Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Of One Thing You Can Be Sure...,

the parking lot at Prejean’s will be full of cars.

We ate at Prejean’s on our very first trip to Lafayette (LA) circa 1985 (give or take a few years in either direction) and were not impressed. During our November 2008 visit, we returned for two meals and were very impressed. What would we find this time?

“In 1980, Robert Guilbeau (“Bob” to some, “Biker-Bob” to others) and his friends built Prejean’s Restaurant on farmland passed down to him from his grandparents.... The idea for what would become the world’s first Cajun-themed restaurant began back when Bob was working in…California. A much younger Bob Guilbeau visited several Mexican Restaurants where more than just Mexican food was served. These establishments had captured the wonders of their culture with a magical combination of food, traditional live music and dancing, and, of course, lots of laughter.... With a dream in his heart and a longing for the traditions of his own homeland, Guilbeau returned to Lafayette with a vision for a way to combine the joie de vivre of south Louisiana with the comforts of his grandparents’ kitchen” (from the restaurant’s web site).

The walls are decorated with a multitude of mounted fish, including this handsome(?) alligator gar (right).

And, like many restaurants, contains at least one Community Coffee (a Louisiana-based gourmet coffee company) logo sign.

While there is a side enclosed porch dining room, we always want to sit in the large room containing the bandstand. With its moss-draped trees, the performance stage is decorated to remind you of a bayou.

“Prejean’s ‘signature’ stained glass piece stands proudly behind the bandstand. Designed by local artisan, John Pourcio, it would be only one of many works of art John would design for Prejean’s.... With the help of glass artist Tritos Thurman, the mural became a reality even before Prejean’s opened its doors in 1980. The glistening blue wonder was originally hung in the bar” (from the restaurant’s web site).

We arrived with a game plan in mind—we both would order gumbo, and then we would split two appetizers. For Chuck, it was a bowl of the chicken and sausage gumbo that the menu informs us was the three-time Champion Gumbo. You certainly can’t fault the quantity of both chicken and sausage—this was the hardiest gumbo we have encountered and was almost a meal by itself. The roux base had an intense toasty flavor and stood up well against the smoky sausage. The problem was an excess of spice—even too much spice for two “highly seasoned” food lovers like us. So much spice that your taste buds became so numb that you couldn’t taste anything thereafter.

My choice was the shrimp gumbo that was made with a dark roux and seafood stock that was full of tender medium sized shrimp. While my gumbo wasn’t as peppery as Chuck’s, the level of spice still managed to overwhelm the shrimp.

The appetizer menu offered a wealth of choices. How do we decide between: the Louisiana crawfish and alligator sausage cheesecake with smoked gouda cheese and a parmesan crust set in a bed of crawfish cream sauce; Carencro Kicking Shrimp—fried shrimp tossed in a spicy sauce and served over a bed of cabbage slaw; BBQ Shrimp Inez—whole shrimp simmered in Abita Turbo Dog beer and Worcestershire herb butter sauce served with French bread; Oyster Rockefeller Bake—fried oysters set in a bed of creamy Rockefeller sauce topped with Brie cheese, melted, and finished with a Cajun aioli sauce; Eggplant Abbeville—a fried eggplant wheel topped with sautéed jumbo lump crab and shrimp with cane syrup Worcestershire cream.; Shrimp Sassafras—two jumbo shrimp stuffed with pepper jack cheese and grilled Tasso, wrapped with apple wood-smoked bacon, breaded and fried and set in Crawfish Cardinale cream sauce; fried green tomatoes smothered with sautéed crawfish and shrimp in a sherry cream sauce; Seafood Stuffed Mushrooms filled with a crab and shrimp stuffing, dusted with parmesan cheese, then baked and drizzled with crab butter cream sauce; Crawfish Enchilada—crawfish in a spicy cheese sauce, wrapped in flour tortilla, baked and topped with shredded cheeses and Crawfish Sauce; or Crawfish Boudin Balls—fried crawfish and rice boulettes (little balls); and too many more to list?

We finally made our decision. One appetizer would be the order of crawfish balls. These are made with a non-traditional twist on pork and rice boudin with chopped or minced bits of crawfish tails substituting for the pork. Some Acadiana meat stores offer these only during Lent while others, along with many restaurants, offer them year round. These boudin balls’s had the requisite crunchy crust that contrasts with the softer rice and crawfish mixture within. They came with a cup of some kind of dipping sauce that I thought added nothing. Only one problem—again they were way too peppery and all you could taste was the pepper.

Now you would think something called Carencro Kicking Shrimp would be incendiary. Actually, this appetizer was the least spicy item we ate that day. Six large shrimp were battered and fried and then tossed in a moderately sweet sauce with just a bit of spice. And the bed of cole slaw added a cooling element after the three peppery items that preceded the shrimp.

Well, this was a better experience than our first in the 1980’s and worse than that in 2008 and was good enough to earn 3.00 Addies.

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