Welcome to The Epic! I am launching this blog as a manifesto for and a guide to living well. The title and motto of the blog are taken from the Epicureans, at least some of whom believed in the notion that not one minute of the future was guaranteed to them and that as a result they had the duty to live life to its fullest every moment.

I believe in discovering fun and pleasurable things wherever I find myself each day and I am told I have a knack for unearthing them. My hope is that by sharing in my pleasures and some of my ways of finding them you will begin to collect all the riches that lie in the moments of your life. They are there. Take them! All our lives should be.....Epic.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Son Of A Gun

Goodbye Joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My Yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, we'll have good fun on the bayou
---"Jambalaya (On The Bayou)", by Hank Williams...

Joie de Vivre: (n) a delight in being alive; carefree enjoyment of living.

Marching orders for the day: Put yourself in a rental car and drive MANY hours. Upland. To a place you have never been. In broiling hot weather. If it is not storming. Sit in a conference room for ten hours a day. For four days. Awash in a mentally stultifying topic of conversation. You'll find yourself in Bayou Country. A Yankee boy wandering among Cajuns, left to his own devices.

Such was how I found myself resident for several days in Lafayette, Louisiana. I always wanted to explore Acadiana, but this area of the South is so far out of the way from places I usually go that I had no previous opportunity. Now, opportunity was abundant to say the least.

Driving in to Lafayette from the Interstate, it becomes immediately apparent that the area has seen better days. I pondered when those days may have been. The first few miles are even a little daunting for the solo traveller. All anxiety was dispelled upon my arrival at the Lafayette Hilton which is situated on the shores of Bayou Teche. Down stream from the Hilton a few miles is the site of the Bayou Teche Black Bear and Birding Festival. Which I am making a point to attend next year. In any event, the facade of the Lafayette Hilton is a welcoming one...

As is the lobby...
Off to the right, out of view in this picture of the lobby, is a set of wooden doors which conceal the hotel lounge. More of this in a moment. The first thing you notice when you enter the hotel is significant. Everyone who works there is genuinely happy to see you. Enthusiastic, even. About their hotel and about their town. They seem very happy to be able to share this enthusiasm with you. I found to my delight that this excitement permeates the Lafayette area.

But first, food. I did not come to Cajun Country to eat at the chain steak joint down the street. I came for outstanding Cajun [NOT, as is often explained, "New Orleans Creole"] food. I found it in abundance. Everywhere...

Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a file gumbo
'Cause tonight I'm gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Son of a gun, we'll have big fun on the bayou...

In diners. In white table cloth restaurants. In the hotel. In hot plate counters at gas stations. People in Cajun Country LOVE to eat. And they love to share their local cuisine with you. It is not at all unusual to ignite a friendly (although heated) debate between fellow gas station patrons about where the best crawfish etoufee could be consumed. And not at all unusual for the debate to conclude with invitations for the Yankee traveller to go along on an expedition to find out for himself. One day of the business meeting opened with the hostess bringing in huge trays of jambalaya, boudin (white, blood sausage) and some form of deeply vanilla and spice flavored doughnuts. Add a big mug of black chicory coffee from the Community company and you have a nice light breakfast to start any sort of morning. The wonderful lady providing this feast would not even let us pay our share. Another indication of the warmth of the people of the area.

To paraphrase the band Grand Funk Railroad..."This fine lady, she had a plan. She was out to feed the boys in the band...". To this end, she gave me directions to her favorite Cajun restaurant. In her home town of Henderson, Louisiana. A mere twenty minutes farther into the country. And, ultimately, worth every moment of the drive. The sign on the wall says "Robin's" but you call it "Ro-Ban's"...

They don't have a web site. I don't think they even advertise. But take my word. Get in a car right now and drive to Henderson, Louisiana for Chef Robin's food. You will find yourself trying to come up with schemes and stratagems to stay right there. In the dining room. For a LONG time.

I thought the place was closed when I pulled into the parking lot. The door was open. Lights were on. A very nice lady with a fantastic accent welcomed my intrepid companion and me, showed us a table with a crisp white butcher paper top, generally adopted us, and gave us a menu with so many fine sounding choices that it made us weak. Well, weaker. We were somewhat starving from the drive over from Lafayette at the end of the business day. The hostess/waitress/adoptive mother was the first clue this was an AUTHENTIC and fine establishment. The menu was the second. The third was the iced pilsner glass that came with my Budweiser. Imagine this covered in frozen crystals and full of beer...

Simple perfection. And the precursor to an outstanding meal. (Note to the reader: The following rendition of menu items is a composite of what was eaten by me and by my Intrepid Dining Companion. Should any of my medical team be reading this post, they need not worry.) Salad with either crawfish, shrimp or Andouille sausage on top. Or all three. Crawfish boulettes (sort of like hushpuppies with crawfish meat inside). Crawfish file gumbo. The meal was a series of one unbelievable dish after another, but the highlight was crawfish pie smothered with etoufee. Well, almost. The highlight of the meal was home-made Tabasco/vanilla ice cream. Even after the glories of everything we had tried up to that point, I eyed the menu entry of "Home made Tabasco ice cream" with suspicion as an obvious sop to wide eyed tourists. The one bite I had was enough to prove me wrong. It was ice cream of the highest caliber, deeply creamy and vanilla with the flavor of Tabasco laced into it in some mystical, up-Bayou manner that teased your senses until it BIT you just a little. Unbelievable. Amazing. I have no idea how many tries it took Chef Robin to perfect this recipe but he should be applauded for the effort. I have never tasted anything quite like it. The most amazing thing was that during our meal only two other people came in to eat. Of course it was a Tuesday. On Wednesday there were a few more dinner patrons. On Thursday, a few more. On Friday for lunch, only a few.

Even though I would have gladly eaten every meal at Robin's during this trip, I felt obliged (and convinced by one of the gas station dining advocates) to try another local legend for my last night's dinner. Prejean's. Prejean's has a web site. And a gift shop. And signs outside advertising dog kennels available for the convenience of diners presumably just in from hunting. Or who travel with kennelish dogs. Do not be put off by the gift shop or anything else. Prejean's was also a wonderful dining experience...

They have a great atmosphere. Very welcoming staff. Live Cajun music every night. Great prices. Prejean's is also a fabulous place. And they have a full bar from which you can see and hear the bands play. If you love Cajun food and music as I do, then you will love Prejean's. I decided on the only entree that made any sense under the circumstances. Stuffed alligator tail. I am not a tremendously bold diner. (Tripe? No thank you. I brought my own stomach lining, thanks. I don't need another one.) I was made brave, however, by my surroundings, by the wonderful music being produced by the combo on stage, and by just a wee dram of Jack Daniels'. The dish was delicious. The alligator tail was firm, yet tender, white meat and the simple, fresh corn served along with it was outstanding as well. Plus, I have to admit that eating something that would eat ME if it had the chance was sort of a rush. Or, that may have been Mr. Daniels' idea. I'll have to ask him. Anyhow, my dining experiences in Lafayette were singularly outstanding and left me looking forward to a return trip.

But, as return readers will attest, my travel experiences are not limited to the table, fork and knife. The glass also plays its important role. Thursday evening at the Lafayette Hilton lounge looks like this when the bar opens at about four in the afternoon...

Pretty average stuff. Nothing, other than the very friendly staff, to write home about. Until about 10:00 in the evening. When dance night begins.

Thibodeaux, Fontainbleau, the place is buzzin'

Kinfolk come to see Yvonne by the dozen

Dress in style, go hog wild, me oh my oh

Son of a gun, we'll have big fun on the bayou.

The Intrepid Dining Companion and I were relaxing having a nightcap and chatting with the waitress when she asked..."So...are y'all going to stay for dance night? It is REALLY something to see..."

How could we leave at that point? A few minutes later, the place filled with couples of every age. All dressed in nice clothes of different styles. Obviously out for a night on the town. Circa Lafayette Hilton. The disc jockey (who has a REAL name...Stan... not one like "Mixmeister S") began playing all sorts of (non-disco) dance music from swing to bayou Cajun. EVERYONE could dance. And dance well. Not the usual shuffling about you typically see. I asked if they were all in some sort of dancing club and the waitress (by then elevated to the title of "Exalted Bearer of Amber Beverages") assured us that they were just ordinary citizens out for a good time. It was a delight to watch. Couples in their teens. Couples in their eighties. Everything in between. Mixing. Mingling. Laughing. Drinking a bit. Dancing a LOT. The dance floor was full for every song. I was very thankful to be there. I did not think such a scene still existed, on this continent anyhow. I watched until the last couple left the floor. I would have paid for a ticket for the next Thursday night. It was that much fun. The E.B.O.A.B told me that people around there "just like to go out and dance and have fun". Indeed.

In his wonderful book "Time Was Soft There", Jeremy Mercer posits that certain towns tend to be populated with people who possess a diminished thirst for living while those whose passions and dreams run deeper rapidly depart for glamorous places like New York or Paris where they can find fulfillment. I immediately embraced this notion based upon places I had lived. And live. But in Lafayette, I learned that Mercer's theory is wrong, at least if universally applied. Here, in an out of the way place, seemingly economically depressed, with jobs lost or in peril for years, people speak of life as a festival, a fais do do (Cajun dance party), a feast, a concert. A celebration. And they live that way too. Here, in Lafayette, people drink deeply from the cup of life every day and they will share that cup at the drop of a hat. Even with a wandering Yankee. There is great food. A bit, or more, to drink. Friendly smiles. And, every Thursday night, the folks of Lafayette put their troubles on the shelf and they come out to dance.

Go to this place. Or find a place like it. Refill your cup. Soon.

Hank Williams. A man who knew how to dress. How to write a song. And how to point the way to very good times.


Charles said...


~Tessa~Scoffs said...

What a great post! A real page turner - or, well, you know what I mean. Too bad Irish Redhead couldn't have been there for dance night.

Ben said...

It's where you find it! Life, that is.

M.Lane said...

Ben, thats my raison d'etre.

Longwing, THANKS!

Mrs. Scoffs, I am so happy you left a comment FROM VEGAS. Love your pics of your blond hair etc., btw.


Streak said...

Lassiez les bon temps roulez. Having stayed at that Hilton, I can concour with M.Lane that the hospitality and warmth of the locals add tremendously to the enjoyment of our stay in Cajun Country. If you make it to Prejeans, you must try the Eggplant Pirogue. Ayeeeee!!

Pigtown*Design said...

Excellent! I spent a lot of time in Opelousas, which is close to Lafayette. We were filming a PBS show with the opening done by Buckwheat Zydeco, and got the scoop on all of the "real" zydeco places in Lafayette. It was a magical time!

M.Lane said...

Streak, you are VERY right about the pirogue.

PD, what fun that sounds!! What a great gig...

Thanks you two for your visits and comments!


Petunia said...

I am weak over here after reading about my precious crawfish etouffee, crawfish hushpuppies, ...crawfish anything is my favorite. I would jump in the car and head to Ro-ban's if I only could. I am convinced that if I had never left Louisiana, then I would be at least 10-20 lbs heavier. I'm on the Florida-food diet--(blech). On the bright side, my arteries are probably much less clogged than they would be if I were "home".

M.Lane said...

Petunia, I feel your dietary pain!! I am going to go back there on vacation if I have to, just to go to those restaurants!!