Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Extra!! Extra!!!

The French Press in Lafayette, LA, serves an extraordinary breakfast.

I found the local equivalent to Albuquerque’s Gil Garduno (Gil’s Thrilling [And Filling] Blog) at www.cajunfoodie.com. While not as prolific as Gil, Cajun Foodie has directed us to a couple of places we might not have found on our own. The first of these was The French Press.

“The French Press is a joint venture by husband and wife, Justin and Margaret Girouard,... (who) are both from the Lafayette area, but met while attending the University of New Orleans. While at school, Girouard began working as a dishwasher for Chef Scott Boswell at Restaurant Stella. Over time, Boswell gave Girouard more duties until he rose to sous chef, dropped out of school and turned to full-time cooking as his profession.... The couple has two young daughters and wanted to be closer to family, so relocating to Lafayette was a natural”

The restaurant is located (along with a Mexican-style cantina and a wine shop) in the old Tribune Printing Plant building and the owners have made an effort to evoke the spirit of the building’s original use. The Girouards “fell in love with both the old building and its rustic ambiance.... They restored the interior, including painting the original pressed tin ceiling and sealing the ink-stained concrete floor, that still bears the footprints of the printers who once published on the spot....

"One wall exists in its naked beauty, stains and cracks exposed, giving the restaurant an almost French Quarter appeal....

"Old typeface drawers hang sideways as artwork,

"and a large cabinet of typeface shelves serves as the hostess station, next to the original exposed mechanisms used to power the shop”

When we arrived one weekday morning for a late--10:30 a.m.—breakfast, we had the place to ourselves. Later, two other parties arrived—one, like us, for a late breakfast and the other for an early lunch. Later, we’ll let you know why this is important.

Upon first look, I thought that the bar, which dominates the back of the restaurant’s space, had been made with old wooden beams. I looked again and realized that these weren’t wood but steel I-beams (photos right and below), which were appropriate given the building’s original industrial use.

The French Press is open for breakfast and lunch (Tu-Sun) and for dinner on Friday and Saturday. The lunch menu is rather standard with sandwiches, wraps, and salads, but the breakfast menu shows real imagination in the use of southern and Cajun ingredients in new and creative ways. Yes, you can order a breakfast sandwich, eggs Benedict, pancakes, granola, steak and eggs, and the classic eggs/meat/ potatoes breakfast. And with many of the offerings you have the choice of potatoes or cheddar grits.

But you can also order: the Acadian Breakfast Sandwich with bacon, egg, cheese, and boudin sausage on grilled Texas toast; French Toast stuffed with cream cheese and bananas with a strawberry-champagne compote (house-made vanilla ice cream is extra—oh! the decadence!); Grits & Grillades (Vermont cheddar cheese corn grits with stewed tomatoes, Uncle Sammy's grillades, two eggs any style, and garlic butter French bread).

Chuck selected the breakfast discussed by Cajun Foodie—The Sweet Baby Breesus. This was three biscuit “sliders,” each served with bacon and boudin balls made with Hebert’s (pronounced “A-bears”) boudin and then drizzled with sweet Steen’s cane syrup. As described by the Cajun Foodie: “The result itself certainly did not disappoint: warm biscuits with the perfect amount of crumble, good boudin-to-bacon ratio, and a side of crispy-edged Breakfast Potatoes to boot. What could have made this dish better? Nothing. And for me that is a rare feat….” The combination of salt (bacon), pepper (boudin), and sweet (cane syrup) was sumptuous.

My selection was the Cajun Eggs Benedict-–two slices of toasted French bread topped with boudin, medium poached eggs and cheese over which was ladled chicken and sausage gumbo. One thing we have learned is that we don’t care for boudin eaten in the casing. But remove the pork and rice mixture from the casing and fry it—wonderful. The egg yolks here were still liquid enough to seep into the gumbo, and the hearty French bread didn’t turn to mush when it absorbed the gumbo. Again we have a breakfast staple—Eggs Benedict—morphed into something entirely new with the use of boudin and gumbo.

We returned the following Saturday morning and found that the restaurant was far busier than on our earlier visit. What we didn’t notice on a weekday was the noise level that can result from the lack of any sound absorbing soft surfaces. What with concrete floors, tin ceiling, and bare walls, the sounds ricocheted around the room.

This time Chuck ordered the Acadian Breakfast Sandwich (eggs, boudin, bacon, and cheese [I call it the “coronary sandwich”] on grilled Texas toast. Since the eggs had been cooked “over easy,” this became an extremely messy item to eat out of hand. Again, the lowly fast food breakfast staple had been elevated to another dimension. And I shouldn’t overlook the potatoes that accompanied both of Chuck’s meals. Since I like my potatoes crisper, these weren’t my potatoes. But he thought that they were crisp enough, and the addition of a little chopped scallion gave them a mild “oniony” flavor.

That morning, I chose a dish that is essential on many southern brunch tables—the grillades and grits. “The origin of grillades has been the subject of many arguments in Bayou Country. It is believed that the dish originated when the country butchers preparing the boucherie (Editor’s Note: “a party centered around the butchering of a pig”) sliced thin pieces of fresh pork and pan-fried these with sliced onions. The cooking took place, most feel, in black iron pots over the boucherie fires. The grillades were then eaten over grits or rice throughout the day…. One of the things I find most interesting about grillades is that it's one of those dishes that has a place on all rungs of the social ladder. Grillades may be eaten on the share-cropper’s breakfast table or on the grand buffets of New Orleans” (myweb.cableone. net).

Grillades can be made from veal, beef, and, in the case of my meal, pork. The dish contained four good sized slices of super tender long cooked meat along with pork “debris” (sometimes pronounced “day-BREE”) swimming in a savory gravy that contained some chopped tomato pieces. And the yolk from my medium poached eggs again ran into and flavored the gravy.

And, just as I consider bagels to be an excuse to eat copious amounts of cream cheese, I consider grits to be an excuse to eat copious amounts of butter and/or cheese (or better, both). And these grits were rich and creamy from great cheddar cheese. To be sure, this was a hearty “working person’s” breakfast. The only problem—I no longer work, so these calories will take a while to wear off.

This is a wonderful breakfast spot, which we might not have discovered without the help of the Cajun Foodie.

Thanks, Cajun Foodie, for sending us to this 5.0 Addie spot.

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