Monday, September 27, 2010

Getting Real in Cajun Country

6561 Evangeline Highway
Somewhere between Basile and Evangeline, Louisiana
Visited August 21, 2010

Beer selection: The usual suspects plus local Abita Amber

Food: Best crabs on earth!

I’m always in search of “the real deal.”

Not some lame Disneyfied version of the real deal. Not some corporate chain version of the real deal.

No. Just the real thing.

I mean, kids walk around these days wearing T-shirts of fake places.

“Eat at Stinky’s Fish Camp”.

“I Got Crabs at Nasty Nancy’s”.

“Get Some Booty at Blackbeard’s Saloon”.

Now, THAT is lame.

There are plenty of real fish camps, crab shacks and dive bars tucked away all across the backwoods and backwaters of America. There’s no need to make it up. You just need to check out “Suits in Strange Places” to know where to show up.

Like out here on a lonely stretch of Parrish Road 97, eight miles from the nearest stop sign, in the middle of the Southwest Louisiana sugar cane fields and crawfish ponds.

I’m happy to say, D.I.’s is the real deal.

D.I. is the nickname of the crawfish farmer who owns the place. He started out inviting friends over for big crawfish boils at his farm. Five bucks, all you can eat.

One thing led to the other and now half of Southwest Louisiana shows up every night.

Or at least it seemed that way on the Saturday night I pulled up in my subcompact Kia rental car.

There had to be 500 pick up trunks in the gravel parking lot. The wait to get a table was over an hour. Good ‘ol boys and gals were drinking beer in the parking lot waiting their turn to dive into the best seafood around. And that’s saying a mouthful in Louisiana.

A Cajun band was pounding out tunes on the band stand at the far end of one of the cavernous dining halls. Old-timers, kids and Cajun beauties in white cotton dresses alike were all dancing and two-stepping to the Cajun beat.

Entirely sung in French, by the way. The real deal.

What threw me off was no one was eating crawfish, the founding crustacean of the joint.

How could that be?

I expected to walk into a room full of head-sucking and tail-pinching and piles of mudbug remainders as far as the eye could see.

After all, I just ate an entire crawfish platter last night at Prejean’s off of I-49 in Lafayette. Tourists like me all from over the country were enjoying crawfish bisque, crawfish pie, fried crawfish, crawfish etouffee and crawfish fritters. And it was all delicious. Bought the damn shirt.

So what was the problem with D.I.’s?

The problem was it wasn’t crawfish season.

Oh sure, touristy places will gladly serve wide-eyed Cajun Country tourists platters of crawfish that have been frozen over from last spring. And to be honest, they can be pretty darn tasty.

But that’s not the way they roll at D.I.’s.

This is the real deal. Remember?

If crawfish are out of season, it can only mean one thing.

It must be crab season!

And that’s what everyone was waiting in the parking lot for. D.I.’s steamed and barbequed crabs.

I’ve spent plenty of afternoons sitting in the sun on the Chesapeake Bay drinking beer and picking my way through steamy piles of blue crabs covered in Old Bay.

It’s more of a social occasion than actual sustenance. In fact, I’m convinced I burn more calories than I consume when picking steamed blue crabs. Of course that is not a problem that lots of beer and hush puppies can’t solve.

So I knew I had to try some of D.I.’s steamed crabs.

But what really piqued my curiosity were the barbequed crabs.

Barbequed crabs???

My waitress helpfully brought one out to sample along with my gumbo while I worked through the menu and my Abita Amber.

D.I.’s barbequed crab can best be described as a steamed crab that goes through the added experience of having the top shell and deadman pealed off and then being baked with a dry mustard rub. Kind of like a South Carolina mustard BBQ sauce if it were in dry rub form.

As you peel, pinch, snap and hammer the crab, the barbeque rub gets all over your fingers, hands, arms, lap (no I wasn’t wearing a suit for this one, thank goodness), and thus rubs back onto the succulent crab meat.

Colonel Sanders couldn’t know anything about finger-licking good until he tried these.

I wouldn’t want to accuse my kind, helpful waitress of any kind of chicanery, but maybe she peddled controlled substances in another life.

Her trick worked.

After my first sample barbequed crab, I was hooked. Bring me more!

Part of what makes a place “the real deal” is when you can get something you’ve never had before.

It’s just that most of the things I’ve never had before aren’t this good! Where have barbequed crabs been all my life? I’ll never eat a boring old ordinary steamed crab again.

The gumbo was delicious as well, chock full of shrimp, crab and oysters.

Not to belabor the point, but gumbo, at a remote backwoods Cajun restaurant in the heart of Acadiana? Do you think it was the real deal?

Yeah, you know it.

But man can not live on crab and gumbo alone. Nope. That was just the appetizer.

I couldn’t come to D.I.’s without trying their famous “Blackened Catfish Supreme” – a big meaty catfish fillet well seasoned and smothered in crawfish etouffee. Which, to a Cajun, sounds kind of redundant since etouffee means “smothered” in French.

Smothered in what? Darned if I know.

I just call it delicious.

Each forkful of flaky catfish perfectly balanced the blackened spices and the sweet succulence of the etouffee.

On the side came a sweet potato drowning in butter and brown sugar, a hush puppy and a sweet beignet – a soft pillowy French version of fried dough.

Oh yeah. This was one crab feast I made darn sure I wouldn’t leave hungry.

As the crab carcasses piled up in front of me and the band played the final notes on the accordion and the room began to clear, I pushed back from the table and contemplated what had just happened.

One of the greatest dining experiences of my life. Once-in-a-lifetime.

Yeah, the real deal.

Rating: What do you think? Bought The Shirt!
D. I.'s Cajun Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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