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…” (cafedesamis.com)

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….” (saveur.com)

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.

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