does that mean lunch at Bon Creole Lunch Counter, the home of our favorite poor boy? Usually the answer to that question would be “yes”. But how often can I write about the same crawfish poor boy—no matter how good it is? So it was time to find something new, and what we found was Clementine’s, located along New Iberia’s historic Main Street.
“The spirit of Clementine Hunter lives on in the antique bar and charming restaurant that was named after her in New Iberia 10 years ago. Clemen-tine’s…is a fine dining establish-ment where a combina-tion of Cajun, Creole, and French-inspired dishes are served with New Orleans flair…. Owner Wayne Peltier named the restaurant after his favorite artist, a folk legend who is often referred to as the
‘black Grandma Moses’” (Lisa LeBlanc-Berry at ourhouse.biz). “We have incor-porated Clemen-tine’s famous backwards—C & H insignia into our logo and the placement of our silverware. As the story goes, Clementine thought the normal C was rude, with its back to you, so she signed her C backwards with its arms reaching out to hug you” (clementinedowntown.com).
You enter Clemen-tine’s through a large bar and dining area with one wall dominated by a massive wood bar. The bar was built in the late 1800’s and installed in a bar in Loreauville, LA, which is ten miles (as the crow flies) from New Iberia. Sometime in the early 1900’s it was moved via barge from Loreauville to New Iberia when the space now occupied by Clemen-tine’s was a “gentle-men’s club” that included, among other attractions, a gaming room in the back.
You walk through the bar to reach the main dining room which is divided into two distinct areas. The back area (left) with its suitable for dancing vinyl tiled floor and small band stand is used as a music venue.
The main dining room combines the best of warmth and formality. Even at noon the tables are coved with white linens—quite a change from the “joints” at which we usually eat. The gold rough-plastered walls provide a warm background for changing displays of works by local artists.
The featured artist on our visit was Chestee Harrington who “...grew up in New Iberia, Louisiana, along the beautiful and historic Bayou Teche.... The artist’s formative years were spent in an almost storybook setting. ‘I grew up on Rose Hill, along the Old Spanish Trail,’ says Chestee. Her familly home, situated along a route used for centuries to drive cattle cross country and located near the site where Spanish colonists founded New Iberia, retained a unique quality.... Although primarily self-taught, Chestee has studied at the Art Students League in New York City, the Shidoni Foundry in Teseque, New Mexico, and the Woodstock School of Art in New York” (chestee.com).
I was particularly taken with the piece hanging by our table—J’Etais au Bal (I went to the dance) which depicts a young Cajun girl attending a fais do-do (right). “A fais do-do (FAY-DOE-DOE) means to ‘go to sleep’ or ‘sleep.’ But, in reality, it's like a Cajun hoedown, a country dance. Because there were few public dance halls, families often gathered on Saturdays, bringing all the children, even very young babies, to enjoy eating as well as dancing. The music, sometimes referred to by the locals as ‘chanky-chank,’ was provided by an accordion, a fiddle, and a ‘ting-a-ling,’ or triangle. The favored dance of the Cajuns is called a two-step and is akin to a waltz, but livened up with little jig steps (inmamaskitchen.com).
These works provide the illustrations for L’Esprit de la Louisiane: Music of the Prairie, written by Christy Lawrence Viviano about life in rural Southern Louisiana. I was equally taken with this beautiful book and decided to purchase a copy for myself.
Lunch started with a loaf of warm bread and two butters—one regular and the second a mixed berry butter. This latter was tasty, but left me thinking that it would be better at breakfast on either an English muffin or a bagel.
We started by sharing two appetizers. The first was an order of Natchitoches meat pies—named for a city in Louisiana. They have “a savory meat filling in a crescent-shaped, flaky wheat pastry turnover. It is similar to a Spanish picadillo beef em-panada…. The Natchi-toches meat pie is nearly identical to the traditional ground beef empanada of Argentina” (wikipedia.com). The pastry crust was light and flakey and the filling had a definite peppery bite. I thought that I detected a hint of liver and deduced that the filling here was boudin rather than ground beef and pork. A question to our server confirmed that I was correct. With the mini-pies came a small dish of a creole mustard-based dipping sauce.
The second appetizer was the Dynamite Shrimp—large battered and fried shrimp coated with a sweetish chili-garlic sauce. This reminded me of Chinese Honey Walnut Shrimp—without the nuts—and seemed to have the same mayo and milk/cream sauce that you find on the Chinese classic. Here the flavors were a blend of Asian and Louisiana, and, again, no one cooks shrimp better than the Chinese or the Cajuns.
Proving once again that he is a man of surprises, Chuck abandoned his carnivore tendencies and ordered the Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie. Sitting under a cheesy potato topping sat green beans, yellow squash, onions, tomatoes, and mushrooms (Mine, all mine.) in a tomato “gravy.” All of the vegetables were crisp-cooked—especially the green beans—and retained all of their fresh veggie flavor. The tomato gravy was herb seasoned with a slightly sweet taste.
For my entrée, I went back to the appetizers and ordered the sesame-seared ahi tuna that came with a wasabi ranch sauce and a roasted red pepper aioli. Now you might think from looking at the photo that the tuna was served really rare. And rare it was, although not as rare as I would like. I prefer that the center of my ahi tuna be bordering on cold and this came warm—it’s like the difference between truly rare beef and medium rare. Still, I ate the portion with gusto and with amazement that I would find this in a small (just over 32,000) Southern Louisiana town.
If you were to ask me where to eat in New Iberia, I would still initially say Bon Creole Lunch Counter. But it is good to know that a 4.0 Addie alternative exists at Clementine’s.
To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.