When I tell people about the food in Lafayette, I often say, "Eating here is a contact sport ... but one where you're only at risk of hurting yourself because you won't want to stop eating."
Well it looks like the game is on for this food town and we are the underestimated team in a new tournament — one who gets to be the food capitol of America. Today's Daily Advertiser article by Megan Wyatt points out the growing number of Cajun-Creole restaurants across the nation who've not only adopted our food traditions, some have taken our name! It's a "throw-down-the-gauntlet" scenario for a lot of us here in Acadiana and especially Lafayete.
Hey Austin, we love your food trucks. And Napa, you've got the wine market cornered. Southern California has surfing and fish tacos. It's hard to beat Charleston's downtown vibe with oysters from across the Eastern Seaboard.
But Asheville calling itself "Foodtopia" ... sorry, you've crossed the line.
Among the first to cry foul in today's piece was Nathan Norris, Lafayette's Downtown Development chief who has nothing bad to say about Asheville but would never identify it as a food-topia. It really comes down to one simple fact, Norris states, that no one is exporting Asheville food ... but everyone is exporting ours.
When was the last time you said to a friend, "Hey, let's go eat some Asheville food tonight?" Never. Nada. Zip. That probably isn't even said in Asheville.
But if the score for Asheville is still zero, why do we feel like we're behind in the game?
It's that old Winston Churchill observation about a lie getting halfway around the world before the truth can pull on its pants. And in today's connected world, the lies have wings. But there's hope Acadiana: It's time for some smack talk!
(And by smack talk, I mean you can literally have food in your mouth while you talk smack. It actually helps in this instance.)
Our musical ambassadors such as Givers, Soul Creole and Royal Teeth are drumming our newest battle cries. It's time we arm ourselves with shots of cracklins, raise our boudin-link-swords and yell, "Hold on to your ladles, America, 'cause Lafayette is just getting warmed up!"
It's time to call them out. It's time to say ...
You call that breakfast?
We're gonna slap down some grits and grillades*, make you pray to Sweet Baby Breesus* then take you to church with a bloody mary.
You call that lunch?
We're gonna make you feel like a po-boy*, slap a soul-food plate lunch* on your pitiful turkey sandwich and leave you wallowing in the gravy. Oh, and if you're looking for your turkey, we smoked it out back then put it in our andouille gumbo.* Yeah. And that's just lunch.
You call that barbecue?
(Oooh, I know he didn't go there. YES. Oh yes he did!)
That's right. I said barbecue. While all you pot-lickers argue over dry rub and soaking your ribs in vinegar sauce, we've been slow-roasting the WHOLE pig since before the U.S. was a country. I'll pit our boucherie* boucanieres* against any charcoal, can-cooked pork you can throw down ... because I know we'll hold our own. Try me.
You call that seafood?
Chew your chowder elsewhere 'cause we got oysters so salty you're going to clam up. And next we're throwing down crawfish big enough to scare your dogs away and give your children nightmares ... but they'll keep you begging for more. Then we'll grill redfish on the half-shell, stir up a turtle sauce piquante, fry blue-point bechemel crab cakes* and stuff you with crawfish beignets* for dessert. The Gulf of Mexico offers seafood nirvana and our chefs are the monks who will lead you to her enlightenment.
(That's right. Monks. The fighting kind. With big knives.)
You think you got steak?
We don't have grass-fed beef. We have swamp-fed beef. Our cow's have been brining for centuries in the salty Southwest Louisiana marshland. You may have a longhorn bull that can travel a thousand miles but it won't stand a chance against a heifer that's grown up fighting alligators.
And stop bragging on your friggin' filet! We have fourth-graders who can make a filet taste right.
You want to be a chef? Well until you can turn a tough piece of beef into a chicken-fat-seared grass-fed hanger steak with 3-herb pan drippings and bacon-honey brussel sprouts* ... until you can prep marinated sliced hanger over shoestring potatoes and a balsamic reduced salad* ... and make it taste AMAZING ... until then, you won't get my respect. Because where I'm from, not only can we make just about anything taste good, we expect it. So take your filet to church and pray we don't move into your town next week.
Think you got something for supper?
Keep your chickens in the yard 'cause we're bringing in the big guns. Would you like that fricasseed, gumboed, naked fried, or smoke-fried with biscuits?* Seafood? How about some fresh-caught mahi, or grouper, or shrimp, or speckled trout? (That's right. There's a decent chance it was pulled out of the water yesterday.) Supper might as well be called a frenzy around here. So while you people don your lobster bibs and politely crack a shell, we're eating food so delicious it's dripping to our elbow and the neighboring person is considering holding a piece of bread under it to catch the sauce.
So bring it America! Bring it to Lafayette. I dare you. You know why? Because this is a place where eating is a contact sport and you are in clear danger of hurting yourself.
This is a place where our food is so delicious it's on the agenda at executive board meetings.
This is a place where the parties last so long we have breakfast at midnight. Then again the next morning.
This is a place where we talk about lunch during breakfast, supper during lunch and breakfast during supper.
What do I want from you, Asheville and Denver and San Diego and all other cities in the United States who decided to call themselves the center of the food universe? I want a little respect. And I'm willing to fight for it.
Because even pizza joints have the decency to call what they serve "New York Style" pizza. That's right. They have respect. Because only real New York pizza can be found in New York. Just like only real Cajun-Creole-inspired dishes can be found in and around the capital of Cajun-Creole culture, Lafayette, Louisiana.
So get ready America. We're coming. And we've got game. And pork. And boudin. And way, way more.
*For all of the foreigners (in the U.S., that's anyone living north of I-10) who read this article, I've included a rough definition of the dishes mentioned, in order of appearance.
Grits and Grillades: This is a traditional Creole dish of meat (which varies and may include seafood) served with gravy over grits. You want a hearty breakfast (or supper)? This is it.
Sweet Baby Breesus: A signature breakfast item at The French Press in Downtown Lafayette. It's a slider (code for small sandwich) with boudin stuffed between homemade biscuits and drizzled with local cane syrup. Yeah. Amazing. And perhaps the name is a nod to a Louisiana hero, Drew Brees, who may well be venerated as a true Saint.
Po-Boy: Okay, this started in New Orleans. So this is a nod to that tradition. But, as locals know, New Orleans food is different from Lafayette food. So when you're in Lafayette, try one of our local versions of the Po-Boy. I'd recommend Olde Tyme Grocery on St. Mary Street.
Andouille Gumbo: Andouille is a French sausage made of pork. German immigrants, ironically, brought it to Louisiana (they brought a lot of other cool things, too, like the accordion). Cajuns found it lends a particularly flavorful essence to gumbo so much that they named the gumbo after the sausage. At Cafe Vermilionville on Pinhook, they smoke their own turkey for the andouille gumbo ... and that's how we talk turkey in Lafayette.
Boucherie: Imagine a micro-festival centered around the butchering and slow-roasting of a pig. In Hawaii it would be called a Luau. In South Louisiana it's called a boucherie. In both there's drinking and partying and entertainment of sorts. That's about as much as they have in common.
Boucaniere: Strict definition? Smokehouse. Real definition? The place revered second only to the church as it's the location for procuring smoked meat and boudin. Be reverent and eat well. (The most respected boucaniere in Lafayette may well be Johnson's Boucaniere on St. John, appropriately located near the cathedral.)
Blue Point Bechemel Crab Cakes: These come from a place called Charlie G's on Ambassador Caffery Boulevard (not really a boulevard, but we'll get into that on some other post). I'd be happy to describe them but will never do them justice. Just go there. Eat. Enjoy.
Crawfish Beignets: So Beignets are referred to as a "French doughnut" by some authors. I hate those people. They've obviously never tasted a beignet and a doughnut side by side. Really? Doughnut? Do you have taste buds? Anyway. If you want to understand what I mean, simply go to New Orleans and taste a Beignet. They're everywhere. If you want to understand, even further, how this culinary creation is by far more creative than circular-dough-balls-fried-in-grease, check out the crawfish beignets at Cafe Vermilionville on Pinhook Road. And tell them to put it on the dessert menu, because it's currently just an appetizer and that's just wrong. Desserts need savory flavor, too.
Grass-Fed Hanger Steak with 3-herb Pan Drippings and Bacon Honey Brussel Sprouts: This dish is the work of Chef Manny Augello at Bread & Circus on Bendel Road. It's called the Chef's Steak. Probably because he's quite proud of the accomplishment. He proves his mettle as a chef by taking hanger steak and elevating it to delectable levels.
Marinated Sliced Hanger over Shoestring Potatoes and a Balsamic Reduced Salad: This hanger steak has been revered by one of Lafayette's most-traveled executives as "The best lunch dish in the state." Once again, proof that being a great chef means you can make great food from just about any source. You'll find it at Cafe Vermilionville.
Smoke-Fried Chicken with Biscuits: This dish you'll find at Social Southern Table & Bar on Johnston Street. Smoke-fried? Yeah. Talk about taking Southern to a whole new level.