Feb. 8, 2011 07:52 PM

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stands for Valentine's Day, Café Vermilionville and Lafayette's Veron family. By Mary Tutwiler

On a winter night dedicated to lovers, there is nothing quite so romantic as a roaring fireplace to set the stage for a dinner for two. Hearths are in short order in Lafayette, where modern construction obviates the need to burn wood, but the city does have some beautiful reminders of its past. Luckily for the foodies in town, historic preservation and fine dining come together in one of the city's oldest structures, Café Vermilionville.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

stands for Valentine's Day, Café Vermilionville and Lafayette's Veron family. By Mary Tutwiler

                                         Photo by Robin May

On a winter night dedicated to lovers, there is nothing quite so romantic as a roaring fireplace to set the stage for a dinner for two. Hearths are in short order in Lafayette, where modern construction obviates the need to burn wood, but the city does have some beautiful reminders of its past. Luckily for the foodies in town, historic preservation and fine dining come together in one of the city's oldest structures, Café Vermilionville.

The 200-year-old building has been an inn, a plantation and a bar - the notorious Judge Roy Bean's - before becoming Café V. This year marks the restaurant's 30th anniversary, and with it another milestone. After three decades, owner Ken "Poncho" Veron, 63, has for the first time hired a general manager, his eldest son, 33-year-old Ken Veron. "Now that doesn't mean I'm retiring," says Poncho. "I'm going to be very active in the business. But I do have time to go hunting and fishing now."

Café Vermilionville, along with Don's downtown, Riverside Inn and Judice Inn, form a small coterie of longtime restaurants run by second generation family restaurateurs. It speaks realms about the quality and tradition of a restaurant that children, literally reared in the kitchen, choose to come back to the family business. That is certainly the case with the junior Ken.

"I started work here when I was 14," he says. "I'd ride my bike from our house [in Fernwood, near the Mall of Acadiana]. After work, I'd ride my bike to football practice at STM. That was about six miles in the August heat." Ken cut the grass and did outside jobs until he was "promoted" to dishwasher. He had moved up to busboy by the time he was 18.

At that point, his independent streak took over and he decided he didn't want to be promoted because he was the boss' son. "I wanted to earn my job," he says. So he worked the Lafayette restaurant circuit, from the fry station at Olde Tyme Grocery  - "I was covered with flour" - to waiting tables at Blue Dog and iMonelli, in all a total of 15 jobs before he came back his senior year in college as a waiter.

Then he left the family business to become a real estate broker, play music and try his hand as a recording engineer. "I was a half-assed sound man," says Ken, "but it was fun."
His younger brother Jared had been working in the restaurant as a manager until late last year, when he left to try his hand in the oilfield. Ken offered to step in, Poncho expanded the position to general manager, and the family business continued without missing a beat. Daughter Amanda, a UL senior, opens the restaurant in the morning and does some of the book work.

Poncho, Ken and his wife Andrea, an interior decorator, are planning some updates - new carpet, new wall colors, new lighting, new art - all things that can change an environment without altering the beautiful old bones of the structure. A new menu by chef Mike Collins is in the works. Music in the courtyard on Wednesday nights, a prix fixe dinner-for-two menu - there will be all sorts of innovations to look for as Ken settles into his new job.

But for every alteration, there will be just as much care to preserve the traditions of the venerable restaurant. Just ask pastry chef Boubekeur Aliouche, who has been spinning sugar for 28 of the 30 years Café V has been in existence.

His Valentine's Day special dessert for two (pictured) is a classic: a heart shaped chocolate strawberry torte covered with chocolate ganache icing. Paired with champagne it will prove an irresistible finish to a vintage Café V dinner, fireside and flattering.

 

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