Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tweaking Gyros and Pizzas

Who’d a thought that I’d come to Cajun Louisiana and find the best hummus – that Middle Eastern spread/dip made from chickpeas, sesame paste, olive oil, and garlic – ever. Recently, we made a second visit to Cedar Grocery and Deli in Lafayette, because we saw that, in addition to a fine mufaletta, they had gyros on their long list of sandwiches. Since we hadn’t had a gyro since leaving Pennsylvania five months ago, we were long overdue.

On this return visit, we ordered two lamb gyros and, as a last minute addition, an order of hummus and pita bread. The gyros were good but very different from what we’d had before. Instead of being served in a folded pita, Cedar’s was served in a hollowed out and toasted po’boy style roll. And, instead of the thin slices of seasoned ground lamb gyro meat, Cedar’s was served in larger chunks. But the traditional tomato, lettuce, and yogurt-based tzatziki sauce were all present.

While not what we expected, the sandwich was still good. But it was the hummus that stole the show. We got a generous cup of this Middle Eastern staple, which was more coarsely ground that grocery market hummus. It was redolent of garlic and came topped with a film of olive oil to be mixed into the paste. Absolutely wonderful! Since we were getting our hair cut following lunch, frantic gum chewing was needed to offset the strong odor of garlic we both exuded.


When we checked into Frog City RV Park a short five weeks ago, I asked Jim Claxton, who, along with his wife Lynn, is the resident park manager, for a recommendation for a local pizzeria. Jim mentioned the Pizza Palace in Scott. For this, we are eternally in Jim’s debt for we have become regulars at this pizza, pasta, seafood, etc. place during our stay in Duson. ("Swem," our server laughed, "In all my years here, no one ever asked to take my photograph.")

Pizza Palace has the three elements that, to me, define good pizza. The crust is super thin – almost like a cracker – and stays crisp to the last slice. (We were told that the secret to the crust is the addition of beer.) The sauce is applied with a light hand. And the sausage is presented just as I like it.

When in high school in Clinton, Iowa, I worked at a local – but very authentic –pizzeria. The owners ground and seasoned the pork for the Italian sausage in house, and rather than applying the meat in little round discs, the raw sausage was dropped in teaspoon sized pieces. Since then, I have always preferred pieces of sausage to discs of sausage. And the Pizza Palace’s pie has a very generous application of fennel-tasting lean sausage pieces. (This photo shows that the pizza hand is quicker than the photo hand.)

On our early visits, we ordered the large but always left wanting more. So the other night we decided to live dangerously and ordered the GIANT!! Ate this bad boy without breaking a sweat.

A couple of housekeeping items, including the door to the ladies room swelling from humidity such that I almost didn’t get out, resulted in the Pizza Palace being awarded 4.0 (out of a possible 5.0) Addies.

After finishing our pizza and passing along our praises to our server, we were asked if we had tried their fried catfish. Our answer: “No, but that would mean that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the pizza.”

“Our catfish is even better than our pizza” was her quick response.

We met the owner as we were paying our bill and passed along our praises to him, also. He was pleased to hear our comments, but quickly asked, “Have you tried our catfish?”

Before we could expand our “No” to add “but our server said they were even better than the pizza,” he broke in with “They’re the best. As a matter of fact if you think you can find better fried catfish, I’ll pay for your meal.”

At that time a woman walked by, a wide smile across her face and a finger pointing to herself, identifying the one who prepared their entry in what could become The Great Catfish Challenge.

That is conviction I love to hear: a restaurant owner (or a chef/cook) who takes great pride in his and his staff’s product and will challenge others to serve a better product.

The date of the Challenge: TBA

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