Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sworn to Secrecy

Our Lafayette-area home is located just a stone’s throw off Exit 92 of I-10. This exit boasts four truck stops. Each truck stop has—obviously—a gas station. Each truck stop has a casino. Each truck stop has a small store selling mainly snack items, soft beverages, beer, and liquor. (Yes. You can purchase beer and liquor at truck stops in Louisiana. Think about that the next time an eighteen-wheeler comes barreling up behind you.) And each truck stop has a café or small restaurant.

But only one of the four can claim a café run by Chef Roy’s dynamic duo of Robert Credeur and Chef Benoit Morel. During our first visit to Chef Roy’s, Robert told us that he and his partner had just assumed ownership of the former Studebaker’s restaurant. While emphasizing—repeatedly—that the food wasn’t the same as at Chef Roy’s, you could tell that Robert was proud of this addition to the partnership’s restaurant “empire.” (Not bad for a young man who just turned 33.)

Soon thereafter, we drove the quarter mile on the interstate overpass for lunch at Catfish Willie’s. Walking through the doors, you immediately know that the restaurant is part of a casino complex. The room is high ceilinged with faux-marble trim and toward the back of the room there is a Roman (or is it Grecian) temple like gazebo with dining space.

The lunch menu offers a combination of buffet plate lunches (the special that day was roast pork with rice dressing) and fried seafood baskets with curly fries, fried or grilled pork chops, grilled chicken breast, hamburger steak, po-boys and hamburgers, salads, wings, gumbo, and appetizers (catfish bites, wings, mozzarella sticks, and potato nachos).

I ordered the beef and sausage spaghetti that came with a slice of garlic bread. Make no mistake. This was spaghetti (not pasta) with a tomato sauce that contained ground beef, smoked sausage slices, and Italian seasonings. This was old-fashioned, diner-style spaghetti and kept reminding me of a dish that I had eaten in the past. Later that night, while I was reheating my lunch leftovers, it came to me. This is the same sauce as found in Paula Deen’s recipe for baked spaghetti (plus a small amount of smoked sausage) that has always been one of our favorites.

Chuck ordered the chicken fried steak, substituting garlic mashed potatoes for the curly fries that came with the dish and adding a side of hushpuppies. The cornmeal-based hushpuppies were seasoned with herbs and were nice and light with a crisp crust. The mashed potatoes were good. (You know my enthusiasm for mashed potatoes.) The chicken fried steak may have been the best of the year. The meat was also crisp, tender, beefy-tasting, and gristle-free. The coating crunched to the last bite.

And the white gravy. What great white gravy. It had a richness that I have never tasted in Southern-style white gravy. It just so happened that co-owner Robert was “in the house” and I asked for the secret to the gravy. Robert just smiled.

“Is it evaporated milk?” I asked.

Robert just smiled.

“Can your staff be bribed?” I asked.

Robert just smiled. I left without the answer.

Now back to yesterday’s blog and our extended conversation with Robert. I told him that I was still trying to determine the secret of the white gravy. “Was it cream cheese?” I asked.

Robert laughs and says: “Since I like you, I’m going to show you the recipe.” He goes into the kitchen and comes back with the recipe sheet. Now I know the secret.

Having enjoyed our lunch, we decided to wander over one day for a late-ish breakfast. My choice that day was the Cajun Omelet that contained crawfish, green peppers, onions, and tasso ham. “Tasso ham is a specialty of Cajun cuisine. It is a spicy, peppery version of smoked pork made from the shoulder butt.... Tasso is not eaten on its own, but is used as part of a flavor base for stews or braised vegetables. It is used in dishes ranging from pasta to crab cakes, soup to gravy” (from This omelet, which came with a side of very crisp hash browns, was delicious. Tasso has very powerful flavors and the use of too much can be overpowering. Not so here.

We were early for lunch. In fact, they were in the process of setting up that day’s lunch buffet. (As you can see from the “peeps” decorated cup cakes, it was the Easter season and Catfish Willie’s was getting the holiday spirit.) But Chuck wanted to relive the chicken fried steak experience and asked our server if, by chance, they could do it for him. Yes, they could.

Have I ever mentioned that Chuck really likes potatoes? Really, really likes potatoes. If you have ever doubted his love of potatoes, let this meal put your doubts to rest. Yes, he had the chicken fried steak (which was the equal to the earlier lunch version). But he also had mashed potatoes AND seasoned curly fries.

While we were eating, a man comes out from the kitchen and inspects the buffet line. He looks over to where we are sitting, says “Hello,” and then walks over to our table. As he is asking if we were enjoying our meal, I heard a very definite French accent. Not Cajun French. France French.

“Are you Chef Morel?” I asked. He was. Now we have met both of the partners.
Well, Robert and Chef Morel, the secret of the white gravy is safe with me. I won’t tell, even if someone offers me a million dollars. Not so fast. What am I saying here? Sorry, Robert and Chef Morel, someone offers me a million dollars for the secret white gravy recipe I’m selling you out in a heartbeat.

Good luck to Robert and Chef Morel on their new venture and we look forward to eating at both Chef Roy’s and Catfish Willie’s and award Catfish Willie’s 5.0 Addies.