Cover Story

It's Time to Eat, Lafayette

The Independent steps up the effort to get diners into locally owned restaurants this summer.

With EatLafayette kicking its campaign into high gear this year - Robert Mondavi Wines has joined The New Fly Lafayette Club as a title sponsor - The Independent has stepped up its effort to steer diners to locally owned establishments as well. Now in its eighth year, EatLafayette has more than 60 participating restaurants for the campaign, which launches June 18 and ends Aug. 15.

Village Café Executive Chef Jeremy Conner with twin molasses brined bone-in pork chops.
Photo by Robin May

The Independent steps up the effort to get diners into locally owned restaurants this summer.

With EatLafayette kicking its campaign into high gear this year - Robert Mondavi Wines has joined The New Fly Lafayette Club as a title sponsor - The Independent has stepped up its effort to steer diners to locally owned establishments as well. Now in its eighth year, EatLafayette has more than 60 participating restaurants for the campaign, which launches June 18 and ends Aug. 15.

Riding the momentum of the area's recent recognition - including Rand McNally/USA Today's 2011 Best of the Road honor for Lafayette as the "Best Small Town for Food" and a Southern Living national contest that named Lafayette the 2012 "Tastiest Town in the South" - organizers believe now is the time to give the campaign a major boost.

EatLafayette is all about celebrating the kind of local eateries that won the praise of Rand McNally and Southern Living, but there is a bigger reason to keep these restaurants in mind when dining out: They fuel the local economy as much as they fuel our bodies. According to the Louisiana Workforce Commission, there are 11,992 people employed in what's categorized at the accommodation and food services industry in Lafayette Parish, a number that includes hotel/motel and food service establishments. That is 9.1 percent of the workforce in the parish.

And there are a whopping 565 establishments in Lafayette Parish in this sector, meaning we have more restaurants per capita than New Orleans and three times as many restaurants per capita as New York City, a figure verified by business and consumer research firm ReferenceUSA and Claritas population estimates. Adding to the impact of that number is that we aren't a city saturated with chain restaurants: the majority of these are local restaurants, lots of them mom-and-pop operators dishing out some of the best food that will ever touch your lips.

Village Café's Heather Newman serves white wine
and fresh-baked bread at the white-tablecloth
restaurant in River Ranch.
Photo by Denny Culbert

Restaurants sales in the city limits of Lafayette alone totaled $617.5 million in 2011 and accounted for 15.6 percent of total retail sales within the city, according to the Lafayette Parish School System's sales tax division. In the city of Lafayette, per capita restaurant spending is $5,120. That's an average of $14 per day.

Good news for local restaurants, no doubt, but those figures don't reveal how much of the business is chewed up by the chain gang.

These stats as of August 2011, verified by ReferenceUSA, offer some insight into locals' preferences:

- Lafayette has the most Chili's restaurants per capita and has sales in the top 96th percentile in the country (53rd out of 1,309 restaurants).

- Lafayette has one of Buffalo Wild Wings' largest volume restaurants, in the top 95th percentile in the country (37th out 687 restaurants nationwide).

- Lafayette has the top selling Great American Cookies store out of more than 250 nationwide locations.

Nothing against chains; they have a place. But come on. This is the Tastiest Town in the South, and successful local restaurants have a much bigger impact on the economy than a chain that ships its profits to corporate headquarters out of state.

"It was said earlier in our efforts creating this campaign that locally owned restaurants are what keep Lafayette from being plain vanilla," says Calzone & Associates' Julie Calzone, a founding organizer of EatLafayette. "Now we know it's what makes us 50 shades of spicy."

As the campaign has matured, Calzone says she's noticed that the level of local restaurant marketing has become more sophisticated. "They are using tools that were initially used for the campaign and leveraging them for individual needs. That helps raise the visibility for locally owned businesses as a whole," she continues. "Past surveys have indicated that some restaurants see double digit growth during the campaign."

So when you're out and about this summer, give a local eatery a try. Visit for a list of restaurants and the specials they are offering throughout the campaign.

Read on for what The Independent has in store for EatLafayette 2012.

Saint Street Inn's Canecutter Duck
pairs well with Mondavi's 2010
Private Selection Zinfandel.
Photo by Robin May

Dish of the Day/Dish of the
Week contest:

The Ind's Katie Macdonald and Elizabeth Rose have been reaching out to all EatLafayette participants over the past three weeks, calling the restaurants to explain the project and requesting that they send in images of their dishes. The image needs to include the name of the dish, ingredients, and, optionally, any special preparation used in creating it. Restaurants may also want to include the name of the chef or cook who prepared the dish. The dish does not have to be offered on the regular menu, nor does it need to be connected with the EatLafayette campaign. We just want our readers to have an idea of the type of menu items you offer. While quality of art will be a factor in our decision to publish the image, a well-lit dish captured by an iPhone will do the trick. Each week day during the campaign we'll choose a dish, post it on our website under the "Eats" zone and send it out with The INDsider. The Dish of the Week will be chosen from all of the images submitted and will appear as a small feature in the "Eats" section of the printed paper the following Wednesday.

Restaurants' patrons can also send images in, and if your photograph is chosen, you'll win a bottle of red or white Mondavi wine. The bottle will be delivered to the restaurant with your name on it; you'll need to present a valid ID to prove you are 21 when you pick it up.

Every other week, we will pair a Mondavi wine with the dish and feature the duo in the paper. That will include a mix of pairings suggested by the restaurant or its wine expert and Mondavi reps' recommendations for local dishes. (The restaurant need not carry Mondavi wine to participate in the pairing feature, as a Mondavi rep will drop by the restaurant to assist with the pairing.)

The Independent's new EatLafayette "Eats" page debuts June 20; it will alternately include our picks for the best EatLafayette specials, chef and restaurant features and information on seasonal, locally grown ingredients supplied to area restaurants.

Email Dish of the Day images to [email protected] or [email protected] and copy photographer Robin May at [email protected].

Village Café GM/sommelier Ben Leger paired the restaurant's pork dish with the 2009 Mondavi Carneros Pinot Noir.
Photo by Robin May

One of The Ind's inaugural pairings was done by Ben Leger, general manager and sommelier at Village Café in River Ranch (all of the restaurant's éntrées have a by-the-glass wine pairing; during the campaign, the first glass is free).

Leger paired the 2009 Robert Mondavi Carneros Pinot Noir with Executive Chef Jeremy Conner's twin molasses brined bone-in pork chops with honey/peppercorn glaze, two large chops served over Garber Farms whipped sweet potatoes with grilled-braised greens. "There's no exact science to wine pairing. It's more of a feeling," says Leger, adding that Pinot Noir and pork are a classic combination - the lighter meat with a lighter wine. "The delicacy of the grape lends itself very well to a light meat like pork," he says. Mondavi's 2009 vintage has plum and rhubarb flavors that are nice complements to the sweetness of both the potatoes and honey/peppercorn glaze. "It also retains a suitable amount of acidity on the lingering finish to act as a foil to the richer components of the dish," Leger says. Village Café will be pouring this Mondavi
wine with this dish throughout the campaign.

Saint Street Inn server Chelsea Darlin

The second pairing, by Saint Street Inn's Mary Tutwiler, teamed the restaurant's Canecutter Duck - seared duck breast with duck-skin cracklings, strawberry-cayenne Steen's syrup and a Canebrake beer glaze - with Mondavi's 2010 Private Selection Zinfandel, a zesty fruity red made from Central Coast grapes. Offering hints of black pepper, the wine's aromas reveal a deep core of rich blackberry, blueberry and black raspberry fruit. Tutwiler explains that the strong flavors of both the dish and Zinfandel complement each other. "Zinfandel is a spicy wine that is packed with a pepper flavor," she says. "It goes very well with the spicy duck. They speak to each other." - Katie Macdonald and Elizabeth Rose

Dustin and Jennifer Melancon of
Sophi P. Cakes infused Mondavi Moscato
into one of their cupcakes.
Photo by Robin May

The icing on the cupcake

Sophi P. Cakes won't be doing any wine pairings for EatLafayette 2012, but it sure knows how to infuse a cupcake to utter deliciousness.

The Johnston Street cupcake factory's Peach, Love & Happiness, a Moscato-infused yellow cake topped with a brown sugar buttercream and Moscato baked peaches, might make you say: "the best piece of cake I ever had - in my life." It's what one of our tasters had to say.

As part of their EatLafayette promo, Dustin and Jennifer Melancon combined a 2011 Woodbridge Moscato with their signature cake to create the sweet treat, proving that wine doesn't always have to be enjoyed by the glass.

"It's more fun to infuse [the alcohol] into the cupcake," Dustin says. "We didn't just want to pair a glass of wine with a cupcake."

According to the bakers, the floral aroma of the Moscato wine complements sweets and fruits, like the peaches topping the Peach, Love & Happiness cupcake. The baking process removes the alcohol from the cake and leaves a sweet and distinct flavor. - KM

Get in on the Brewhaha

The Independent has teamed up with Schilling Distributing on what we hope will be a light, fun blog to get you in the weekend spirit. Every Friday The INDsider will post a bit of beer trivia, beer facts and beer tales that we hope will encourage reader participation. Post your response to the Friday Brewhaha blog and we'll choose one commenter to receive a 12-pack of Bud Light Platinum, the brand's new higher alcohol content "top-shelf" beer that's triple filtered. The winning commenter can pick up his or her beer, with a valid ID of course, at The Independent's office at 551 Jefferson St.

To sign up for The INDsider and a chance to win, visit