Jun 17, 2009

Let's Do Lunch

I've already given my 2 cents about smothered food, which means I shot myself in the foot when I planned a blog around smothered pork chops. Some serious thinking had to go down. But then it hit me...the unassuming but glorious creation called a Plate Lunch. The Plate Lunch is one of my favorite things about Acadiana.

Probably should go ahead with the obvious "what is a Plate Lunch?" just in case. Although I think most people are familiar with the concept. In other regions, Plate Lunches are called Blue Plate Specials. Here's the deal. Plate lunches are usually affordable, home-style meals. Order a plate lunch in Acadiana and you will be handed the essence of the region. Our souls on a plate. A visitor once asked where he could go to get authentic Cajun food. Aside from knocking on some one's door, The Plate Lunch is the real deal. And just so you know, no one around here ever uses a person's front door. Go around to the side door like family and company. I guarantee they won't think it's wrong. They will actually think it's rather snooty of you to knock on the front door.

Plate lunch menus change daily, so you could even eat at the same establishment everyday to get the broad spectrum of what we're about. But you'd also become pretty broad yourself. Most plate lunches that I've had could easily be shared by two. Confession time: I never share more than just a taste. Standard procedure is that you're given a choice of several meat or seafood items. Pick one from the list. You'll also be given a choice of sides, such as potato salad, candied yams, green beans, sweet pea salad, field peas, or butter beans. Depending on the place, you'll pick 2 or 3 from this list. Some restaurants/cafes also throw in a small garden salad and/or dessert for lagniappe. I appreciate it when the daily plate lunch options are listed out front. I once pulled up to a local cafe and saw my meat options as being tongue or ponce. While neither appealed to me, I was grateful for the warning before I walked in. No big deal. I knew I could return the next day to a different menu. And I did.
I recently read a travel article about Southern plate lunches. The authors claimed that a true Southern plate lunch consumer would never order more than one starch. For example, someone would never construct a plate lunch that consisted of both rice and potato salad or smothered potatoes. Pardon me, but that is complete bs. I can run right down the road to Allison's and get a BBQ lunch that comes with beans, rice dressing, potato salad, and a slice of bread. I can go to Crazy Kajun's and see most of the customers ordering either potato salad, smothered potatoes, or candied yams with their rice and gravy. Maybe things are different in other parts of the South, but around here we do some serious carbo-loading.
So why am I yammering on and on about plate lunches? Number 1: because they're worth it. Number 2: because ultimately in my own way I'm getting to a recipe for smothered pork chops. When I order a plate lunch I almost always go for the smothered dish, whether it's the meat or the side. If you order the BBQ the sauce may not be what you like. The seafood fettuccine may have shrimp when you really wanted crawfish. I don't know...I just think you can't go wrong with ordering a smothered dish. Simple ingredients. Slow cooking. Not much to worry about not liking.

Here's a list of some of my favorite places where I've had some mighty fine plate lunches.
Ruby's Cafe, Eunice, LA- I recently had smothered sausage that just about made me cry. I chose sides of candied yams and slow-cooked butter beans that sealed the deal. The butter beans were heaven. Ruby's plate lunch price also includes a small salad, dessert, and I believe the drink too. I can stuff myself stoopid here.

Ronnie's Cajun Cafe, Eunice, LA- my son's favorite place. If it's Sunday and I want a plate lunch, I like to go here. They always have a BBQ option on Sunday. One day I when I was there, baked duck was on the menu. While I didn't order it, I thought that was definitely something. One note-items go quickly and will be crossed off the menu as they disappear, limiting your choices. Get there early.

Dwight's, Lafayette, LA- holy cow, this place is good. And it gets crowded. And they run out of certain things fast. Because it's so good. Miscellaneous offerings during the week, BBQ on Sunday with traditional sides of beans, potato salad, rice dressing, and bread. I've had Dwight's BBQ on many a Sunday and never regretted it.

Smothered Pork Chops
from Ms. enPlace

4-6 pork chops
black pepper, salt, Cajun (or all-purpose) seasoning, all to taste
vegetable oil or Crisco
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium bell pepper, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
green onion, chopped
cooked rice

Season both sides of the pork chops. In a cast iron or other heavy pot (without a non-stick surface), add enough oil to just coat the bottom of the pot. Heat the oil. When hot, add the pork chops. You may want to use tongs since the oil will splatter.

Brown the meat, allowing it to stick to the bottom of the pot. Add a small amount of water and scrape the browned bits from the bottom with a flat edge spatula--this is key for a rich, dark gravy. Turn the chops a few times, repeating the process of letting them stick and adding water.

Add the onions, bell pepper, and garlic to the pot and allow them to brown a little too. Add a small amount of water and scrape the bottom of the pot again. Add about 1 cup water and simmer for about an hour, or until pork chops are tender. More water can be added during the cooking process. Taste the gravy for seasoning and adjust as needed. Just before serving, add chopped green onions and serve over rice.

The mise en place. Nothing too weird. I'd prefer to use bone-in chops because I think they give more flavor to a dish like this. But these puny little things are what I had in the freezer. C est la vie.

Chop the vegetables and season the chops. While you're doing this, heat Crisco or vegetable oil in a pot.

Get the oil good and hot. Brown the pork chops, letting them stick to the pan.

All that crud on the bottom...that's what I'm talkin' 'bout.
Each time the chops stick, add a little bit of water and scrape away to get all the good stuff up and into your gravy. Let the water cook off and repeat a few times.

You can remove the chops or not, your call. Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Let those get some color on them too.

Add the meat back to the pot.

Add water, season to taste. Simmer for about 1 hour, or until pork chops are tender.

Add some sides and you've got yourself a plate lunch.


  1. I want a Plate Lunch. I want a southern plate lunch. and I want your smoothered pork chops.

  2. Southern plate lunches really are one of the best things ever invented. When I eat them I think I'm the luckiest person alive.


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