Friday, February 17, 2012

“Can You Find Us Now?”

Billboards around Lafayette asking this question are everywhere. One has to guess that the business being promoted must have at one time been in an obscure location. But the billboards peaked my interest, and one day I did an internet search for Nimbeaux’s* restaurant. And one look at the photo of a plate of fried catfish was enough to send us there one day for lunch.

The restaurant is now located in a new strip-like shopping center on Pinhook Road and is housed in a high ceilinged, square room that is minimally broken by waist-high dividers. The walls are painted in dark taupe and what Chuck calls “burnt sienna” for his favorite crayon in the box. Some of the walls are hung with waterfowl prints while other walls are hung with rural farm scenes.

And, because we arrived just before noon, the restaurant was almost empty. I don’t exaggerate.

The online comments about Nimbeaux’s are all over the place. Some say this is the best Cajun food in Lafayette. Some say that the service is awful. Some say that the restaurant was much better in its original location, but how much of this is fact and how much is nostalgia may be open to question. Fried seafood and fish choices dominate the menu, but there are a number of grilled choices (many of which are accompanied by steamed vegetables) and salads. There is a set list of lunch specials plus a separate list of daily lunch specials.

We both started with an item from the gumbo/bisque choices. Mine was the shrimp gumbo and here Nimbeaux’s managed to do what I thought was impossible—they produced a really bland gumbo. First, it was light on the shrimp. Second, it was light on the seasonings. While the roux base was rich and dark, no other flavor was discernable.

On the other hand, Chuck’s corn and crab bisque had all of the flavor my gumbo lacked and was full of sweet corn and sweet crab pieces. And these were surrounded by a rich and peppery cream base.

From the list of Friday lunch specials, we decided to share the catfish strip and popcorn shrimp combo place which came with Nimbeaux’s homemade potato chips and a small cup each of tartar sauce and cocktail sauce.

While the shrimp were advertised as “popcorn,” these were the largest popcorn shrimp I have seen. The coating was thin and lightly seasoned and the shrimp were perfectly cooked. What does that mean? I describe biting into a well-cooked shrimp as being similar to biting into a natural casing hot dog. You get that momentary resistance followed by the “snap” as the casing is broken and you reach the juicy interior. This is no small accomplishment when dealing with smaller-sized shrimp.

The catfish strips were covered in a thicker cornmeal-based coating and were sweet (none of that strong flavor that comes from an incorrectly trimmed piece of catfish—even freshwater), juicy, and flakey. And the potato chips upon which the catfish and shrimp sat were nice and crisp with a brown toasty flavor.

A few days later, we found ourselves back on Pinhook Road looking for Pops Black Pot; a restaurant that we read serves the best onion rings in Lafayette. The Lady Who Lives in the Dashboard told us that we had arrived at our destination, but Pops was not to be found. We made a few passes—all in vain. (Further research indicates that Pops may have been replaced by Landry’s Café, which we did see.) By that time it was after 1:00 p.m. and we knew that we needed to find a place in a hurry. We’ll go back to Nimbeaux’s.

This time, Chuck ordered the catfish strip lunch basket, which again came with the housemade potato chips,

and I chose the popcorn shrimp basket—also with the potato chips. Both were as good as our previous lunch, but we did agree that the amount of catfish in Chuck’s basket was rather on the skimpy side.

Having been on the hunt for onion rings, we shared an order of Nimbeaux’s. These were not the style of rings immortalized in “The Ode to the Onion Ring” (see 2/12/12 entry). In fact, they were dreadful with a thick and chewy tempura-like coating. They were not good.

The on-line comments about Nimbeaux’s were pretty representative of our two lunches—some hits and some misses. The result is a 3.5 Addie rating. And like with so many restaurants, one needs to learn to navigate the menu and avoid those misses.
*The “eaux” at the end of a name is pronounced “O” so you will find signs, like one for a local video gaming hall, reading “Bingeaux.”

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

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