We were having a conversation with a stranger on Dryades Street in Central City New Orleans last week when the conversation inevitably turned to po boys. Mike has lived in New Orleans for 18 years but he still can’t get over the sandwiches he grew up on down in Lafitte. We press for details and he waxes on about the shrimp and catfish that Boutte’s Seafood buys from local fishermen before they’re given a denouement in clear, hot fat.
Time for a roadtrip.
Boutte’s Bayou Restaurant began as a meal delivery service in Lafitte, Louisiana in 1971. Margie and Russell Boutte hustled food out of their home kitchen to hungry dockhands and fishermen til the business grew strong enough to warrant opening a full-time restaurant. They never looked back.
Katie (Areas) came aboard in 1979 and would eventually partner in life and business with Russell’s son Russell Jr. Though the couple have since split they maintain a working relationship and now co-own the restaurant.
Margie Boutte, now elderly, still does all the pot-cooking and her steady hand provided me some of the finest shrimp gumbo I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant. It takes a bayou woman to cook bayou gumbo and that’s exactly what we enjoyed on Ash Wednesday 2016. A stout, hearty broth powered by roux and anchored with plenty small shrimps.
While Mrs Boutte makes sure all the slow-cooked soups and stews are on point, the anchor in the kitchen is Miss Suzie, a fine woman with a big smile who introduces herself as Brown Sugar when we tour the spotless kitchen. She’s so sweet she’d give you a toothache and I suspect that’s how she got her nickname.
Frying food on a high level is a dying art and Suzie is one of the most talented fry cooks we’ve encountered in Louisiana. We start our flurry of dishes with fried crawfish tails and they are sublime; snatched from the hot grease at just the right moment, lightly seasoned and served with smoke coming off them.
We eat half the order and save the second half to serve as a garnish on our fried catfish po boy.
All the seafood at Boutte’s Bayou comes from within a few miles of the restaurant. Lafitte is famous for having some of the best fisheries in Louisiana and Katie Areas has developed business contacts with the cream of the crop. If fresh fish is your bag then this is where the conversation in Jefferson Parish begins.
A fried catfish po boy comes to table and it’s a beauty. Multiple planks of fresh catfish are stuffed into a crusty Leidenheimer French loaf that’s been slathered with mayo and garnished with shredded lettuce and dill pickles. A healthy squeeze of fresh lemon and we begin pondering what a life lived in Lafitte would be like.
We ask Mrs Areas about how the big storms that rock south Louisiana over the years have affected the business and she describes each one as though it happened yesterday. Eight major hurricanes have swept across Lafitte since she started working at Boutte’s in 1979.
You’ve got to be double tough to be a restaurateur this close to the Gulf of Mexico.
Louisiana is chockablock with tiny, mom and pop cafes like Boutte’s Bayou. We stand out back behind the restaurant looking over a bayou and give thanks for living in such a beautiful state.
Boutte’s Bayou Restaurant
5134 Boutte St