Thursday, December 8, 2011

I’m Home Again

In Louisiana, that is. I am sure that I have told this story before, but while taking our first walk on our first visit to New Orleans (circa 1985), I looked around and announced to Chuck “I’ve been here before!” Yes, I am the reincarnation of Evangeline and since then my soul has needed periodic infusions of Southern Louisiana culture, food, music, and hospitality.

On this visit, our first Louisiana excursion was a trip north up the River Road (it runs along the Mississippi) that will be the topic of tomorrow’s blog. But, while we were headed in that direction, we decided to go a bit further north and have lunch at a restaurant we had visited on what I think were our second and third Louisiana trips—The Cabin Restaurant in Burnside, LA.

As described on the menu: “The Cabin Restaurant is unique in all the world. It began as one of the ten original slave dwellings of the Monroe Plantation. It is approximately 180 years old. As one looks around upon entering, The Cabin gives off an aura of authenticity and realism.... In practically every nook and cranny, antique farm implements and tools of years gone by are displayed for you to see...

“In the grand dining room, the roof is supported by four massive beams that were manufacturer's rejects obtained for a bottle of Old Crow bourbon. These were placed so that the room resembles a garconnier (the visiting bachelor's quarters on a river road plantation).”

As stated on the restaurant’s web site: "Our goal is to preserve some of the local farming history, serve meals typical of the River Road tradition, and make your visit a relaxed and memorable one."

The menu offers something for almost everyone. There is a long list of (fried, mostly) fish and seafood options. There is an almost equally long list of poor boys. Cabin Specialties include country fried steak, hamburger steak, pork chops, shrimp scampi, rib eye steak, and filet mignon. Cajun/ Creole options include red beans and rice, pan fried chicken breast, and crawfish etoufee. The day’s specials were baked chicken and a small (six or eight ounce) rib eye.

Chuck had difficulty making a decision. First, he thought he’d order the red beans and rice. Then he changed direction and decided to order the rib eye special. “Chuck, you’re in Louisiana” I said. “Order Louisiana food.” So he finally chose the crabmeat au gratin—white crabmeat in a white sauce and topped with cheese. And for his side choice he selected the red beans and rice.

He also had the option of a small salad or cole slaw. He took the salad and this should have been our first indication that all might not be what we remembered. The salad (not photographed) was some iceberg lettuce with a few cucumber chunks and cherry tomato halves. It was the two shriveled red onion rings on top that said this had been sitting in a cooler and wasn’t freshly made.

He described the taste of the red beans and rice as “harsh.” I would call it bitter. Whatever, they weren’t all that great. With no modesty whatsoever, I have to tell you that I make great red beans and rice. But I can’t take the credit. That goes to Emeril Lagasse and his recipe from Louisiana Real and Rustic. There are few recipes that I follow to the letter, but this is one.

The crabmeat au gratin on the other hand was quite good. Lots of sweet white crab in a rich creamy sauce. The only flaw was perhaps an excess of sharp cheese that masked the crab’s flavor.

I ordered The Pirogue—fried fish, shrimp, and oysters in a French roll boat. (A pirogue [pee-row] is a small, flat-bottomed boat of a design associated particularly with the Cajuns of the Louisiana marsh.) As my side, I selected the dirty rice. And I took the cole slaw
(a decent mix of green and red cabbage and grated carrots).

The dirty rice was filled with ground chicken livers, but I missed the generous amount of black pepper that dirty rice in Cajun Country contains.

The menu took liberties when describing the French roll as a boat. It was just a horizontal piece of bread. OK. No problem. I can live with that. The “boat’s” contents were another story. The fried fish (I presume catfish) had a tough and chewy coating. Or maybe that was the fish. Regardless, they were overcooked. As was the butterflied shrimp—although to a lesser extent. What I found surprising was that the element most prone to overcooking—the oysters—were the best prepared. The fish and seafood came with a small cup each of pretty good tartar sauce and a red cocktail sauce that was heavy on the catsup and light on the horseradish.

What happened here? We really liked this place twenty-five or so years ago. Has the quality gone down or has our knowledge of good Cajun food gone up? We decided it was probably the latter. Either way only Chuck’s au gratin saved The Cabin’s rating and earns it 2.5 Addies.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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