After a morning of plans gone wacko, The Husband got the idea to take me to Cochon Lafayette for an early Mother's Day lunch. Cochon is co-owned by my favorite Louisiana chef, Donald Link. Link is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Award for Best Chef South. His cookbook (my favorite cookbook), Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking From Donald Link's Louisiana won the James Beard Best American Cookbook in 2010. I've reviewed Real Cajun here.
Cochon Lafayette occupies a building that, from the road, appears almost industrial. However, the backside of the building faces the Vermilion River--offering lazy, relaxing views from both the outdoor patios and inside the restaurant. This made me think of all those old French Quarter houses with unassuming faces shuttered up tight against the street. But most of those old buildings hide beautiful, lush courtyards in the back. Their tall walls seem to strain to contain the fountains and ferns, banana plants, baskets of bougainvillea, and tropical sago palms. The rear of Cochon happens to be the entrance. May seem kinda kooky, but that's the way we do it in Louisiana. Visitors know to knock at the back door. The front door is rarely used.
With it's open kitchen, sleek modern lighting and stainless steel barstools, you might think that Donald Link has given up the rural Cajun lifestyle he learned from his grandparents.
But the country boy comes out in menu choices like smothered cabbage and turnips, rabbit and dumplings, and featuring drum over the it's-been-trendy-for-so-long-it's-cliché redfish. As someone who fishes drum south of New Orleans every fall, that choice is much appreciated.
Small touches like jars of pickled green tomatoes on the window sills
and homemade pepper vinegar on the tables made me feel at home.
The fact that we were seated overlooking the Vermilion River didn't hurt, no.
Since Donald Link is most known for his porcine magic, we couldn't pass up the Boucherie Plate as an appetizer. The three of us split this app and there was more than enough to go around.
The Boucherie plate features (top left moving clockwise)
* THE BEST most luxurious most melt-in-your-mouth hogshead cheese I have ever had. You know how people say "it was so good, I wanted to cry?" And you say, "yeah, whatever." Well, don't you dare say that when I tell you it was so good I wanted to cry.
* In the center is a row of toast points. Not a big deal. Until you smear what's in that little dish onto them. That little dish contains delicious slow cooked pork. And it's sealed in lard. Yeah. Read that again. This is a throwback to before refrigeration. Meats were stored in crocks and sealed with a layer of lard to keep them fresh. Another nod back to Link's roots that didn't go unnoticed with me. And even though I was admittedly iffy about eating the lard, I did it. And I don't regret it. One bit.
* The plate also included condiments like pickled banana peppers and (my favorite) Creole Mustard.
* Smoked boudin can be seen at the bottom center.
* A cured pork bottom left.
* And a super-smokey homemade smoked sausage, which was fantastic.
The Boy ordered from the kid's menu, with usuals like mac and cheese. But it also offered fried alligator and a sausage & pickle plate. The Boy chose the sausage. Considering how good the smoked sausage was on the boucherie plate, I thought that was a can't go wrong choice.
I was interested in a sausage and shrimp flatbread, but the flatbread wasn't ready for the day yet. Our waitress sold me on the slow cooked brisket when she mentioned that it came with horseradish potato salad. The brisket was unbelievably tender--both smoked and braised. The sauce was velvety and bowl-lickin' good. (No, I didn't. That's what the cornbread was for.)
The Husband ordered the slow cooked pork shoulder, served with stewed cabbage and and turnips. It was topped with pickled turnips and what Cochon refers to as cracklin, but what is more like a fried pork rind. I did like the way this unorthodox cracklin looked on top of the pork though...like a little curly pig's tail.
In for a penny in for (several) pounds...we decided to go for dessert too.
The Boy had homemade vanilla ice cream because that's about as fancy as he likes his desserts.
The Husband had strawberry cobbler.
I chose red velvet cake with Creole cream cheese frosting. One day I'll have to tell you about creole cream cheese--I only recently found out that my great-grandmother used to make and sell it around her neighborhood. This slice of cake was so huge I laughed out loud when it was set in front of me. The comical size didn't detract from its beauty (although you can't tell from the awful picture). The texture was perfect and the frosting creamy, smooth, and tangy.
Lafayette, Louisiana recently won Southern Living's The South's Tastiest Town award. As you can imagine, Lafayette is packed to the gills with restaurants. Cochon Lafayette is perfectly housed in The South's Tastiest Town.