Five days on the road can do bad things to your body. We left early on Sunday morning from home, and averaged 10 hours driving a day – that really wasn’t smart. We had agreed early on that we’d take it slow and easy every day, no matter how long it took to get to Jacksonville, Florida, where we’ll be spending a few months with our daughter, Melanie. I really don’t know what happened to that plan. I think I got caught up in the effort of scheduling our nightly stops in interesting places, and frankly, you just can’t do much of that on I-10 through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas – so the eventual scheduling stretched out our initial plan for 400 mile days, until at last we had days averaging almost 600 miles or more.
But, we were smart about one thing – we scheduled a rest period after day 5 – specifically, 3 days in Lafayette, Louisiana, an area which I humbly consider one of America’s prime eating territories – so here we are, resting away in our Priceline secured enclave of the Lafayette Hilton, and spending most of our time either conked out, or catching up on email, or deciding which fantastic restaurant to go to this time.
There is a basic problem with going somewhere for the specific purpose of having lots of good food – it’s the “cruise ship” dilemma, where they simply keep offering you more and more eating opportunities to indulge – I’ve seen some ships with 8 separate times set up for eating – it’s simply humanly impossible to eat that many times a day, unless of course you pick one or two choice bits, and stop – but if faced with a table full of exotically temping delights, how many folks can only eat one or two? And the richer the food, the quicker the onset of cruise ship dilemma.
I haven’t been here one full yet, and I’m already sated to the point where I couldn’t face the prospect of eating lunch today! This is due to having had two very rich -much Cajun/Creole food is uber rich- and very satisfying meals since arriving – and only a fool would risk forcing down another rich lunch and not being ready and able to enjoy the next dinner opportunity.
But, it’s still painful to be in the land of fantastic foods, and not be able to rise to the challenge of the opportunity. Makes you wonder if the “Feast and Purge” advocates might not be on to something we simply don’t understand!
Our dinner choice last night was a place called the Cafe Vermillionville, and I choose it for two reasons – one, because it has a wonderful reputation, especially with locals, and second, because many years ago when driving through a residential section of Lafayette, looking at all the old Victorian places, I pulled into a parking lot to read the map and get my bearings – as I looked up, I noticed a very old and beautiful building with a long porch stretching across the front – the building had what they call “character”, and the only indication of the nature of its character was a small sign at the corner of the parking lot stating, “Cafe Vermillionville”. At that moment I promised myself that someday I’d return to have a meal at that restaurant – and now I’ve kept that promise.
Vermillionville was one of the first settlements in the Lafayette area, and the Cafe Vermillionville has the look of a period plantation house, which I’d bet it was. Historians date the house from 1835 using period documents, but since their documentation only starts in 1835, there is an assumption that the actual age of the house is older still, perhaps as old as 1800. The dining room was originally the open air, but roofed kitchen, with a huge open fireplace in the center of the interior brick wall – the fireplace is open on two sides, and I’d also bet that this dual feature (heating and cooking) dates from the original construction – the original exterior brick is evident on two of the dining room walls, and is striking.
It perhaps will come as no surprise to know that I was looking forward to making a choice for this meal which might help to bring closure to my long held anticipation about the Cafe Vermillionville, and our server immediately gave me that perfect opportunity – as he presented our menus, he told us of the evening’s specials, and one was a dish which apparently was put together by the chef, and which could only be described by its parts – this is how our server described it: “This is fried soft shelled crawfish served over blackened puppy drumfish, and all topped with lump crab in a cream sauce”. I only needed to hear this description to know that this would be the perfect closure for my personal promise.
Now, crawfish are not really common -perhaps in Louisiana a bit more common than elsewhere- but soft shelled crawfish? I have long believed that soft shelled crabs are perhaps the finest of all seafoods, and I knew this was a unique experience that I should not let pass me by – I ordered it, and I was not disappointed. Later, while discussing the meal with our server, he stated that he’d never seen these served at the restaurant! What then, fate?
The dish was beautifully presented, and an almost overwhelming splash of flavors – underneath everything I found a base of dirty rice, which easily held its own among all the other unique flavors – I also found a dozen small green beans, cooked to a crisp but tender perfection. All considered, it was a dish of dreams, and closure as well.
Rich? Oh yes. However if missing a lunch in wonderland is the only price to pay to enjoy fully my next meal of perfection, it’s a price I’ll gladly pay.