It’s spring music festival season on the Gulf Coast, and many of you will be heading east for New Orleans Jazz Fest or Lafayette’s Festival International de Louisiane. Unless you will be taking kids with you, there’s no reason not to leave Texas hungry; after all, you are headed to the best dining region in America.
Whether you are looking for Cajun, Creole or seafood, or some combination of all three, here are three places to get your fix in the Lafayette area.
Pat’s Fisherman’s Wharf
1008 Henderson Levee Rd, Henderson, LA
Your kids will never forget their first visit to this slightly surreal, uber-Cajun bayou-side eatery and bar on the edge of the Atchafalaya Swamp. The parking lot is full of scruffy, wild-eyed but friendly stray cats. The backroads restaurant’s deck is right atop a canal-like stretch of bayou, in which Pat’s owners have built an enclosure for the restaurant’s pet alligators, who sun themselves in reptilian contentment while you dine. Live Cajun and swamp pop wafts from the bar adjoining the restaurant, and the staff’s Cajun accents are thick. Pat’s swamp platter offers fried oysters, shrimp (fried and stuffed), fried catfish, hush puppies, stuffed crab, seafood dressing, and, eccentrically, an eggroll all for a mere $18. It’s also a great place for crabs: they offer them boiled, stuffed, au gratin, in a cocktail or in a pie. Also, rockin’ cocktails from the bar. (It’s about two miles south of I-10 and well worth the drive.)
Cafe des Amis
140 East Bridge Street
Breaux Bridge, LA 70517
An elegant gem of a cafe in quaint downtown Breaux Bridge with gallery-worthy Louisiana art on the walls and a pressed-tin ceiling, Cafe des Amis is simultaneously downhome and upscale. Weekends feature zydeco breakfasts with the likes of Dikki Du and the Zydeco Krewe and Cajun brunches hosted by Louisiana music legend Joel Savoy. The food lives up to the art and the sounds here; the lump crabcakes come resting atop a caramelized Vidalia onion sauce and the whole shebang melts in your mouth. A spinach, pecan, feta and juicy fried oyster salad came bathed in pepper jelly vinaigrette, and my wife’s turtle soup was full of tender chunks of meat and accompanied by a little pot of sherry. (She prefers the darker roux of Brennan’s, but that’s a tall order for anybody to match.) Other entrees include a $19 Yellowfin Tuna Rockefeller served (medium rare to rare, the chef recommends) on a bed of creamed spinach and etched with crawfish etouffee and BBQ Shrimp Pont Breaux, head-on Louisiana shrimp sautéed in the barbecue sauce and served with crostini slices.
3480 NE Evangeline Thruway, Lafayette, LA
Claiming to be the world’s first Cajun-themed restaurant, Prejean’s has a kitschy interior that puts you in mind of an old-timey backroads museum of natural history: stuffed gators and swamp critters galore and a gift shop. There’s a small and dark bar off to one side and a stage at the other, where Cajun musicians perform nightly and quietly enough not to step on your conversation. Don’t miss the smoked duck and andouille gumbo or their many decadent variants on the humble catfish: Catahoula style finds the mudcats stuffed with shrimp, crawfish and crab, baked, and then bathed in a crawfish and tasso cream sauce, while the catfish Oscar Prejean is fried, topped with jumbo lump crab and mesquite-grilled asparagus, set over a brown butter wine sauce and then drizzled with Bearnaise.