. The Cajun seasoning on the chips were subtle and worked well with the mildly flavored fish. There was a crawfish cream sauce on top, which is what originally sold me on the dish. I was expecting something similar to etouffee, but it was more creamy and bisque-like, which wasn’t a bad thing. The dish came with a choice of a side and we opted for the duck fat fingerling potatoes. Although they looked a bit pale, they were actually well seasoned and pretty flavorful. It was a heavy dish overall though, so even though I did enjoy it, I was glad that we went halfsies.

Zapp's Crawtator crusted Louisiana drum with crawfish cream sauce, and a side of duck fat fingerling potatoes

Zapp’s Crawtator crusted Louisiana drum and a side of duck fat fingerling potatoes

The duck had gorgeous skin that was perfectly rendered and crispy, as advertised. The meat inside was tender, and the pecan-orange agro dolce was appropriately tangy and sweet. There wasn’t a lot of sauce covering the meat, which let the flavor of the duck shine. The grits on the side were a bit firmer and not as creamy as I prefer, but they had a nice sweet corn taste to them.

Crispy duck with sweet cream corn grits

Crispy duck with sweet cream corn grits

Overall, we were pretty happy with our dinner at Jolie’s. It was upscale food with a Creole twist, and I like that they support local farmers and the farm-to-table ideals. Although there were minor execution problems, I think the dishes were well thought out and interesting to eat. The restaurant is on the pricier side but in line with the quality of food we received. Starters and small plates mostly ranged from $11-$14, and there were lots of entrees between $20-$25. Service was great; everyone was friendly and attentive, making sure our water and wine glasses were always filled. It was just a pleasant meal in general, and a restaurant that I would recommend to visitors.

Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro
507 West Pinhook Rd.
Lafayette, LA

Lafayette Quickie – Johnson’s Boucaniere

January 14th, 2014 by virginia

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After trying the hot boudin at Cochon Butcher in New Orleans, we were curious about the boudin that is served in the heart of Cajun country. A little roadfood.com research led us to Johnson’s Boucaniere, which is located on the edge of the downtown area. It’s basically a house with sign out front that says “Hot boudin to-day”. We got there right before they closed up shop, and while there is a menu board with sandwiches listed, we really just wanted to try the boudin. We got one link to share, which they helpfully split open for us before wrapping it up in white paper. We took it outside to the picnic table area on the large porch so that we could eat it immediately, while it was still steaming hot.

We did take a picture of the boudin before we ate it but it was.. ahem.. unpublishable. Seriously, it did not look appetizing at all, and I didn’t want to subject the internet to it. If you’re curious, send me an email or leave a comment. But it tasted really good, I promise. There was smoky pork flavor and a peppery kick that I was not expecting. The ratio of rice to meat was pretty even, and the casing was thicker than the one at Cochon Butcher, but it didn’t matter because I think you’re only supposed to eat the insides anyway. Overall we found boudin to be a unique type of sausage, vastly from the Italian style that we’re used to, and great by itself or with a little mustard. While it’s not something I would eat every day, it was nice to try out a local specialty.

Johnson’s Boucaniere
1111 St John St.
Lafayette, LA

Two Fat Bellies Hit the Road – Lafayette and Breaux Bridge

January 12th, 2014 by virginia

Part 2 of our Louisiana/Texas tour was the heart of Cajun country – Lafayette and Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. I had read many articles about how Lafayette was the Cajun food capital with many great places to eat, and this being a food vacation, I added it to our list of destinations. We arrived in Lafayette early Wednesday evening, and while there was a cute downtown area, I was surprised by just how dead it was. The entire area seemed empty, even though there looked to be plenty of restaurants on the main street. Outside of downtown, however, Lafayette was a sprawling and busy suburban city with lots of shopping centers. We went to Breaux Bridge the next morning and its downtown was essentially two streets, but it had a quaint, small-town feel to it that I liked. There were a lot of farms just outside of town and more wide open spaces, and the bayou there was pretty picturesque. While there wasn’t a whole lot to see in these cities, it was a nice stopover that broke up our drive to Texas and let us experience more local Louisiana cuisine.

Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Lafayette, LA

Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Lafayette, LA

The Breaux Bridge in Breaux Bridge, LA

The Breaux Bridge in Breaux Bridge, LA

Bayou Teche

Bayou Teche

Willie Mae’s Scotch House – New Orleans

January 11th, 2014 by virginia

 

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Our last sit-down meal in New Orleans was also one of the best we had during our vacation. The fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House is pretty legendary, and I didn’t want to leave town without trying it. After picking up our rental car for the rest of our trip, we drove straight to Willie Mae’s in Mid-City for a fried chicken breakfast.

The area surrounding Willie Mae’s is definitely a little bit more depressed than the touristy French Quarter or Garden District. The neighborhood was hit hard by Katrina, and volunteers actually helped rebuild the restaurant which had been completely destroyed. I don’t know what it was like pre-Katrina, but it looked to us like a charming old school luncheonette located in a white house on a corner of a mostly residential neighborhood.

The unassuming white building that houses Willie Mae's

The unassuming white building where Willie Mae’s Scotch House is located

The restaurant opens at 11 and we got there around 11:30 so I was worried that we would have to wait in line or deal with the lunch rush. Fortunately we got there just in time and were seated immediately, though the place was full the entire time we were there. We knew that we were ordering fried chicken but we debated for a bit whether we should get two orders of fried chicken, or if we should just get one order and try something else from the menu. Since three pieces of chicken come to an order, it was easy for us to share a plate and get something different as well. We opted for the country fried pork chop, which is coated in batter and then fried. The crust is more tempura-like than the fried chicken’s coating. It was not as crispy but was well seasoned, and the pork chop inside was still juicy and tender.

Country fried pork chop

Country fried pork chop

We got to pick a side dish with the pork chop and opted for red beans. The side portion turned out to be a huge bowl of soupy beans served with a mound of rice. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten red beans before and therefore have no basis for comparison, but I thought these were fantastic. Simple but well seasoned, flavorful, and perfectly balanced with the rice, I couldn’t stop eating it. I’ll need to see if I can find a recipe somewhere!

Red beans and rice

Red beans and rice

But back to the main event: the fried chicken. Just to preface, I am by no means a fried chicken connoisseur. Any fried chicken craving that I have is easily satisfied by a run to the nearest KFC, and I’m just as happy eating the prefabricated, commercial grade sludge that passes for frozen chicken fingers. “Upscale” restaurant fried chicken has been pretty hyped this year, and I usually don’t buy into that. Why should I pay ~$15 for two or three pieces of fried chicken when the same amount can get me a 6-piece bucket plus biscuits and sides? Well, if all of these restaurant fried chickens are like Willie Mae’s, then I’ve been missing out. It is unbelievably good and definitely the best I’ve ever had. And at $10 for three pieces with one side plus a vegetable, it’s a bargain. The chicken is perfectly fried to a deep brown color, and the crust is feather light and not greasy in the slightest. It shattered spectacularly when I bit into my piece (I took the thigh while Josh ate the breast; we split the wing), and was well seasoned. J loved eating all the fragments of crust that came off the chicken and couldn’t get enough of them. The chicken itself was also super juicy and flavorful throughout, like it had been brined. I like dark meat because it’s usually more tender and less prone to drying out, but I took a bite of the breast and was just as pleased with the juiciness and flavor.

Fried chicken with macaroni and cheese and peas

Fried chicken with macaroni and cheese and peas

For the side, I chose macaroni and cheese. It was casserole style so baked and on the drier side, but still cheesy in flavor. It just needed a dash of salt to liven it up a bit. The vegetable of the day was peas. Both were fine, though nothing special. Everything just paled in comparison to the fried chicken.

Overall we both absolutely loved Willie Mae’s. The fried chicken was beyond my expectations, and I still drool a little every time I think about it. I was happy to have tried the country fried pork chop, but I also regret not getting a second order of fried chicken. We heard people ordering fried chicken plates with an additional side of fried chicken (3 pieces for $7.50), and now I understand why. The food in general was just simple and homey but expertly prepared; it was the ultimate comfort food destination. Service was fast and friendly, and both the sweet tea and the lemonade were great accompaniments to the meal. Don’t let the fact that it’s far away from the touristy areas of New Orleans deter you from going. It’s truly a special dining destination that should not be missed.

Willie Mae’s Scotch House
2401 St Ann St.
New Orleans, LA

New Orleans Quickie – Cafe Du Monde

January 9th, 2014 by virginia

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No trip to New Orleans would be complete without a trip to the famous Cafe Du Monde for some hot, milky cafe au lait and freshly fried beignets covered in powdered sugar.

Cafe au lait and beignets

Cafe au lait and beignets

Although there was a line for beignets to go, there were plenty of tables available in the large seating area under the awning when we stopped by for a late afternoon snack. J had plenty of space to run around and was originally reluctant to taste a beignet until we convinced her to take a bite. Then she couldn’t get enough and wound up sporting a spectacular powdered sugar mustache. Who could blame her? The beignets are piping hot, crispy on the outside, chewy in the middle, and the perfect vehicle for a mountain of powdered sugar. Cafe Du Monde is definitely a New Orleans institution that shouldn’t be missed.

Cafe Du Monde
800 Decatur St.
New Orleans, LA