Monday, April 11, 2011

Kate’s Rules

We’ll get to the rules in a few minutes.

It’s a long story about why we were returning to Duson after a short visit to Baton Rouge. (Did you know that Baton Rouge means “red stick” and refers to the painted stick that was used as a guide to the optimum ripeness of a chile pepper at picking time?)

I won’t bore you with the details, but we found ourselves on I-10 headed west at mid-afternoon, and we were lunchless. I knew from reading numerous travel guides and from billboards along the road that we would soon be passing the exit for Crawfish Town USA. And I had read on-line reviews like this one from “…The food is as pleasant as the heavily decorated dining room and is prepared to your taste: mild, strong, or extra hot. The staff says they serve the biggest crawfish in the world—and who are we to challenge them? The steaming platters of boiled crawfish that come out of the kitchen by the hundreds look almost like small lobsters. The crawfish étouffée and the gumbo are delicious. You shouldn't miss the bread pudding here, either.”

And then there was “texigato” posting on “I had some of the best seafood gumbo I've ever had at Crawfish Town USA. The roux was perfect, with a smooth, strong flavor without a burnt taste or too much butter. The crawfish étouffée was tasty and the fried crawfish were just right, still tender…. The meal was perfect.”

The restaurant is located inside an authentic barn that dates back to the early 1900's and sits next to a large (and largely empty) RV park. Just inside the doors is a Gift Shop selling Crawfish Town USA t-shirts, Louisiana cookbooks, and a large selection of Cajun/Creole seasonings and hot sauces. The interior décor is by and large dominated by neon beer signs. And, because we arrived well after the lunch hour (which I have learned can begin as early as 10:30 a.m. and is over at 1:00 p.m.), other than two other sets of diners, we had the cavernous dining room to ourselves.

None of the appetizers (crawfish enchiladas, crawfish pizza, crawfish boil soup, fried alligator bites, spinach & artichoke dip, stuffed mushrooms, fried crab claws, bite size fried catfish, and hushpuppies) was of interest. But neither of us wanted a complete dinner. What to do? Order two cups of gumbo and share a sampler platter.

Our sampler, the Louisiana Crawfish Festival Platter, came with a cup of seafood gumbo, which Chuck would eat, so I ordered the chicken and sausage gumbo. The latter was a very good version of this Cajun classic. Made with a deep and intensely flavored roux, it was fairly spicy and full of chicken pieces and sausage rings. A large scoop of white rice was served on the side.

Chuck’s seafood gumbo was light on the seafood and came with a lighter and less intense roux. But what’s with his rice? Half of his portion was made up of hard and dry grains. At first we thought that it hadn’t been cooked long enough. But then I decided that it had been sitting in a pan on a steam line and either the bottom or top and dried out--or maybe both.

Did I mention that Chuck also ordered a side of red beans and rice? I didn’t think so. It was OK. That’s all. And we also got a mostly iceberg lettuce salad with the platter. That was OK, too.

Our crawfish festival platter included: ten boiled crawfish, two crawfish boulettes, a tart-sized crawfish pie, crawfish étouffée, and fried crawfish. None of it was bad; none of it was great. I ate the boiled crawfish, which were small but spicy. Chuck ate the fried crawfish, which had a thick cornmeal coating that almost exceeded in volume the size of each crawfish tail. The boulettes (made from a mixture of bread stuffing and bits of crawfish and deep fat fried) were quite good with only a moderate degree of “heat” that let the other flavors come through. The crawfish pie was delicious with a rich pastry filled with the Holy Trinity of Cajun cooking (onion, celery, green peppers) and crawfish pieces in a rich, buttery base.
The étouffée? This is just not my favorite Cajun dish, so I can’t fairly evaluate it. Served over rice, it is just too rich and too heavy for my taste. And speaking of rice, this portion came with the same dreadful rice that accompanied Chuck’s gumbo.

The platter also came with a serving of bread pudding that was quite good. It had an almost cake-like texture, was flavored with cinnamon, and served with a warm rum sauce.

When investigating local restaurants, I should have paid more attention to “bosworth” posting on “In an area of such great restaurant's this should be at the very bottom. It's an overpriced tourist trap with terrible service. I would say the food was just plain ‘ole okay, but the terrible service left us with an even worse opinion of the place. Avoid this place—there are so many better places with atmosphere, service, and good food in town.”

So now to Kate’s Rules (which I reserve the right to delete from, add to, or modify according to my whim):

Rule Number One: If the first thing you see when entering a restaurant is a gift shop, it is likely a tourist trap.

Rule Number Two: If a restaurant advertises in every tourism magazine and with giant billboards along the interstate, it is likely a tourist trap.

Rule Number Three: If a restaurant sits next to a giant RV park, it is likely a tourist trap.

and finally,

Rule Number Four: The size of a restaurant is often inversely correlated with the quality of the food.

Unlike “Bosworth,” we didn’t experience terrible service. But this place left us totally unimpressed and rates only a 2.0 Addie rating.

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