At T-Coon’s, the opportunity to grab a plate lunch stretches back beyond the traditional lunch time hours into the early morning. In addition to the standard breakfast of eggs, bacon, and grits, the menu includes omelets stuffed with pork roast, beef brisket, and homemade Louisiana smoked sausage. But the standout is the crawfish étouffée-filled omelet. The silkiness of the smothered crawfish dish tangles with the whipped eggs to form a creamy, butter-laden mishmash.
My favorite time to visit T-Coon’s is with the rising sun, when the spacious dining room is busy and chatter-filled, occupied with a mixture of workingmen and old-timers: fishermen and lawyers, retirees and policemen. A coffee carafe towers over each table so customers can help themselves to cup after cup of strong brew, while encouraging all to stay awhile.
Some T-Coon’s fanatics, myself included, have been known to stay through breakfast until lunch, when the menu shifts to a bounty of fifteen or so daily menu items and specials. There’s amazingly crisp fried chicken and hardy red beans and rice, but I gravitate towards the gravy-smothered meats: chicken, pork, beef, rabbit, turkey wings.
These were the dishes owner David Billeaud started cooking as a young boy alongside his mother. Before he was tall enough to reach the stovetop, he would stand on a stool to stir the pot of roux to make the gravy. Sometimes that roux would go into one of his childhood favorites, the smothered seven steak, a large and inexpensive cut of meat, named for its resemblance to the number 7. He remembers his mother dutifully portioning the steak into nine servings. Gravy made the meal.
In 1993 he took that gravy-making expertise and opened his restaurant.
Billeaud, who jokingly describes himself as the owner, manager, cook, and dishwasher of T-Coon’s, prides himself on the homegrown nature of his enterprise. His surname is “as Cajun as you can get,” as is the name on the outside of the building. The restaurant is named for his father, who earned the nickname, in his younger years, for being as mischievous as a raccoon. “Ti” or “T,” a shortening of petit, translates to “small” or “childlike” in Cajun French. Billeaud is as rascally as his father. He can often be found in the dining room, jumping from table to table, shaking hands and slapping backs, while sharing jokes and fishing stories. A prizewinning hunter and fisherman, Billeaud’s trophies and big-catch photographies line the walls of the restaurant.
His menu proudly advertises that everything is homemade, including the fresh-baked toast at breakfast and each side item, the stewed beans and greens, featured on the lunchtime spread. The owner himself catches the catfish that stock the courtbouillon — a thick seafood stew featured on Fridays — with bamboo poles from a freshwater bayou, located not an hour’s drive south of the restaurant. Likewise, the rice that fills each plate is sourced from local producers, thus making the plate lunch unequivocally local in nature.
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.