The conversation went something like this: “Billy and his parents are going snow skiing during spring break,” said my son.
“Susie’s family is going to the beach,” said my daughter. “Where are we going, again?”
“To Breaux Bridge, Louisiana,” I replied.
So began Spring Break 2008, the year my family chose to split from the pack and try something different.
“Not only Breaux Bridge,” I continued, “but we’re going to St. Martinsville, New Iberia, Butte LaRose, and Avery Island, too.”
“Avery Island! Do they have beaches there?” said my daughter.
“No honey, that’s where they make Tabasco sauce.” She looked at me as if I had just offered to take her to see the World’s Largest Ball of Twine.
I called my friend Liz, a native of New Iberia, my friend, Bill a well-traveled food lover, and my friend John, a New Orleans chef who has spent thousands of hours and hundreds of meals in Cajun country. Armed with the information they gave me, I packed my wife, son, and daughter in the family truckster and headed south.
This was to be the first leg of a sandwiched spring break trip that would begin in Cajun country with crawfish, alligators, and Zydeco two-stepping; and end in New Orleans with the aquarium, the zoo, beignets, and Easter service at St. Louis Cathedral.
Going against everything in my typical vacation-planning nature, we had no itinerary, no plan, and no mission, just hotel reservations in Lafayette.
First stop: an airboat ride through the swamp. As a kid, I watched the television show Gentle Ben that starred Ron Howard’s little brother and the guy who played McLeod. It was about a boy and his pet bear in the Florida Everglades. My friends liked they bear. I liked the dad’s airboat.
I always wanted to ride in an airboat. My children had never heard of one. They loved it. We saw alligators and cypress trees, and old Cajun men fishing, and cypress trees, and egrets, and more cypress trees. It was a blast.
That evening we ate at Randol’s restaurant in Lafayette. I was looking for a Zydeco dance hall. Going against everything in my restaurant-hopping nature, at least on this occasion, food would be secondary to music. Randol’s fit the bill perfectly; the food was forgettable— save the wonderfully rich and spicy crawfish bisque made with a roux darker than the Atchafalaya swamp at midnight— the service was poor, but the music was exceptional.
My six-year old son became a dancing machine. Who knew? We couldn’t keep him off of the dance floor. When his mother tired of dancing, he dragged his reluctant 10-year old sister out onto the floor. When she became unwilling, he begged me. The band was great. I danced with my wife, I danced with my daughter, and I awkwardly walked around the dance floor with my son.
I have never been a fan of Zydeco music. That changed forever one Saturday night in Lafayette Louisiana in a dance hall with my wife and two children.
When polling the aforementioned Cajun country experts, they all had several enthusiastic restaurant recommendations. The one restaurant they all had in common was Café Des Amis in Breaux Bridge.
Café Des Ami’s website listed a Zydeco breakfast. Armed with a new appreciation of Zydeco music, and a passion for breakfast, we made a Sunday morning reservation. Unfortunately the Zydeco breakfast at Café Des Amis is only held on Saturday mornings.
The breakfast started with Oreille de Couchon, which is basically a huge beignet in the shape of a pig’s ear. It was good but not as good as beignets shaped like beignets. The kids loved it. We also ate Couche Couche, a Cajun cereal made from corn meal with milk and syrup, but the highlight of the meal was Eggs Begnaud which consisted of a split, open-faced biscuit topped with crawfish au gratin and two fried eggs. This dish, alone, was worth the trip.
The trip ended with a tour of the Tabasco factory and lunch at Victor’s Cafeteria in New Iberia, home of a mighty fine stuffed pepper and some of the best fried shrimp my kids have ever eaten.
Next Week: Dispatches from the Crescent City
Tasso and Smoked Cheddar Cheesecake
2 cup Japanese breadcrumbs
1 cup parmesan cheese
1 Tbl Fresh thyme
1 Tbl parsley
1 /2 cup melted butter
1 tsp. black pepper
Preheat oven to 275
Combine all ingredients.
Press into a 9-10 inch spring-form pan, covering the bottom completely and bringing the crust 1 1 /2 inches up the sides. Bake crust five minutes and allow to cool.
1 Tbl butter
1 1 /2 cup tasso, diced
1 /2 cup onion, minced
1 TBSP garlic, minced
1 /2 pound cream cheese, softened.
1 /2 pound smoked cheddar cheese, finely grated
3 eggs + 2 yolks
1 /4 cup sour cream
1 /2 tsp salt
1 tsp creole seasoning
1 /4 tsp black pepper
1 /4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbl Worcestershire Sauce
1 /2 cup chopped green onions
2 Tbl finely chopped red bell peppers
In a medium sized sauté pan, melt butter and cook tasso, onions and garlic for 3-4 minutes. Allow to cool.
While tasso mixture is cooling, beat the cheeses together until soft in a mixing bowl. Add eggs, one at a time allowing them to incorporate. Add remaining ingredients, and cooled tasso mixture.
Pour filling into par-baked crust and bake45-60 minutes.
Let cheesecake cool completely before cutting. Dip a clean knife into hot water to cut, wiping knife clean, and re-dipping into water after every slice.
Can be made two days in advance. Remove from refrigerator 1-2 hours before serving.