We came in off the chilly Gulf and harbored over in Breaux Bridge, the ''crawfish capitol of the world.'' Located about 10 miles from Lafayette, the cultural heart of Cajun country, Breaux Bridge is also home to the wonderful Cafe Des Amis where crowds gather on Saturday mornings to scoot back the tables and dance during the cafe's famous "Zydeco Breakfasts.'' We seem to have a knack for showing up in places on their ''off'' days, but things usually work out anyway.
Located a block and a half from the rust-brown meanders of the Bayou Teche, Cafe Des Amis lives up to its friendly moniker. Town was dead on this chilly Wednesday night, but the cafe sent a cheerful glow out into the mist. The restaurant is housed in an old building that was once a coffin factory. Caskets were built on the second floor and eased to the ground level with the region's first elevator. The inner works of the lift, a sculpture of wrought iron wheels and cogs, has been retained and stands above the host station.
The restaurant was almost empty, but the few people at tables looked quite pleased with the situation they'd found themselves in. A group of couples at the front of the house ordered everything on the menu and it was thrilling to watch the dishes pass to their table in a slow procession.
We started with fried eggplant wheels swimming atop a slurry of seafood splendor. The crust upon these divine wheels was unlike any I've had-- it was almost glassily brittle and extraordinarily yielding. It cradled the delicate pockets of perfectly done eggplant, which, unlike many specimens of the vegetable, oozed with flavor.
The cafe's singular take on crawfish pie consists of a tower of puff pastry doused in buttery, zippy etouffee packed with crisp crawfish tails.
Lucky for us, our server forgot one of the dishes we'd ordered and offered to buy us a dessert. He described the coconut pie as fluffy, but I found it velvety-dense, buttery and exploding with coconut essence. I'm not much into sweets, but this part of the country will convert even the most recalcitrant soldier of the savory. They don't often make cakes and pies like they do down South.
Our sweet tooths fully roused, we visited Champagne's Bakery the next morning and left town with a wedge of yellow layer cake with chocolate frosting and lemon curd and a hint of almond extract. We ate it while driving past expanses of crawfish hatcheries mouthing "Wow'' like a school of stupid carp.
Dupuy's has shucked oysters for loving patrons since 1869. The original location on Main St. in downtown Abbeville launched us into the blessed foodways of Acadiana.
The dozen oysters we downed were so firm, fresh and cold they seemed to have just been plucked from navy blue arctic waters. It was just after two o'clock on a Tuesday and lunch service was over. A small crowd, well into their cups, sat at the bar nursing cocktails and holding forth on the delights of the Boucherie, the communal celebration of killing and butchering hogs. The death, the fluids and viscera, these did not bother them. They loved to get their mitts into a body cavity and yank and unwind the guts.
The conversation drifted into local crime and capital punishment. The bartender's house had recently been robbed. The thieves had taken everything, including her four poster bed, bottles of hairspray and faded cassette tapes. She wanted to see them suffer.
''I'd like to see you make away with my bed with stumps instead of hands,'' she said. Then she tucked her hands down toward her wrists and pretended to try and drag off an enormous object.
A guy who'd been silent asked us where we were from and when I said Montana, he asked me whether I'd heard of the Freemasons. He pointed to the bulky ring on his finger.
''You ought to check them out,'' he said. ''I'm serious. I'm giving you something here.''
When Bee went to the restroom, he pulled me in close. He whispered that he had once weighed almost 300 pounds, but that he had gotten some ''therapy'' that included gastric banding and testosterone injections. ''Now I'm back in action,'' he said. He began to describe one of the bartenders' blemish-free skin and just as he was telling me that he'd paid her for sex, Bee returned. As we hastily donned our coats, he held up his ring. ''Don't forget,'' he said.
On a rocket tour through Houston one afternoon, I got to be the guy who orders an embarrassing amount of food. I don't know that I've ever been quite as overwhelmed by the choices on a menu as I was at Que Huong in the Hong Kong 4 Shopping Center in the middle of Houston's burgeoning Vietnamese community. I had no idea how much food I'd ordered until our indulgent waiter struggled to find a place to put a gargantuan crepe, studded with crispy shallots and shrimps and hanging off the sides of a full sized dinner plate. I'm pretty sure I laughed nervously while pushing aside the soft shelled crab in tamarind sauce, the gallon of rare beef pho and the shredded pork bahn mi. ''Yes. It's a lot of food for two people,'' he said.
The glut worked out in the long run, though. We ate the leftovers sitting in the car at Sea Rim State Park while oil platforms twinkled on the black Gulf.
Austin: the buckle on the barbecue belt. We happened to be in town on a day when most of the high profile pits were closed. I wasn't up to waiting in line for two hours at Franklins anyway. A boat-tailed grackle tried to resuscitate its dead mate on the sidewalk by standing on her back and madly pressing his beak to hers as we snuck into Lamberts Barbecue. Happy hour was just getting rolling.
The place is located in an old store that has been tastefully refurbished. We parked ourselves at the upstairs bar for a restful couple of hours and availed ourselves of the half-price bar food menu and drinks, each of which was $2 off. There was glory in the Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap, a crisp and creamy pilsner with a polite ABV of 5.3%. The cocktails were so-so, but not the gigantic spareribs or the broiled gulf oysters with creamed poblanos and lump crab. We lulled ourselves into a comfortable stupor after this very warm first day on a little southern tour. We took the abandoned grackle body and placed it in some ornamental grass near a parking garage and walked back to our bed across town.