Sunday, January 18, 2004
My husband and I vacationed in Louisiana this past summer and we were pleasantly surprised to find that contrary to our expectations, we're both vegetarians, there was plenty of great food to enjoy, especially once we had escaped the not so authentic regions of New Orleans proper. We rented a car and drove east toward Baton Rouge along the "airline" which parallels much of historic river road. This area is rich with old plantation sites and great, great authentic Cajun and Creolé cooking.
We took many side trips along the way just to delight in finding local food stops. One such trip is memorable above all others because it was so unlikely. I don't remember the exit exactly but it led us through several miles of back road surrounded by swamp occasionally clearing into small farms or towns. Eventually we came to a cross road that intersected near a bridge. There is a landing by the river there with a number of buildings; a tackle and bait shop, a gas station and a small diner by the wonderful name "That Dog Don't Hunt" Needless to say we couldn't resist, besides it was past lunch time and we weren't in any hurry at all. The dirt parking lot was fairly full, always a good sign and virtually every license plate was local - I'm funny, I notice stuff like that.
We parked and entered the ramshackle single story building which had large windows painted with pictures of 'gators', fish and busy men in boats chasing both. I was set to order ice tea and dessert, despairing of finding anything here that did not feature at the very least possum and venison. My husband was busy checking out the post cards and a very pleasant woman who called me 'cher' ushered me to a clean little table covered in a gingham oilcloth with fresh flowers in a vase and a little bottle of 'Crystal' hot sauce. She brought water with lemon and two menus. While I waited for my husband I glanced through the two-page bill of fare and was dumbfounded: at least half the items were designated 'Vegetarian'. There was Vegetarian Gumbo, Red Beans and Rice, Pea Soup, Smothered Mushrooms in Creolé Gravy, the list was amazing. To be sure there was plenty of meat and fish on the menu as well but the list of vegetarian dinners just knocked me out.
By that time my husband had found our table and he to was amazed by what he was reading, We quickly selected our lunches and like two kids in a candy shop could not wait for the waitress to return.
When she did we both pounced on her imploring her to explain why such a plenitude of vegetarian selections on the menu. She quickly explained that the owners, it turned out that she was one, were both born and raised in the area and were fourth generation Cajun. They wanted a restaurant that reflected their heritage and since that was local they used any and all local ingredients. The recipes were all original and handed down through their families. Barbara, that was her name, told us that while there was always plenty of fish and game to meet their needs they also had a great tradition of vegetable garden and wild herb additions to their table. As for the name of the restaurant well, that came naturally. It seems that Barbara's granddaddy had owned and operated the ferry at this landing before the bridge was built. He used to augment the family farm income by transporting travelers and livestock across the river accompanied by an old Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Fish… because that's what he did. He would spend all day chasing fish in the slow moving river while his buddy the barge captain ferried his passengers to and fro. The old man took a lot of ribbing about the dog from his peers who thought it was awful peculiar that such a fine big dog didn't prefer chasing rabbit or pointing deer in the swamp, all the old man could reply is, "That dog don't hunt."
When Barbara finished we were left to puzzle whether we had been victims of a tall tale designed to ward off curious patrons or perhaps a story to spark the imagination and stimulate an appetite for more. We ordered our lunch and ate with more relish than I can remember in many years.
Lunch at "That Dog Don't Hunt"
Somewhere in the Bayou
Smothered Mushrooms and Creolé Gravy over Noodles
1/ 2 pound of mushrooms coarsely chopped (any variety will do)
1/2 Cup eggless egg noodles (cook according to instructions)
1 small onion sliced thin
1 stalk of celery diced
1/2 red bell pepper diced
1/4 Cup flour
1/2 Cup of vegetable oil + 2 Tbls
Make a roux by heating the oil until almost smoking add the flour and turn the heat down to med low. Stir until the flour incorporates and the mix turns a medium dark brown. Remove from heat and set aside. Sauté onion, celery and red bell pepper in 2 Tablspoons of hot oil until softened, add the sliced onions and mushrooms, cook covered for about 5 minutes. Smother (cover) the cooked vegetables with the roux and add the seasoning, continue to cook another 2 to 3 minutes on low.
Serve with Creolé seasoned blackeye peas and a hearty rye bread.