Wednesday, April 13, 2011

You Never Forget...

your first Cajun band.

Yesterday, Chuck told you about our serendipitous meeting with Adele Huval and her son Forest at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and their subsequent discussion about the Basin Brothers. Here is a little more to the story.

It was our second visit to New Orleans and we were staying at a hotel on Julia Street (edge of the Warehouse District). One night, feeling lazy, we decided to walk the block and a half down to the street and eat at the New Orleans Mulate’s—a restaurant and Cajun dance hall. Our knowledge of traditional Louisiana music was confined to, as Chuck mentioned yesterday, Beausoleil. But he neglected to mention Queen Ida and the Bon Temps Zydeco Band which was also a regular A Prarie Home Companion performer.

The band that night was the Basin Brothers, and we really enjoyed their music. A few days later we traveled north and west to Lafayette for a few days and discovered that this band would be playing at Randol’s one evening and at the historic Liberty Theater (in Eunice) on the night we planned to visit this iconic temple of Cajun culture. We managed to be present both evenings and joked about being a couple of aging Basin Brothers groupies.

The band (which semi-disbanded a number of years ago) was led by Al Berard (BAY-rard) (photo above and left in photo, below), who is the only member of the orginal band who still works full time as a musician, music producer, and composer. So we always try to learn whether he will be performing in the area during our visits. Through Adele’s brother-in-law, Mike (right in photo, above), who was also a band member, we learned that he, Al, and Forest would be playing at the Breaux Bridge Mulate’s one Sunday evening. (Adele also told us that when she told her brother-in-law that we were big fans of the Basin Brothers, he responded: “They remember us. We must have been pretty good.”) So, Sunday night found us at Mulate’s. Until Sunday, our one and only visit to this restaurant had been during the same trip when we followed the Basin Brothers from venue to venue. (The restaurant was closed during the November 2008 trip while the repaird the roof damage due to Hurricane Gustav.) Two things I remember about that first visit. First, the band that night was Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. (Don’t ask me why I remember this. My mind works in strange ways. Anything important is gone in a flash. Anything trivial stays around forever.) Second, the food was dreadful.

“For the past 30 years Mulate’s The Original Cajun Restaurant located in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, has been a cornerstone of Cajun Country’s proudest traditions—the music, food, and love of good times. More than just a meal stop, Mulate’s is an ideal way to experience the culture of Cajun Country. Mulate’s is an authentic Cajun dancehall. Many of the cypress beams supporting the building were hauled from the nearby Henderson Swamp. The floors have supported five generation of Cajun dancers. You are as likely to hear French spoken as English. Children are more than welcome and likely to be seen bouncing around the dance floor—this too is part of Cajun tradition” (from the restaurant’s website).

We both ordered a bottle of LA 31 Bière Pâle from the Bayou Teche Brewing Co. in Arnaudville, LA. “Using Belgian malts and American hops and yeast, LA 31 Bière Pâle is a distinct new style of beer. Traditionally brewed, we classify it as a Bière Pâle, or Louisiana Pale Ale. It is bronze-colored with a biscuity malt center, herbal hop flavors and a gentle, mellow bitterness. This beer is crafted to enhance the unique cuisine and lifestyle of South Louisiana” (bayouteche If you say so. It was too dry and hoppy for my taste.

The menu remains a tribute to the expected. The appetizers included fried catfish and alligator bites, fried crawfish, andouille sausage, stuffed and fried mushrooms, a shrimp and oyster skewer, and hushpuppies.

The entrees are no more creative. Chuck went with his Acadania standard—the fried crawfish plate, which came with fries, an ice cream scoop of jambalaya, and a small cup of slaw. The “highly seasoned” jambalaya was a combination of rice, green peppers, and onions and was made in the Cajun style, i.e. without tomatoes. The shredded cabbage in the slaw was tossed with a light and slightly sweet dressing. The fries were standard issue.

The fried crawfish came covered in a highly seasoned cornmeal crust. They were really quite good—still moist and tender under the coating—and another reason why it is sometimes wisest to “keep it simple, stupid.” (No, I’m not calling Chuck stupid.)

I wasn’t in the mood for fried, so I chose the stuffed catfish which came with a twice baked potato and the same jambalaya and slaw that was on Chuck’s plate. I usually don’t care for twice-baked potatoes—they are usually too rich and filling for my taste. But this was better than average with a bit of spice to make them more interesting.

I think that the catfish had been coated with a light egg-based batter and then cooked on a flat top rather than immersed in oil. The stuffing was a mix of bread crumbs, crab, and minced shrimp and would have been good if not for an excess of red pepper which eventually took control of the plate.

I probably am never going to say to Chuck: “Boy, am I hungry for some Mulate’s food.” Still, the food was no longer dreadful and earns a 3.5 Addie rating.

But it was the opportunity to say “hello” to Al, the two other former Basin Brothers (the drummer was also a former Basin Brothers member), and our friend of two weeks, Forest Huval, that had brought us to Mulate’s. During a break, Al came over to our table. We mentioned, "We had also heard the Basin Brothers when you appeared in Philadelphia (at a Polish-American hall of some sort) and at Abbeville—"

“At the Giant Omlette Festival,” Al added enthusiastically. He graciously spent about ten minutes answering our questions about his schedule, the bands he plays with (by the way, that's Al's son-in-law playing the fiddle, left in photo), and an up-date on Errol Verret, the accordion player with the Basin Brothers.

As we were leaving, Adele caught up with us in the parking lot and introduced us to her husband, Rowdy. We said that they must be very proud of their son and his skillful playing of the accordion and on his singing ability.

Noted Adele, “He really doesn’t like to sing, but Al has really been encouraging him to sing more and more. Al said, ‘If your name is heading the group (see the sign), you need to sing.’ It’s a very close-knit group, so Forest is getting some very good guidance.” (By the way, the singing is always in French.)

Forest, age 19, also completed a French immersion program while in high school. Sponsored by the Council for the Deve-lopment of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL), which is empowered to “do any and all things necessary to accomplish the development, utilization, and preservation of the French language as found in Louisiana for the cultural, economic and touristic benefit of the state.”

After about 20 minutes, the door opened, and after hearing three notes, Chuck said, “That’s my favorite song," and rushed back inside. He really needs to apologize to Rowdy and Adele for rushing off to hear “Chez Seychelles,” which he thinks is the most beautiful Cajun song ever written.

We also have to thank Forest for his superb accordion work on this song.

Boy, we really are a couple of ageing groupies.

No comments: