This past weekend I was ‘invited’ to go back to South Louisiana. Lafayette, to be more precise. I grew up there, spent 36 years there. I used to know it like the back of my hand until my nephew was driving us to lunch and took some back roads that I sort of remembered. The country side in Cajun land is beautiful. The sugar cane is high and ready for harvesting. The change of color in the trees is limited to what we call ‘chicken trees’ but they are a blaze with colors of yellow to brilliant reds. The weather can be hit and miss there, hot and humid to cool and crisp. Thankfully it was just warm and not very humid. Nights were cool but you didn’t need a jacket.
I was ‘invited’ to judge a high school marching band contest. I’ve been judging these types of contest for over 20 years and this was the first time I’ve been able to get this one and it was completely by accident. The regular judge rotates every other year and this was his off year. They usually have a few others they can pull in however due to some procrastinating they missed out on those others and scrambled to find anyone available. I’ve pulled back a bunch on my own schedule and it just so happens I was open. I didn’t have much going on so I booked my flight and let a few friends know I was coming down through social media.
Friday evening the organizers brought us to the old standard for Lafayette, Don’s Seafood and Steakhouse in downtown. This was the place once upon a time to go for a classy meal in downtown Lafayette. Things have changed with what many call the doughnut effect where people move away from the center of town where the center becomes a ghost town. There’s still plenty of activity and they try to keep things interesting by hosting free outdoor concerts, festivals, art walks, etc. Naturally when those first take off the popularity is huge but like with everything people have a somewhat short attention span and the shine wares off that too.
I was still very excited to be eating at Don’s, it’s been probably 35 years since I’d eaten there. I remember a college friend of mine asking to go there after he graduated from college before he left for his new job and life. I don’t remember what I ate or where we sat but I do remember our conversation in the parking lot.
This time I was the ‘local’ as the other judges were mostly from other parts of the US. I knew that certain seafoods were not in season so I stuck to what I knew would be considered fresh. I ordered up a bowl of Crawfish Bisque as a starter to have while I finished off an Old Fashion that was overly sweet from the sugar stick sloshing around trying to dissolve with the whiskey. The bisque was just as good as any 75 year old Cajun grandma would make. The roux was not too dark or burnt, there were 3 stuffed heads, which is rare, you typically get 2 in most bowls.
I ordered up the Crawfish half-n-half, that means you get a half order of crawfish etouffee, or crawfish smothered in onions served over white rice and a half order of fried crawfish, battered in an egg batter and dredged in flour then fried in oil. I always mix the two of them together so I can get both flavors in my mouth at the same time.
The texture of crawfish can sometimes turn people off due to their chewy consistency. More people don’t eat them because they are considered bottom feeders, and they are. Depending on where they are caught can determine their flavor. Most crawfish are pond farmed and the water has to be regulated and very clean. The US Government has imposed strict regulation on this crop….yes, it’s considered a crop. Years ago when I was very young my Mom and Dad along with a couple aunts or uncles would head out to the levee in Henderson and fish our own. Those weren’t nearly as large as what you get from farm raised but the flavor was much better. Of course the way your Mom cooked them was always better than what was served in any fancy restaurant! I miss my Mom’s cooking.