The Bride is an engineer that works on broken things and, fortunately, things break down a bit in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Years ago, when she asked the locals about a good place to eat, they recommended a place pronounced ree-shards on Napolean Street. She couldn’t find it until she realized that ree-shards = Richard’s Boudin and Seafood. We both fell in love with the place, a local dive with gumbo we die for and a little something we’d never had before called a pistolette.
A pistolette is a fried bread roll that, in the Lake Charles and Lafayette areas, is stuffed with anything from crawfish to shrimp to whatever. While gumbo from Richard’s travels well, pistolettes do not because you have to enjoy them freshly made. So when chef Curtis Clarké from Lake Charles opened Evangeline Cafe in South Austin on Brodie Lane in 2003, we were eager to try the fare.
Clarké named the cafe after Evangeline Bellefontaine, mentioned in a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The poem was about the forced migration of 6,000 French settlers from Eastern Canada, including Acadia, Novia Scotia, in 1755 after France lost the French and Indian War to Great Britain. The British ordered the French settlers in the conquered lands to move or face annihilation, so many of them resettled in Louisiana. The word “Cajun” is an English bastardization of the word “Acadian.”
Finding that the hot bayous required a different cuisine than the northern climes, the French settlers developed Cajun and Creole cuisines as melting pots of West African, French, Haitian, Native American, and Spanish cooking. Cajun and Creole cuisines are different. Locals will say that Creole is city food while Cajun is country food. Along those lines, it’s also said that Creole feeds one family with three chickens while Cajun feeds three families with one chicken. Creole uses tomatoes and tomato sauces more than Cajun. More recently, during the 1970s, the chef Paul Prudhomme redefined Cajun and Creole to include spiciness.
The Stuffed Pistolette (petite French roll stuffed with shrimp or crawfish in creamy cheese sauce; $4.5) appears among the appetizers, and it is a marvel of kitchen engineering. The exterior of the bun, sourced, I believe, from the famous Langlinais Baking Company in Lafayette, is delicately fried with an impossibly thin, crisp shell sprinkled with chives and hot pepper powder. Like a Cracker Jack box of caramel-coated popcorn, there’s a cheesy prize inside, except, with the pistolette, this is a prize you want: an ambrosial lava of crayfish and melted cheese. The crunch of the exterior, the cloudsoft bread, and the creamy richness of the fill make for a toothsome delight.
I’m a sucker for gumbos, and Evangeline’s stirs up good-uns. On a recent visit, I chose Maw Maw’s Chicken & Sausage Gumbo ($8 with a side salad or potato salad for lunch). Making a roux is like democracy in America: there’s a fine line between heaven and disaster. Fortunately, Evangeline’s keeps their roux just inside the dark and delicious Promised Land with the earthiness of sassafras mixed with the deep flavor of peat bogs and campfires. It’s hard to eat without a smile of satisfaction. To end the meal, I tried Miranda’s Pecan Praline Pistolette ($5), Evangeline’s fusion of Cajun with more local fare. I forgot to take a photo of the inside, but, “Yes.”
I’m afraid that my exploration of the menu has stopped at pistolettes and gumbo: they are too good to pass up with the inherent “risk” of trying something new that isn’t as good. Evangeline’s serves up a seafood gumbo, fried alligator, jambalaya, etouffee, catfish, seafood baskets, po’boys, boudin, and more. For the veg-heads, there’s even a meatless gumbo. What I need to go every week for a month or two and venture elsewhere around the menu. The Oysters Contraband is beloved by several reviewers, as is the Gold Band Creole, the Boudin, and stuffed pork chop. In addition, Evangeline’s marks the Bronzed Wild Black Drum, Stuffed Pork Chop, Stuffed Wild-Caught Black Drum, Gold Band Creole, and Speedy’s Catfish with Crawfish Macque Choux as house specialties.
Evangeline’s is in a strip mall but occupies its space well. You feel like you’ve stepped into an old stand-by next to the bayou when you cross the threshold. Waitstaff are friendly and helpful. And the stage hosts live music during the week.
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best] each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)
each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)