If you read my first post about Lafayette, Louisiana this week, you probably saw this one coming. Alright, so what came to your mind? If you’re anything like me, it was probably some sort of food item. Jambalaya? Gumbo? Etouffee? These are the images that immediately spring into my mind when I hear the word Cajun.
So when I spent the day exploring Lafayette, the largest city in Louisiana’s Acadiana region, you better believe eating was high on my list of things to do. Plus, I had recently heard some great things about Lafayette’s food culture. Lafayette was recently named both the a “Top Ten Food City in the South” by Southern Living and the “Best Food City in the USA” by USA Today, something this city and its residents take pride in.
But it turns out that Lafayette isn’t a city stuck in the same, staid Cajun food traditions. While there are certainly places in Lafayette to get traditional Cajun cooking, the city has moved forward, evolving and reinventing its cuisine.
The city is home to restaurants of ALL culinary persuasions. It’s not just the Cajun/Creole cooking I’ve come to expect in Louisiana; throughout the city, trendy Spanish tapas bars mingle with Cuban Cafés and Sushi Houses. And when I visited on a Tuesday night, EVERYONE in Lafayette seemed to be out dining.
So I set out to join them looking for some of the modern tastes of Lafayette.
Sophi P Cakes
What do you get when you mix a classically trained pastry chef with a DIY ethos and a healthy dose of punk rock attitude packaged in a neat little cupcake shop? Sophisticated-to-punk or Sophi P Cakes.
At first glance, Sophi P. looks like a run of-the-mill cake shop creating elegant, delicate designs. But digging deeper, I learned that this was no ordinary cupcake shop. Whimsical cakes like the McLovin (pineapple filling, coconut rum butter cream and toasted coconut) and The Dude (white Russian) begin to show off this shop’s talent and creativity.
After working across the country with renowned chefs, Sophi P founder Jennifer came back to her hometown of Lafayette to open up the shop with her husband. When I stopped in for a visit, I asked her what makes the city a unique food town.
“In Lafayette, we’re really adventurous with how we cook….we’ll throw anything in anything and it turns out really good. No one here is afraid of spices and making it flavorful.”
Sophi P proves this paradigm first hand with their unique and inventive cupcakes. Not one to ignore their Southern roots, Sophi P takes flavor cues from regional Louisiana cuisine. Sweet Potato cupcakes are a mainstay and they have even made a cupcake topped with Cracklin’ (crispy deep fried pork skins), a popular snack in Louisiana.
The shop has realized significant success and has developed a devoted following. And with their cupcakes, it’s not hard to see why – I grabbed a box to take back to the office and they were gone within minutes.
Blue Dog Café
The Blue Dog Café is one of the most beloved restaurants in Lafayette and for good reason – it celebrates one of the region’s most beloved residents, George Rodrigue – creator of the famous ‘Blue Dog’ paintings commonly associated with Louisiana.
Rodrigue has houses and galleries across the country, but Acadiana will always be his home. The Blue Dog Café rejoices in the native son of Acadiana, and the iconic Blue Dog graces the menu and every wall in the restaurant in the form of paintings from Rodrigue’s personal collection.
The menu is inspired by regional cuisine but it doesn’t shy away from deviation. Inventive twists on old favorites are seen in dishes such as the seafood wontons and duck quesadillas. For my entree, I opted for the crawfish enchiladas served with corn and dirty rice.
The bar is innovative as well, mixing up a number of beer cocktails (a new found passion of mine). I ordered a Purple Gator – a 50/50 mix between Purple Haze and Andygator, two beers from Abita, a local Louisana Brewery.
While I wouldn’t call The Blue Dog Cafe a fusion restaurant, it is this spirit to try new ingredient combinations that has made it a favorite of locals and guests alike.
The idea for Carpe Diem Gelateria began when founders Silvia and Erik were strolling around downtown Lafayette craving good gelato and wondering why there wasn’t any place to get it in the city. A plan was hatched and Carpe Diem was born.
Located in the lower portion of a boutique hotel in downtown Lafayette, the gelateria was packed on my Tuesday night visit. Clearly the founders weren’t the only ones in Lafayette craving good gelato.
With flavors like Apple Rosemary, Balsamic Strawberry, Orange Rosewater, and even a rotating beer flavored gelato, Carpe Diem has proved they’re not shy about straying from traditional flavors.
I tried the Spanish Mint Grapefruit. The flavor was reminiscent of the mint leaves I used to chew on in my backyard. I can honestly say I’ve never had a more authentic mint flavor in any other ice cream, gelato, or frozen yogurt in my life. It was unreal, and certainly not like anything I was expecting in this center of Cajun culture.
While Lafayette may be synonymous with Cajun cuisine, it is it’s adventurous spirit, ability to adapt, and willingness to try something new that has put it in the food spotlight recently.
Perhaps this is due to the influence of the Cajuns in this area. Much like the cuisine, the Cajuns have demonstrated that they are a culture with an ability to adapt. It is these same people who once called Nova Scotia home and were forced out into the swamps of Southern Louisiana. They adapted to the situation, making due with whatever food was available – which is how original Cajun cuisine developed into what we know it as today.
Today’s Cajun food pioneers don’t face quite the same hardships, but the adventurous spirit remains for all to taste.