Tuesday, July 30, 2013

He Hasn’t a Clue

Recently a New York Times travel writer and blogger—who shall remain nameless to spare him further embarrassment—made a road trip beginning in Louisiana and ending in North Dakota. And he had the audacity to write that he “could not find a memorable meal in Louisiana.”
Where did he go? Well, he went to Baton Rouge. OK, that’s the state capitol. He went to Shreveport. I’ve never been there so have no comment. He went to Natchitoches. Well, Natchitoches is known for its meat pies, which I consider to be miniature versions of Cornish Pasties. He went to Mamou. Mamou? The only reason to visit Mamou is to go to Fred’s Lounge on a Saturday morning to listen to Cajun music, suck on long-necks, and watch the locals drag tourists out onto the dance floor. Which explains why we have never gone to Fred’s Lounge on a Saturday morning.
I understand passing on New Orleans. Much has been written about New Orleans over the years. But how do you visit Louisiana without coming to Lafayette? Lafayette, the city that won Southern Living magazine’s competition in 2012 to be named “Tastiest Town in the South.” Lafayette, the city where—according to a local restaurant owner—the residents eat out more often than in New Orleans. Lafayette, a city so discriminating that the famous Donald Links, owner of at least five highly regarded restaurants in New Orleans, saw his Cochon Lafayette close after just over a year in business. Lafayette, where your dining choices range from plate lunch houses, poor boy shops, burger bars, to white tablecloth dining. Lafayette, where you can find really great barbecue, authentic Mexican food, and about ten miles east, truly fine pizza along with both traditional Cajun cooking and Cajun cooking taken to new culinary levels. (The only thing we haven’t found in Lafayette is really good Chinese food.) So Chuck and I share Acadiana’s ire over this snub.
And city diners love nothing better than when a local boy returns home (from New Orleans), opens a well-praised restaurant, and is twice nominated for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef in the South Award. “New Orleans-trained Lafayette native, Justin Girouard has teamed up with his wife Margaret to open a new staple in the Lafayette restaurant scene. Located downtown…, (t)he French Press serves breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Sunday in a casual family friendly atmosphere. Also, dinner on Friday and Saturday nights allows Chef Girouard to showcase some his artistic and more technical abilities…” (thefrenchpresslafayette.com).
“Girouard began his culinary career as a dish washer at Stella! in New Orleans, eventually working his way up to sous chef, and finally returning to his home town of Lafayette to open a knock-out gem of a restaurant” (thespoonfeeds.com).
“The moniker, The French Press, was designed as a nod to their sophisticated French style dining and the buildings former existence as a printing press…. The French Press is an entanglement of new and old…. The building…employs perfect juxtaposition; it maintains its antique floors and walls from the Printing Press, while boasting modern interior designs of concrete and steel…” (Shanna Perkins at lafayette.exposedtv.com).
“The old Tribune print shop downtown was being renovated and the couple fell in love with both the old building and its rustic ambiance and the large open spaces… They restored the interior, including painting the original pressed tin ceiling and sealing the ink-stained concrete floor that still bears the footprints of the printers who once published on the spot…one wall exists in its naked beauty, stains and cracks exposed, giving the restaurant an almost French Quarter appeal” (Chere Coen at countryroadsmagazine.com).

We last dined at French Press in the Spring of 2011 and had breakfast on two different visits. And we wanted to return to see if their breakfasts were as good as remembered. On these previous visits, we ordered the Acadian Breakfast Sandwich (bacon, egg, cheese and boudin on Texas toast), the Sweet Baby Breesus (buttermilk biscuit sliders with bacon, fried boudin balls, and Steen's cane syrup), the Cajun Benedict (toasted French bread, boudin, and eggs topped with chicken and andouille gumbo), and the Grits And Grillades. We loved them all. So what do we do? Reorder a favorite or try something new? We went with the new.
For Chuck it was French Press’ take on the classic Chicken and Waffles and their version should be deemed a classic itself. First, the chicken was one of the moistest pieces of chicken ever—which is hard to achieve with a boneless breast like this.
I asked our server Jonathon if the chicken had been brined, and after consultation with the kitchen, he came back and reported that, rather than brining, they had marinated the chicken with buttermilk (the enzymes and acids tenderize the chicken).

But they didn’t stop with the buttermilk marinade. The crispy skin had been glazed with LeBlanc’s cane jelly—a Louisiana product that was totally new to me—that gave the chicken a slightly sweet taste and that produced little “burnt sugar” bits on the skin. “From the cure-all elixir Hadacol to the first new sugarcane product in more than 200 years, the LeBlanc family has been churning out one-of-a-kind products in Louisiana since 1945. In recent years, Roland LeBlanc has poured his time and efforts into developing sugarcane jelly…. His final product, LeBlanc’s Cane Jelly…is the first new sugarcane product since 1794…. LeBlanc’s process for turning juice from sugarcane into jelly is not one of the common kitchen experiments gone awry stories. His product is the result of three years of hard work and determination” (ldaf.state.la). I so have to find some of this before we leave Louisiana!

The waffle portion of his meal had been topped with sharp cheddar which made a good foil to the sweet chicken. And the waffle came with a pitcher of warm Steen’s Cane Syrup for drizzling.
I chose the French toast which—in the tradition of pain perdu (lost bread)—was made with thick slices of French bread. Sandwiched between two slices of bread was a cream cheese and banana spread. And instead of syrup, the French toast was covered with a tart strawberry and blueberry champagne compote.
But, if I am eating a sweet breakfast, there has to be something salty on the side. How about a side of praline bacon? As Adam Richman (Man v. Food on the Travel Channel) would say “Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness.” Danno at nolacuisine.com wrote: “I don’t think there is anything quite as sinful as Praline Bacon. In fact, it is so sinful it could have only been created in New Orleans, and in fact it was, at Elizabeth’s Restaurant in 1998. The flavor marriage of pralines and good smoky bacon is so wrong that it just has to be right…”
The recipe Danno provides calls for thick cut bacon, Steen’s Cane Syrup, brown sugar, and toasted pecans. I don’t know how closely the French Press follows this specific recipe, but their version was magnificent. Think bacon candy.

So I say to that—I am presuming here—self-important New York Times travel writer and blogger, “Come to ‘The Tastiest Town in the South’ and start your day with a 5.0 Addie breakfast at the French Press.”
To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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