Laura Williams Broussard simmered up her first pot of gravy to sell sometime around 1968. It was then, in her own home and kitchen, that she opened what was likely Lafayette’s first soul food plate lunch restaurant. She had been the best cook amongst her siblings, and took pride in feeding the family, before opening her home up to the masses. Located down a dead-end residential street, customers came from all over Acadiana to taste a bite of Laura’s gravy. Laura’s granddaughter, Madonna, remembers standing at a distance, watching her grandmother make each day’s gravy.
Fire destroyed Laura’s home in 1975, but her daughter-in-law, Dorothy Broussard, who everyone called Miss Dot, kept the gravy flowing from a second location through the next two decades. When deciding whether or not to pursue a third iteration of the family business, Madonna took that gravy recipe and made up her mind to cook things “the Laura’s way.” And in 2000, Laura’s II (that’s with the Roman numeral two) was born.
At Laura’s II, Madonna Broussard keeps many of grandma Laura’s original recipes intact. My favorite is the baked turkey wing, which arrives pterodactyl-sized. Big and meaty, stuffed with garlic, black pepper, and cayenne, its topmost layer of skin is crisped to a fine crackling from a final heat burst under the broiler. The original Laura’s offered the dish as a Wednesday-only special, but it has since proven too popular and is available seven days a week. Still, there’s never enough wings to go around. Customers often secure an order for tomorrow’s lunch while eating today’s. Broussard described it to me as “the race for the turkey wings.”
But Laura’s II talks more than turkey. Let’s take a deeper dive in that gravy.
At Laura’s II, gravy is more meal than sauce. Dark, rich, and peppery, the gravy here rises to levels of transcendence. It bathes meatballs and washes over rice. It sticks to the ribs, sticks to the fork, and, after just one taste, this gravy will stick in your mind. And no matter what you order along the buffet line — barbecued pork, fried pork chops, fried catfish, and all types of smothered meats and sides — you will get some gravy.
The gravy’s roux, or flour and fat base, is baked in the oven every morning, before being thickened with water and spiced. Seasoning is important, but the consistency is more so. The Broussards look for a viscosity that is not too gloopy and not too runny. They want their gravy to adhere to the accompanying serving of rice, rather than pool on the plate.
Dozens customers have been coming to the Broussard ladies for their plate lunches for over three decades. Some order the same thing at every visit. And as for a fourth generation of Broussard family restauranteurs, Madonna Broussard has been grooming her daughter, Lacey, and son, Olies, since they were young children. The future could bring Laura’s III, IV, V, as long as there is that gravy.
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.