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” (saintstreetinn.com).

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” (saintstreetinn.com).

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” [wisegeek.com].)

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” (wisegeek.com). 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” [wikipedia.com]) 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 whenfoodworks.com). 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.

1 comment:

James Harry said...

Nice blog! I finally selected the White Heat sandwich with melted manchego. The sandwich is grilled with garlic butter and Lafayette catering.