Monday, May 27, 2013

On Hiatus

We will be taking a 4-6 week hiatus from our travels for some minor surgery and recovery. In the course of a routine physical and some follow-up tests, we learned that I (Chuck) have a small malignant lesion on one kidney that needs to be removed. I will have surgery on Wednesday and then spend the next 4-6 weeks in recovery. The good news is that this lesion was found early.

Please keep checking back with us.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

This Wasn’t on Our List

…for a revisit. But I still kept checking the Café des Amis’ (located in Breaux Bridge) website to see who might be performing on Wednesday nights or Sunday mornings. And when we saw that the former headman—Al Berard—for our all-time favorite Cajun band, the Basin Brothers, would be playing one Sunday under the name of “Berard and Friends,” we quickly added the café to our list.

One thing we have learned is that “and Friends” is a constantly moving target, and from performance to performance, those “friends” might change. And sometimes one can be the featured performer and at other times be a “friend.” In fact, we have seen Al Berard as a “friend” as part of Forest (Huval) and Friends. Just part of the fascination gumbo that makes up Southern Louisiana music.
Anyway, Al Berard is an accomplished musician, and we have heard him play the guitar, the fiddle, and the mandolin. And his “friend” this morning was his daughter Megan, who is a gifted guitarist and singer. At first we were mildly disappointed that this was not to be a full Cajun band complete with accordion player. But midway through our meal, I remarked that their music—which Chuck described as being “cool jazz”—was the perfect match for a civilized and leisurely Sunday brunch.

“Café Des Amis has a rich history, starting with the construction of the building it calls home, circa 1890. Originally, it was a one-story structure that served as a general merchandise store. Four years later, a fire broke out, causing the need for reconstruction and the second story was added at that time.
“Caskets were manufactured in the upstairs space, and they were moved from floor to floor by a hand operated Otis elevator which remained operable until a second fire broke out early in the summer of 2001. It was the first elevator in Breaux Bridge, and one of the only in a rural area. This fire damaged the large elevator shaft and the back of the downstairs kitchen, so the structure had to be rebuilt once again. The hand crank mechanism which resides at the front of the restaurant was styled into a unique hostess stand by Toby Rodriguez, a local artist and craftsman. You can still find the original model and serial numbers on the gears. The downstairs continued as a general merchandise store until local historic figure, Ms. Zeen, transformed it into a women’s apparel shop. She was known throughout the area as the ‘Lagniappe Lady’, as those who bought material from her often went home with a roll or two of thread for free.
“When Dickie Breaux originally purchased the building, the downstairs was used as an art studio and the upstairs became a living area. As time passed, the decision was made to include a coffee shop along with the studio, and Café Des Amis was born in 1992…” (

Since our last visit, the walls and support pillars have accumulated even more performers’ autographs.
The rustic brick walls serve as a rotating gallery for Louisiana artists. Currently the works of Herb Roe are on display and this particular series shows scenes from Courir de Mardi Gras (French for "Fat Tuesday Run").

McGee’s Medley

Sur le bord l’eau (On the Waterside)

So we are preparing to have an urbane meal while listening to good music. What more could anyone want? A Bloody Mary, of course. This gave new meaning to “tall cold one” and the balance of horseradish to Worcestershire to hot sauce to vodka was near to perfect.
I had a hard time deciding between the Yellowfin Tuna Rockefeller (seared yellowfin tuna medium rare to rare served on a bed of creamed spinach and “etched” with crawfish étouffée and served with macque choux [“mock-shoe”] and dirty rice) and the Shrimp and Grits. Since shrimp and grits is such a quintessential Southern dish, that was finally my choice.
The dish began with two triangle shaped grit cakes that reminded me of the fried polenta (also a corn product) that is served in Italian restaurants. Alone, the grit cakes were delicious with a crisp exterior surrounding the creamy yet “gritty” interior. (Did you know that grits is an acronym for "Girls Raised In The South"?)

On top and around the grit cakes sat six lovely jumbo shrimp, and all of this was covered with a tasso cream sauce. Tasso is pork, heavily seasoned with Cajun spice, which is then smoked. Tasso is a strongly-flavored meat that is used as a seasoning. You would never—or at least I wouldn’t—eat a slice of tasso or a tasso sandwich. And being so heavily seasoned, it is the wise kitchen that uses this product with care. Café des Amis has a wise kitchen.

Chuck wanted to start with the Oreille de Cochon (Pig's Ear) or boudin stuffed beignet dough shaped like a pig’s ears and dusted with powdered sugar. (I say “wanted to start” because his entrée—in this case, a bowl of the Seafood Corn Bisque—arrived at the same time.) Every time we have eaten at Café des Amis, something isn’t right. And it was the Oreille de Cochon this time.
It had spent so much time in the fryer that the beignet dough was hard and dark brown. And while the menu says that is comes with powdered sugar, I suspect that the avalanche of sugar was intended to act as a disguise. And once one found the boudin within, it was very dry.

His seafood corn bisque was better, but is no competition for Chef Roy’s Frog City Café’s (Rayne, LA) crab and corn soup. The bisque contained a good number of small shrimp and crawfish tails along with corn in a rich base that we suspect included cheese.
Chuck decided to give up on investigating what it contained and just decided to enjoy it.

Not wanting to give up our table while the music was still being played, we decided on dessert—the Gateau Sirop or Syrup Cake. This is a traditional Cajun cake made with cane syrup and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg or any combination of these. But it is the cane syrup that is the predominant flavor.
So what is cane syrup? “The caramel–flavored, burnt gold–colored syrup, which is made from juice extracted from raw sugar cane stalks and boiled down until thick, is a Louisiana classic—the Creole and Cajun answer to maple syrup…. While undeniably sweet, cane syrup has a toasty, slightly bitter twang. Unlike corn syrup, which can be one aggressively saccharine note of flavor, and molasses, which can overwhelm certain dishes, cane syrup's buttery flavor is complex without being overpowering….” (

Like most of the meals we have eaten at Café des Amis, this was not without its flaws and only earns 3.5 Addies. But I am sure that we’ll return when our favorite musicians are on the bill.

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

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Lady Who Lives in the Dashboard

…really doesn’t like Lafayette. But more on that later.

Thinking that our time in Lafayette would be short, we came to a mutual agreement that our dining priority would be those restaurants we have visited in the past and really liked. But that still didn’t stop me from checking out to see if there was something new. And there was—Steve and Pat’s Bon Temps Grill—sitting in the Number Eight place of favorite local restaurants.

“It's been reiterated time and again that there's no place like home.

“Given the opportunity to come back to South Louisiana to ‘do our dream,’ the O'Bryan brothers, Steven and Patrick, reared south of Abbeville, jumped at the chance.

“Acadiana's Joie de Vivre—the joy of life—also means sharing good food, the staple of the soul, with friends and family in one of Lafayette's many restaurants…

“Bon Temps Grill…has a neighborhood feel, quaint and cozy, with an upscale menu that is a ‘very big surprise for people,’ the brothers said. ‘It's ‘Swamp-edge Cuisine in an Urban Cajun atmosphere.’…

“…Bon Temps Grill is not your typical ‘fried seafood platter Cajun restaurant.’ ‘We want to become known for grilled food with a twist.’ Fried foods are not the norm at this restaurant, as the only items are a Fried Shrimp Po-boy on the lunch menu, or Bon Temps Country Fryers” (Linda Meaux at

The menu looked intriguing enough to warrant a visit so we set forth from our RV park in Duson for what should be a short drive to the southwest (I think) side of Lafayette. We drove. And we drove. “Right turn ahead,” said The Lady Who Lives in the Dashboard. “Sharp left turn ahead.” “Left turn ahead.” “Keep left.” “Keep right.” And so on, and on, and on. Someone (a local, mind you) once told us that the streets in Lafayette were laid out by a Drunken Cajun. That person may be right. Some streets almost circle the city. About three-quarters of the way to the restaurant, we looked at each other and said “We could have just gone straight out Ambassador Caffrey and made a left.” But finally we arrived.

What caught my attention was the Bon Temps Grill’s appetizer list with such offerings as: Bon Temps Sausage and Boudin Board (an array of Louisiana’s sausage and boudin, grilled and served with sliced French bread, charred red onion aioli, and Creole mustard); Blackened Chicken Lettuce Wraps (blackened chopped chicken breast served with spicy mango salsa, almonds, and jicama slaw); Nola Shrimp and Grits (jumbo shrimp cooked in New Orleans style BBQ sauce, served over roasted jalapeno cheese grits); and Tuna and Avocado Tartar (diced raw tuna served on lime marinated avocado with citrus ponzu sauce and crispy fried red onions).
But we ordered none of these.
Every once in a while, Chuck gets the urge for a steak. I think he was inspired by watching Steak Paradise on the Travel Channel the afternoon before, and he waivered between the nine-ounce filet mignon and the twelve-ounce rib eye. The latter won the day. And—with one proviso—it was a very good steak, cooked medium rare to his request.
One can’t fault the steak’s flavor and tenderness, but like so many cuts of beef, it came to the table with a large amount of attached fat. Now this may not be a problem for many but we both have a real problem eating fatty bits of meat. So by the time we get done trimming a steak it probably ends up half its original size.

The steak came with what the restaurant calls Red Hot Potatoes which were smashed red skins. But they had a different taste. Certainly not an unpleasant one. Just different. So I asked a young man checking on the tables how they were made. The secret? Boiling the potatoes in crawfish boil.

Now he had a choice of a second side and here he completely surprised me. He chose the grilled asparagus. They were pencil thin and tender and had developed a mild smoky flavor from the grill.

I, too, had trouble deciding. The Shrimp and Tasso Pasta (Louisiana shrimp and shredded tasso in a cream sauce over fettuccine) or—and my ultimate choice—the Grilled Chili Butter Shrimp (mesquite grilled shrimp skewers glazed with sweet chili honey butter and served on a bed of sage sweet potato mash)?
The shrimp came as two skewers of five shrimp each which were beautifully cooked (Have I ever remarked that no one can cook a shrimp like the Cajuns or Chinese? Oh. I have?) and were slightly sweet and slightly spicy from the chili honey butter glaze.

The sweet potato mash was delicious. It was not a smooth puree, but still had some lumps. The sage provided a soft hint of this woodsy and slightly minty herb. And the sweetness probably came from Steen’s Cane Syrup which is processed in the O'Bryan hometown of Abbeville.

I, too, had my choice of a second side and selected the braised Brussels sprouts which were prepared in the style of collard greens with a touch of vinegar, a touch of pepper, and a touch of smoky bacon.

We both really enjoyed our 4.5 Addie lunch. Unfortunately, we probably won’t get the chance to return to try any of those interesting appetizers.

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

Friday, May 24, 2013

We had no sooner backed…

the Big White Truck into its parking space than a familiar face appeared in the passenger side window. It was Gary, who, with his partner Marilyn, owns our favorite barbeque restaurant anywhere—2Paul’s Radically Urban Barbecue. (Gary and Marilyn share the common middle name of Paul although Marilyn’s is spelled Paule.) And it is here in Lafayette, LA.

I suspect that Gary recognized our truck before he recognized us. For some reason, men here are fascinated by our truck (Chuck only thinks it’s his.) and we are frequently stopped by guys wanting to engage in “truck talk.” To give Chuck credit, he has learned to fake it masterfully.

The three of us stayed in the lot chatting, and we learned that Marilyn is the internet maven of the two and she is the one who posts, under the nom de plume of GastroCeleb, a response to every review on where 2Paul’s is ranked as the Number Four (out of 318) restaurant in Lafayette with an average rating of 4.5 out of 5.00.

Soon it was time to go inside and say hello to Marilyn and to catch up on happenings since our last visit over a year ago. I’m not sure how many of 2Paul’s customers know that Marilyn is an accomplished poet, and she was kind enough to send us two books of her poems.
Marilyn and Gary

If you think that most barbeque “joints” are rustic with lots of dark wood, 2Paul’s will come as a surprise. The walls are painted a light lime green with red and purple accents.
Along the walls are definitions of “urban,”
"2pauls," and
“radical” (“fundamental, yet shockingly different”).
And one wall is decorated with two graffiti boards that began as blank canvasses upon which customers have written words of appreciation.
2Paul’s food is described as blending “traditional Texas-Oklahoma-style smoke with authentic, homemade Cajun sides and seasonings.” They offer all of the meat choices (all smoked in a small building behind the restaurant) you’d expect—pulled pork, chicken, brisket, ribs, turkey, and smoked sausage along with BBQ shrimp. During the past year they have added stuffed potatoes: the Shredhead with entrée pulled pork, cheese, and slaw; the Meathead with entrée brisket, sauce, cheese, and chives; and the Shrimphead with entrée shrimp, mushrooms, sauce, chives, and parmesan.

On this day, we ordered our two 2Paul’s favorites—the pulled pork plate with two sides (potato salad and baked beans) and the “meat only” smoked sausage. The pulled pork included a large number of “barky” pieces—my favorites—which were rapidly removed from the plate (it was sitting in front of Chuck) and transferred to my plate.
Their sausage is delicious with a peppery taste that is not overpowering. I seem to remember Gary telling me last year that this is made by Richard’s Cajun Foods of Church Point, LA. (There’ll be more on the side dishes later.)
And, of course, we couldn’t forget an order of 2Paul’s onion rings. Along with being pizza snobs, Chuck and I fancy ourselves to be onion ring snobs. During the past (almost) five years of travels, we have eaten onion rings around the country and have concluded that the best are made in Cajun Louisiana and that the best of these are served at 2Paul’s.
These were particularly good when I dipped them into their horseradish remoulade, acting on the suggestion of a staff member. These onion rings are so good that we find ourselves eating all of the little coating bits that fall into the bottom of the serving basket.

In November 2008, after eating the onion rings at an establishment about ten miles west on the Interstate, Chuck was moved to take pen (metaphorically speaking) in hand and let the creative juices flow. (At that time we were unaware of 2Paul’s existence.) And so it is time to go back into the blog archives and reprint—in honor of Gary and Marilyn’s rings—the:


Behold! The onion transformed:
from multi-ringed orb
with menacing bite
prompting tears of pain—
through many a cut,
a beer-based dip,
a sprinkle of heat,
a dusting of flour,
a bath of hot oil—
into rings of crunch
and spirited bite,
prompting tears of joy.
  --Chuck Schrader

To finish off the meal we shared a slice of house-made lemon cheesecake that was simultaneously rich and—to cut the richness of the cream cheese and the meats that had preceded it—refreshingly tart.
Marilyn introduced me to the young man—Matt—one of the young men who make the cake, and I say to them “Job well done.”

It wasn’t too many days later that we returned. This time we decided to share the three meat/two sides platter and selected the brisket, smoked turkey, and smoked sausage.
Regular readers of this review know that brisket (or any well-done beef for that matter) is not the highest food choice on my list. But I give 2Paul’s credit for producing a very good brisket. I think what differentiates theirs from the rest is that it is not dry. Whenever I watch a food program on TV and see Guy Fieri, Adam Richman, et al., with the BBQ master slicing into a smoked brisket and the juices are flowing like a river, I ask “In what world does this exist?”

With this plate, we chose the potato salad and green beans as the sides and added fries (for Mr. Potato) and, of course, the onion rings. Again, we’ll get to the sides later.

And we again finished with the lemon cheesecake.

Back again for a third lunch. This time we were both determined to order something new and Chuck selected the barbecued chicken. This was a good sized portion of chicken consisting of a wing, drumstick, thigh, and breast. Hey, that’s half a chicken!
The real test is whether the breast meat stays moist and this certainly did. In fact, it wasn’t until he was almost finished that he realized he hadn’t used any barbecue sauce.

As sides, he ordered the green beans and potato salad plus an order of fries and an order of onion rings. And I again asked for some of the horseradish remoulade.

I had never ordered their BBQ shrimp and decided to rectify that omission by selecting the Shrimphead stuffed baked potato. This was huge. The potato had been baked out in the smoker as had been the shrimp which were removed just when they turned pink.
They are than flash heated in Gary’s special New Orleans BBQ shrimp sauce, which should never be confused with a red tomato-based BBQ sauce. New Orleans BBQ shrimp were invented at Pascal Manale’s in New Orleans and the sauce is a mix of butter—lots and lots of butter—hot sauce, a bit of Worcestershire, and—according to the whims of the particular chef—herbs and seasonings. In addition to the shrimp, the potato had been topped with sliced mushrooms, sliced scallions, and a light dusting of parmesan cheese. I thought that the pulled pork and sausage were my 2Paul’s favorites. There is a new contender in the clubhouse.

So why is 2Paul’s our favorite place for barbecue? It’s first about the food, of course. We have yet to order anything we didn’t like, but there are items we like more than others. The meats are not over-smoked, so you taste the pork, chicken, turkey, and brisket and not just smoke. And they refrain from saucing everything. Sauce is up to the diner. Yes, I can ask other places to “hold the sauce” or “sauce on the side” but I shouldn’t have to remember. Especially at my age.

And now let’s talk sides. One of the many reasons we so like 2Paul’s is that they treat their sides with the same degree of respect as their meats. The side choices are rice dressing, potato salad, Asian cole slaw, baked beans, mac & cheese, and green beans, and we have tried them all except for the rice dressing. The beans are more Texas-inspired (maybe because Gary lived for a considerable time in Oklahoma) than traditional South; the Asian slaw contains crumbled Ramen noodles and slivered almonds, the mac & cheese is made with small shell macaroni and pepper jack cheese; and the potato salad is made with red skin-on potatoes with a bit of chopped scallion and pickle.

But our new favorite is the green beans. Both our mothers, being of German-heritage and of a certain generation, would overcook any green vegetable until it was lacking in flavor. Well, 2Paul’s green beans are soft cooked but are full of flavor. When I raved about them to Gary, he gave me the secret recipe. Do you think I am going to share it here? Heck, no. This is now Gary’s and my secret. Well, I am sure Marilyn also knows.

But dining out for us is about more than just food. It has to do with an overall experience that begins with the owners (and Gary and Marilyn are two of the nicest people you will ever meet) and a culture that they transmit to the staff. We learned that many of their staff members have been with them for a considerable period and that is music to this diner’s ears. How frustrating is it to find a restaurant that you really like and then staff turnover—especially in the kitchen—changes the dynamic completely? And this is the appropriate time to give special praise to their staff, especially those who work the front of the house and are always cheerful, patient (we tend to ask a lot of questions), and knowledgeable about the menu.

So we present here, from left to right, Josh, Michelle, Crystal, and Matt. Josh and Matt are the maestros of the lemon cheesecake.
I think it was Crystal who first recommended the horseradish remoulade to accompany the onion rings. And Michelle keeps moving through the dining room making sure that everyone is happy.

Gary and Marilyn told us that they are negotiating on a property in Broussard to add a second location. Initially, Gary will oversee the new spot assisted by Matt, who will eventually become the General Manager.

This is and will always be a 5.0 Addie favorite. In fact, I plan to stock my freezer with their pulled pork and purchase numerous bottles of the mild barbecue sauce before we travel on.

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

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Coffee and Culture Café

One of the objectives in our travels has been to "go at least 'knee-deep' into the culture of a community." Nowhere in the country is that easier to do than in Cajun Country (Acadiana) around Lafayette, Louisiana. Visit Eunice, Rayne, Scott, Carencro, Cecilia, Henderson, Arnaudville, Broussard, Kaplan, Abbeville, and the Atchafalya Basin and you'll hear the music of past generations, enjoy the foods of grandmothers who never wrote down the recipes for gumbos, jambalaya, and etoufees, and overhear conversations, many in Cajun French, that revere the neighbors next door with the same regard that the wonderful people of this fascinating region have for hometown musicians who have toured the world.

And in Breaux Bridge, we have the most recent example of the ingredients in this cultural/anthropological gumbo. The entries of the past two days described Buck and Johnny's restaurant where we enjoyed some regional favorites and met several people from the area.

On a Saturday morning, a short walk from the restaurant brought us to the former Broussard's Hardware Store, built in 1925,
and in the former antique shop in this building was Joíe de Vívre, fittingly described as "A Coffee and Culture Café."
And here amid the work of local artists,

musicians had gathered for the weekly jam session. And among the dozen and one-half musicians were accomplished artists with national reputations playing alongside others who simply enjoy playing tunes and reliving family memories associated with these tunes.
The unique Cajun accordion and
the washtub bass, a utilitarian substitute for a string bass, along with guitars, fiddles, and a mandolin filled out the instrumental composition of the group.
Two participants would not allow the braces on their hands to stop them from joining in.

This attention to the braces turned my attention to the hands of the musicians, and these next two photos concentrate on just the hands of some of the members.

"Melanie Harrington (owner) explained, 'People feel comfortable first at home, then at work, then at churches or bars where they can socialize with familiar faces. Coffeehouses are fast becoming the "third space," Harrington said, 'a place where people feel at home and can enjoy time with friends'" ( "Cafe Joie de Vivre")

As we watched the musicians, we were struck by the emotions shown in their faces. Most of the musicians appeared very serious as they were playing,

but one guitarist was the most animated and expressive in the group. Her enthusiastic strumming and movements were just blurs in my camera.

We love the people, the music, and the food of Acadiana.