Denise Landry, like many Lafayette-area plate lunch restaurant owners, grew up in the business. Her parents, Norris and Dolores “Bootsie” Landry, ran several successful establishments, dating back to the 1950s. There was The Skunk, a drive-in burger joint, a later iteration dubbed the Puddy Tat, and finally a plate lunch dining room called Galine’s — a Cajun French word for ‘chicken’ and Norris’s nickname.
Landry’s parents had personalities to match the playful names of their restaurants. Mom was one of eight children from one of the many Lebanese families that settled in and around the nearby town of Crowley in the early 1900s. These immigrant families easily assimilated into local Francophone communities and Catholic congregations, and many built new lives as dry goods merchants and groceries. The restaurant business was only a generation away. Norris Landry could trace his roots back to one of the region’s original Cajun families from eastern Canada. A lively, loquacious man, he could, according to his daughter, “talk to a fly if it stood still.” In their restaurants, Mom ran the kitchen, while dad oversaw — and entertained — the front of the house.
Their daughter opened up Landry’s Café not far from downtown Lafayette in 2003, and added a second location on the city’s south side eight years later. The lunch options available at both Landry’s locations are the same day to day, while the menu’s rotating assemblage of entrees and side dishes are planned weeks, if not months, in advance.
Many of the recipes come from the hands and heart of Bootsie, who once sold her own line of Cajun spices, seasonings, and soup mixes, alongside an out-of-print and now sought-after cookbook. The hamburger steak remains the menu’s standout, served five ways over five days. There is fried chicken, chicken fried steak, fried pork chops, and fried catfish (most of these dishes can also be ordered grilled). A variety of seafood stews, pastas, and smothered-eats round out the menu.
The spread at Landry’s is meat and seafood-centric, but their side dishes should not be overlooked. The sides come two to a plate, along with a helping of rice, or mashed potatoes, and gravy. Choose wisely, but the best advice is to go with a group to make sure you can score a bite of each. There is always a legume — red beans, white beans, or black-eyed peas — creamed and brimming with chunks of sausage. A smothered vegetable is key: potatoes, cabbage, green beans, or okra. The cornbread dressing is a rare side dish, available only every third week, and a specialty of Lebanese-Cajun home kitchens. And the onion rings are spectacular, thick and light and fried to a crisp filigree. Landry’s proves that, at least at plate lunch houses, the side items are as crucial as the main course.
Though Norris and Bootsie both passed away several years ago, Landry’s Café remains a family affair. Two of Denise Landry’s three sons work alongside her, thus providing the expectation that the Landry’s name will continue to feed Lafayette for another fifty-plus years.
Rien Fertel is a Louisiana-born and based freelance writer and professional historian. He’s written on food and travel and books for Oxford American, Garden & Gun, Southern Living, Spirit, Saveur, The Local Palate, and other publications. He calls New Orleans home, and lives part-time in a hundred-plus-year-old church in St. Martinville, Louisiana. More info can be found at www.rienfertel.com.
Denny Culbert is a freelance photographer living in South Louisiana. He is also the co-founder of Runaway Dish, a culinary non-profit dedicated to supporting and documenting Louisiana foodways. He has shot editorial for such publications as The Local Palate, Southern Living Magazine, Vice-Munchies, New York Times and many more. More info can be found at www.dennyculbert.com.