Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Citizens of Lafayette…

are proud of their city. And rightfully so. Spend five minutes talking with one and you hear a long grocery list of bands you must hear, places you must see, and restaurants you must visit. Still, it is unusual when a restaurant recommendation comes from a competing restaurateur, but that’s what happened. When we were lunching at 2Paul’s and talking with Gary Paul Roy, he mentioned a new (six months or so old) restaurant that we might enjoy—The Saint Street Inn—Stop Six on the “Real People Making Real Food” Tour.

“Two coworkers go to lunch and talk about food. Again and again and again. Six years later, these two cooks turned journalists decided to go back to their career roots and realize a shared dream of opening a restaurant. The Saint Street Inn is the result of an ongoing and ever-evolving conversation about that restaurant and what it should be, about going the extra mile to pull together the best of what Acadiana has to offer: from its fresh local produce and seafood to its finest smoked meats and artisan breads and cheeses…

“…For chief culinary guru and co-owner Mary Tutwiler, who in the 1980s was the primary chef at Broussard’s Catering in Lafayette, The Saint Street Inn represents a re-summoning to the exact same building and kitchen she ran 25 years ago. Tutwiler’s return to the stove comes after spending the past five years as the food writer for The Independent Weekly, where she extensively documented and mapped out the specialty markets, farms and smokehouses that dot the backroad highways across Acadiana… Tutwiler’s partner in The Saint Street Inn, Nathan Stubbs, had an early career cooking odyssey that took him from the graveyard shift at Louie’s Cafe in Baton Rouge to one of the country’s largest kitchens in Yellowstone National Park and back to Lafayette, where he spent time at multiple restaurants in the kitchen, behind the bar, and waiting tables. He also spent six years at The Independent Weekly, mainly reporting on local politics but also writing about Acadiana’s thriving gas station food scene, its emerging microbreweries, and both UL and LSU sports” (

The Saint Street Inn is located just a few blocks from the University of Louisiana—Lafayette (Ragin’ Cajuns) campus and, judging from the appearance of the diners filling the small café during our recent lunch, seems to be popular with the university crowd. You have your choice of three dining areas. You can take a table on the covered, but not screened, front porch. You can take a table on the unshaded side yard. Or you can take a table or—as in our case—an empty stool at the small bar indoors.

“The building on Brook Street has housed many restaurants over the years. But a good neighbor-hood bar has been lacking. We’ve added a comfortable bar, designed in homage to the great Craftsman houses of the Saint Streets. We’ll be pouring Louisiana brewed beers on tap, a collection of wines designed to pair with our menu, and a seasonal cocktail list, salted with old standards, peppered with ingredients raided from the kitchen” (

The lunch menu relies on sandwiches and salads plus a soup of the day. I started my lunch with a small bowl of sorrel soup made with sorrel harvested from the garden behind the restaurant. (“Sorrel is a green leaf vegetable native to Europe. It is also called common sorrel or spinach dock, and is actually considered less a vegetable and more an herb in some cultures. In appearance sorrel greatly resembles spinach and in taste sorrel can range from comparable to the kiwifruit in young leaves, to a more acidic tasting older leaf. As sorrel ages it tends to grow more acidic due to the presence of oxalic acid, which actually gets stronger and tastes more prominent. Young sorrel may be harvested to use in salads, soups or stews” [].)

This was my first experience with sorrel, and I found the flavor more reminiscent of lemon that kiwi. At first, I mistook the white creamy base to be made with potatoes. It was only after complimen-ting Mary Tutwiler that I learned that the base was actually cauliflower. As Mary explained, potatoes would be too heavy for the mild flavor of the sorrel. I shared a taste with Chuck, and he ended up scraping the last remnant of soup from the bottom of my bowl.

Many of the sandwiches were intriguing. These included; the Velvet Underground—roasted winter veggies with cauliflower, turnips, beets, and carrots in an Indian rub with feta and parsley pecan pesto served on ciabatta; the Peacemaker Poor Boy—a fried oyster poor boy with bacon and mint jalapeno coleslaw; the Acadian—a sausage poor boy with crispy slices of smokehouse andouille, roasted peppers, and grilled onions and topped with coleslaw; and the café’s take on the BLT—two boudin, lettuce, and tomato sliders on mini French rolls.

Chuck’s sandwich choice was the Cajun Cuban. Many Southern Louisiana restaurant’s have their own take on the Cuban sandwich, but Saint Street’s was one of the best. It contained roasted turkey, crispy split and grilled andouille, peppers, pickles, and Swiss cheese served on grilled ciabatta. Andouille is “a smoked sausage made out of pork and garlic…The rich, spicy flavor of Andouille sausage is characteristic of Cajun cuisine…A traditional andouille sausage is made from ground pork and garlic, seasoned with salt and black pepper and stuffed into a sausage casing which can be made from beef or pork. The sausage is smoked over pecan wood and sugar cane for an extended period of time, often up to 14 hours. The result is an intensely flavored, very spicy sausage with a very dark color. The level of spiciness varies, depending on the cook and the region” ( I am especially fond of andouille when served in gumbo, jambalaya, and red beans and rice. But the sausage gave extra zip to Chuck’s sandwich.

As intrigued as I was with the mint jalapeno coleslaw served on the oyster poor boy, I finally selected the White Heat sandwich with melted manchego (a Spanish sheep’s milk cheese with “a distinctive flavor, well-developed, but not too strong, creamy with a slight piquancy, and leaves an aftertaste that is characteristic of sheep’s milk” []) and fire jack cheeses, grilled peppers, tomato, and spinach on sourdough. The sandwich is grilled with garlic butter and parsley. This was another one of those Guy Fieri “off the hook” moments. Crispy bread, melty cheese, warm, but not soft, veggies. And all of the flavors complemented by garlic. And what isn’t better with garlic? Well, maybe ice cream.

“I have heard the expression that a certain food was so ‘thoughtfully’ prepared many times, on food shows, books and in discussions…but never quite understood (really understood) what that meant. How in the world could food be ‘thoughtful’? But, after 3 dining experiences at a new restaurant in town, The Saint Street Inn, I knew! I finally knew what was meant by that term…. I felt it in every dish that was served at our table.... And if ever there was thoughtful food…, this was it…carefully plated, freshly assembled and you just knew that a lot of heart and soul went into the selection and preparation of every single ingredient, cup and plate presented to our precious table” (Carolyn Wright at Since I couldn’t have said it better myself, I’ll just be quiet after awarding The Saint Street Inn 5.0 Addies.

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

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Different Swamp Mood

Continuing our tour of the Atchafalaya Swamp with Kim Voorhies of "The Atchafalaya Experience" company, we caught a bit of sunshine. With the sun, the blue sky, and the white puffy clouds, the mood of the swamp changed.

The foreboding quality was replaced by the welcoming call of a lake that just called out for a picnic. However, the welcome was the only aspect of the picnic the the swamp could provide. The trees that should mark the shoreline were very misleading and the ground for the picnic blanket was nonexistent. So, we were left with only an imagined lakeside grassy knoll spread with the home-cooked meal.

As we toured with Kim, he talked about life--human, animal, bird, and plant--in the swamp. His conversational style was marked by a love of the environment and a controlled level of anger when referring to anyone who would spoil it.

He would go out of his way to collect a soda can or plastic water bottle that had been tossed away by a
"despoiler." Sadly, the small boat had a significant collection of similar trash at the end of the three-plus hour tour.

One item that we
"collected" on the boat was this tiny frog, which landed on the jeans of one of the passengers. He was about the size of the first knuckle on my thumb.

While navigating the various channels, we wondered if there were such things as maps or some type of charts to guide boaters through the swamp.

Obviously, our guide did not need such resources, but our fear was that a novice boater, drawn into several of the swamp's channels, would be in deep trouble if he ran out of gas...and had no cell phone...and darkness was arriving.

And speaking of darkness, I came across an interesting article about the Atchafalaya and the Mississippi River. This particular passage was interesting: "If you travel by canoe through the river swamps of Louisiana, you may very well grow uneasy as the sun is going down. You look around for a site—a place to sleep, a place to cook. There is no terra firma. Nothing is solider than duckweed, resting on the water like green burlap. Quietly, you slide through the forest, breaking out now and again into acreages of open lake. You study the dusk for some dark cap of uncovered ground. Seeing one at last, you occupy it, limited though it may be. Your tent site may be smaller than your tent, but in this amphibious milieu you have found yourself terrain. You have established yourself in much the same manner that the French established New Orleans. So what does it matter if your leg spends the night in the water" (

The following photos of reflections of the trees also present a welcoming view of the swamp. The fact that we were surrounded by water was forgotten as we imagined walking along the shoreline of a large lake.

After a break for lunch, we will make one final visit to the Atchafalaya.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Cypress and Moss

Returning from our two-day food break, we return to our writings on the Atchafalaya Swamp Tour (begun on 2/24).

The Atchafalaya River Basin's wetlands, bayous, and marshes are home to 300 species of birds, 90 species of fish and shellfish and 54 species of reptiles and amphibians, including the great American alligator. It owes much of its haunting and mysterious beauty to the towering, moss-draped bald cypress trees that thrive in its swamp waters (

We saw egrets (above), herons, and cormorants as we toured the swamp, but we were provided with many examples of the moss-draped cypress trees.

"Nothing characterizes a southern swamp more than a giant moss-draped cypress tree standing knee-deep in a backwater slough. Technically known as baldcypress, these survivors of ancient life are native to river bottoms and swamps in the Deep South and along the Eastern Seaboard north to Delaware.

"Cypress trees once grew to seventeen feet in diameter and 140 feet in height. They were the largest trees in the South and lived to be four hundred to six hundred years old. A few were estimated to be more than one thousand years old.

"Scientists have often pondered the functions of the unique root-like growths commonly known as cypress knees. Once thought to be structures to help the tree breathe, knees are now believed to be storage areas for starches needed for growth" (from a program on KEDM 90.3 Public Radio, Monroe, LA, called
“Bayou Diversity” [date unknown]).

For hundreds of years, the Basin's human dwellers—from the Native Americans who harvested its timber to the present-day Cajuns who hunt alligators in its murky depths—have subsisted on its many bountiful resources. In the second half of the 18th century, the region became a refuge for several thousand French colonists who had been expelled from Acadie, part of present-day Nova Scotia, for refusing to swear allegiance to the British crown and church. Known as the Acadians, the settlers adapted their way of life to the changeable nature of the Basin's wetland environment, where water levels fluctuate depending on the season, by favoring houseboats and campsites to more permanent homes. Many began growing sugarcane and other crops in the fertile bayou soil, while others made a living as loggers, hunters, trappers or fishermen.

The Acadian community grew and prospered, eventually giving birth
to the distinctly Louisianan "Cajun" culture, known throughout the world for its food, music and unique dialect. Today, the Cajuns make up a significant part of southern Louisiana's population, and many continue to embrace the lifestyle and traditions of their ancestors.

In spite of the region's natural bounty and unmistakable splendor, swamp living has never been easy for the Cajuns and other residents of the Atchafalaya Basin. For instance, the disastrous Great Flood of 1927 decimated many communities, sparking a mass exodus that dramatically reduced the region's population. But to many people born and raised in the
cradle of the lush and majestic Atchafalaya, the dangers and challenges they face are an accepted--and even welcome--part of life (

"Historically cypresses have been very important to man in Louisiana. The wood is easy to work and very at-tractive,...(and) the most famous characteristic is the durability and resistance to decay that develops in the wood of trees several hundred years old. Native Americans were the first to realize this and in northeast Louisiana, as elsewhere, routinely used cypress for dugout canoes.

"Early colonists were quick to discover this trait.... In the late 1800’s the demand for cypress lumber for boats, furniture, pilings, trim, shingles, siding, and coffins was great. It was during this period that the vast virgin stands were logged over. By 1925 the once thriving cypress industry was in a spiraling decline as the last of the raw products were exhausted.

As the sun appeared from behind the clouds, a different
"person-ality" of the swamp was beginning to appear" (from a program on KEDM 90.3 Public Radio, Monroe, LA, called “Bayou Diversity” [date unknown])..

(to be continued.)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Mire Diner (cont.)

The Mire Diner, Stop Five on the “Real People Making Real Food” Tour, is open Monday through Saturday for lunch from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and then again for dinner from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. There is one menu for both meals with two exceptions. At lunch, there is a choice of three plate lunches. (On the day of our visit these were fried pork chops, pork loin, or shrimp enchiladas.) And on Tuesday through Saturday nights they offer boiled crawfish at dinner. But the standard menu includes salads, gumbos, poor boys, fried chicken, and what are called “Menu Dinners”—hamburger steak, pork platter, fried catfish or shrimp, crawfish etouffee, and a fried catfish fillet topped with crawfish etouffee.

Our ordering decisions were based on what could easily be shared—a crawfish poor boy, two-piece-white chicken, onion rings, and fries. Yes, this was the “all fried food all the time” lunch.

The poor boy came on a toasted bun that—alas—also suffered from soft bun syndrome. (It appears to be catching.) And Chef Roy himself admitted that he is having trouble locating a good source for his poor boy rolls. But the crawfish—oh my! They were perfect. The tails were some of the largest we have seen on a poor boy this season and were perfectly battered and fried with tiny bits of coating exploding from the surface. On the side came a small cup of house-made rich tartar sauce that, since neither the lemon nor the pickle predominated, enhanced rather than obscured the sweet crawfish tails.

The chicken came as a large breast and a wing section. Being a wing person, I took that piece which was good but, to me, not as good as Sunny’s in Church Point. But Chuck’s breast piece was wonderful. First, the coating has more flavor than Sunny’s (which is reminiscent of KFC’s Extra Crispy). But what really set this apart was the succulent juiciness. And, while we were raving about it, Chef Roy asked if we would like to try dipping it into his special chipotle/mango sauce that he uses to make his “bronzed chicken” for one of his salads. This spicy, sweet, and smoky sauce was so good that I bought a bottle for later use.

The fries were good, but the onion rings were extraordinary. Thin sliced, lightly battered, and grease-free. Again, I remarked on the absence of oil on the plate when we finished, and Chef Roy explained that his beer batter recipe expels the grease from the surface rather than soaking it in. And the chipotle/mango sauce made a great dip for the rings.

Just before the 2:00 p.m. closing, one of Chef Roy’s staff alerted him to the delivery of the crawfish for that evening’s dinner service. Talk about from farm to table. Or should I say pond to table?

The crawfish season is just really getting into gear. Sure, they have been available since we arrived in January, but they were small and the resultant tail meat was no larger than the nail on your small finger. But as the spring progresses, the crawfish get larger so it was an easy decision to again make the five mile drive to Mire so that I could eat crawfish.

Chuck’s meal consisted of the three-piece white chicken, fries, onion rings, and potato salad. When the server came to the table groaning under the weight of the tray, Chuck surmised that he would be taking some of his meal home. Did he? No way. All that was left was a pile of chicken bones.

Of course, I ordered the crawfish. Most restaurants offer crawfish as either three-pound of five-pound servings. At the Mire Diner you order by the pound so I opted for two pounds and an order of potato salad. (And my share of Chuck’s onion rings.)

You can order the crawfish as one of three levels of heat--mild, hot (here this means medium), and spicy. I chose the hot and believe me these were plenty spicy. And the size was amazing. I have eaten crawfish later in the season (late April and early May) that weren’t this large. Since these are a fresh-water crustacean you don’t get a briny taste--just the taste of fresh shellfish plus the boil seasoning. With the crawfish came a small cup of dipping sauce that was a mix of mayo plus seasonings. But the crawfish didn’t need additional augmentation.

Chef Roy’s potato salad was good, if a bit on the dry side. I remedied this by mixing in some of the crawfish dipping sauce. And don’t think that the bright yellow comes from mustard. This is the natural color of the yolks. Chef Roy gets his brown eggs from a local—what do you call a person that raises chickens—farmer?

We are still arguing about who’s chicken is better—Chef Roy’s or Sunny’s? I see a road trip to Church Point in our future. But despite the bad bun and dry potato salad, the Mire Diner is still a 5.0 Addie stop and, with almost two weeks of our stay remaining, worth a revisit.

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