Monday, March 28, 2011

It’s Noon at Olde Tyme Grocery. . .

and chaos reigns.

Having been disappointed by the Number One Lafayette restaurant on, we weren’t sure what to expect at Olde Tyme Grocery. (The tile sign in the photo is on the sidewalk outside of what may have been a grocery at one time, but today is primarily a po-boy shop that also sells snack items and beverages.) But it had been recommended by the folks that we spoke with while eating a late lunch at Original Don’s Seafood (see 3/13/11) and by no less an expert than The Cajun Foodie.

“Well-loved by locals and passers-through alike, Olde Tyme is currently ranked number two in our poll for the fried shrimp po-boy…The fried shrimp po-boy is comprised of a pile of golden fried shrimp, a couple slices of ripe tomato, mayo and lettuce. Stuffed into fresh Langlinais bread with a pillowy interior and crackly crust, this po-boy truly could be the definitive example of what this sandwich should be” (

And Old Tyme Grocery has been voted The Times' (the local free entertainment newspaper) Best Deli, Po-boy and Sandwich in Acadiana. Best in Acadiana? We’ve been promised that before.

Olde Tyme Grocery is located just two blocks from the campus of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the combination of proximity, low prices, and good food make this a popular spot for college students. But the “eat in” crowd during our two recent lunches wasn’t just students. We shared the indoor dining room with a couple of police officers, senior citizens, families with small children, business people, and a smattering of students. In fact, it appears that most students take their food “to go.”

The crowd first assembles in a small and rather cluttered room where you place your order in one location, step to the right a few paces and tell the cashier what you have ordered (Yes, the honor system is at work here.), pay, and wait for your name to be called. Imagine at least thirty people moving from place to place, opening the cold cases for beverages, and milling around the iced tea dispenser. Pande-monium might be a better descriptor than chaos.

The menu is really simple. Po-boys, a couple of salads, and fries. With the exception of the half and half (shrimp and oysters), the po-boys can be ordered as a whole or half sandwich.

The main dining area had this older menu just standing on one end in one corner of the room. It was a sign of prices and times gone by, and I wish it could find a place of prominence on a wall of the grocery.

Chuck ordered the dressed (lettuce, tomato, mayo) whole shrimp po-boy (left), while I ordered the half and half. I had my choice of having the shrimp and oysters mixed or each served separately. Wanting to taste the unique flavors of each, I chose the separated. And, silly me, I asked Chuck if we really needed fries. We shared an order of fries.

The first thing you need to know is that these sandwiches are HUGE. I picked up mine and immediately knew I was in trouble. I started with the oyster half. The oysters were on the small side but had been expertly coated and fried. But, being small, they lacked the plump juiciness of my oysters at the Firehouse Café.

Next I tackled the shrimp half and, about a third of the way in, knew that some adjustment was needed. I was never going to finish, and this is not a sandwich that you take home and reheat. So, I elected to eat just the shrimp and scratch the bread. I counted the remaining shrimp. There were seven so I calculate that the half contained at least ten good sized shrimp. After having eaten the entire oyster half, I was hard-pressed to finish the shrimp half—even without the bread.

But finish I did because the shrimp were that good. Like most Louisiana fried seafood, they were coated with a seasoned fry mix that was part flour and part cornmeal. This combination makes for a light, but crunchy, coating. And there was nary an overcooked shrimp on the sandwich.

Our shared order of wedge fries was OK. Since I am not a big fan of wedge (or steakhouse) fries, I am perhaps not the best judge here. Still, we managed to consume the entire order.

At a later date, we were back in the neighbor-hood and looking for lunch. A second visit to Olde Tyme Grocery seemed to be in order. Again, the place was packed. After we had repeated the routine—order, pay, and wait for our name to be called—I went looking for a seat. I thought that we would need to sit on the outside patio, which, given that the day was hot and humid--humid only in the way it can get in South Louisiana, was not an appealing prospect. But, lucky me, a table inside was suddenly free.

Having learned my lesson, I ordered the half shrimp and it was as good as on the previous visit—with one proviso to be discussed later. Chuck ordered the half sausage po-boy and an order of fries.

I unwrapped Chuck’s sandwich first. (All orders come in a brown paper bag as if you were taking the food “to go.”) One look and I could tell that this was not sausage. This was corned beef. When I brought this to Chuck’s attention, he took one look at the mob still milling in the other room and declared: “Corned beef. Just what I really wanted.” This must be why one blog commenter said that when ordering take-out he always checks what’s in his bag before leaving the shop. It was decent corned beef—thin sliced and moist—but it wasn’t the sausage sandwich Chuck ordered.

Some locals think that Olde Tyme Grocery’s po-boys are the equal to, if not better than, those found in New Orleans. I disagree. And it is all about the bread. Yes, it was pillowy and chewy as the Cajun Foodie promised. But it was missing the crackly crust of Parkway Bakery’s. And the bread-to-filling ratio was off. The bread portion on my second sandwich was almost as wide as long. Way too much bread. (Notice that I didn’t ask for more filling—just less bread.)

Even with these missteps, I would certainly return to Olde Tyme Grocery and give the po-boys a 4.0 Addie rating.

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