Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The First Thing You Must Do…

when entering Hub City Diner in Lafayette is take a moment to pay homage to Pelvis, the four-foot tall fiberglass statue just inside the front doors.

Pelvis is one of the “Pelicans on Parade” that have been “nested” throughout Lafayette as a “joint venture between the Acadiana Arts Council and the Lafayette Parish School System. Originally, the pelican sculpture was created to serve as the mascot for an artist-in-residence program known as Primary Academic and Creative Experiences (PACE)” (pelicansonparade.org).

“Hub City has many regulars that come at least once a week and many every day: from folks who work at Lafayette General Hospital across the street to telephone linemen, doctors, attorneys and families. Visitors from outside the area get a real sense of what life is like in the Hub City, a term locals use to refer to the city of Lafayette. In the Diner, you'll find friends shaking hands and sharing food while raising a glass to celebrate the Cajun way of life because after all, ‘Everybody should have boudin for breakfast and beer on Sundays.’

"…(T)he colorful 1950s theme, complete with neon lights and a checkered floor, rounds out the laissez faire feel where employees are given only three rules: don’t steal, show up for work, and be nice. The latter is prevalent and the food is just as playful: order the fried pickles for a delicious treat” (lafayette travel.com). The diner was one of the stops in Rand McNally’s “Best of the Road” competition that sought to find the best small towns in the U.S. Lafayette took the top honor for the “Best in Food” category.

So we took a seat in one of the colorful vinyl booths, and I positioned Kitty Humbug for a photo shoot with Marilyn. This drew a smile from the woman in the booth behind us and soon we were engaged in a conversation with Allen Bacquè and Winnie Darphin-Bacquè (below). And before we knew it, the four of us were sharing a booth, and Allen and Winnie were giving us suggestions of places to see.

Residents of Lafayette are some of the friendliest people we have met on our almost four years of travel and are a main reason we return again and again.

Lunch that day took second place to conversation. After a brief scan of the menu, I chose one of the “Louisiana Delight” options—grilled and seasoned shrimp atop tri-color corkscrew pasta with grilled mush-rooms, tomatoes, green peppers, and onions. As always, the large shrimp were flawlessly prepared. One minute more on the grill and they would have been overcooked and one minute less they would have been undercooked. The dish, though, could have used some form of dressing on the pasta. There was not enough moisture from the veggies to create any type of sauce.

Surprising me yet again, Chuck passed up “Mom’s Meatloaf” and the chicken fried steak and ordered the Spicy Garden Burger. The spicy black bean patty was served on a wheat bun and came with a side of red beans and brown rice. I would have liked more of a crust on the black bean patty, but I certainly can’t fault how well it was seasoned. Chuck’s renewed interest in black bean burgers has taken me to the internet to scour for recipes, and I found one that contains the magic words: “these freeze well.”

A few days later we returned, this time for breakfast. I failed to mention that, in addition to the regular menu, Hub City also offers a daily plate lunch—or blue plate special. What are they serving today? Is it a choice between chicken or spaghetti? Or is it chicken spaghetti? Given that baked chicken was the plate lunch two days earlier, I suspect that any remaining chicken was being used. Our Thrifty German Mothers would approve.

I have been craving biscuits and gravy and, while knowing that Hub City’s version would not be my favorite, made this my selection. Their rendering was one that we have frequently encountered—rather than mixing crumbled sausage throughout the white gravy, the biscuits are topped with sausage patties and served with plain gravy. The gravy itself was delicious, and I suspect may have contained white American cheese (a style of gravy I have had before in the Lafayette area), but it would have truly spectacular gravy had it contained flavor from bits of meat. I chose a side of grits over potatoes which I enhanced with butter—lots and lots of butter—and Cajun/Creole seasoning.

This time Chuck couldn’t resist the lure of chicken fried steak that came with three eggs (scram-bled), home fries, and a biscuit. His steak was covered with the same rich gravy as were my sausage biscuits and the meat was juicy and gristle-free.

His home fries—and virtually every restaurant has its own version—came as large chunks of potato that were deep fat fried. I thought I detected bacon fat and asked the server if they had been cooked in this fat.
“No,” she replied.
“They take the fried potatoes and put them on the grill with onions and peppers.” I still suspect that there was as unauthorized rendezvous between potatoes and bacon while on the grill.

Hub City Diner doesn’t stretch any culinary boundries but still serves good 4.0 Addie food. And, as lafayette travel.com said, “…you'll find friends shaking hands and sharing food”—even when two hours earlier they were complete strangers.

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