Eats 7-18-12

Every week day during EatLafayette, The Independent will spotlight a Dish of the Day; on Wednesdays, our Dish of the Day also becomes the Dish of the Week and is published in the print edition, along with other features spotlighting the local industry. Read more about The Independent's ongoing EatLafayette coverage and how to participate here.

Acadian Bread Pudding
As one of Lafayette's first Cajun-themed restaurants, Prejean's is known throughout Acadiana for its authentic cuisine and nightly Cajun music. This week's Dish of the Week is Prejean's Acadian Bread Pudding, a traditional Louisiana dessert made with French bread, eggs, milk and spices. Go ahead and give its famous recipe a try, or enjoy this flavorful dessert free with the purchase of any entrée until Aug. 15. Prejean's Restaurant is located on 3480 NE Evangeline Thruway and is open Sunday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. - Katie Macdonald

3-4 French breads, torn or cut into small pieces
6 eggs, beaten
4 cups milk
2 cups evaporated milk
2 cups sugar
2 t brown sugar
2 t ground cinnamon
2 t vanilla extract
½ cup melted butter
½ cup cold butter

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
2. Place bread pieces in a large mixing bowl
3. In another bowl, combine eggs, milk, evaporated milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla and blend well. Stir in melted butter.
4. Add egg mixture to bread in bowl and stir until mixed. Let stand until liquid is absorbed and bread is saturated. Pour into greased 9x13-inch pan. Sprinkle chopped butter on top.
5. Bake 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 45 to 60 minutes or until center is firm. Remove from heat and serve warm.
Serves 20

Jack Daniel's Sauce
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
½ cup butter
2-4 ounces Jack Daniel's whiskey
In a saucepan over high heat, combine sugar and water to make a simple syrup. Add butter and stir until completely blended. Just prior to serving, add whiskey.
Recipe makes 2 ¾ cups of sauce.

Ken Veron Jr.
Photo by Robin May

Café Vermilionville

"At Café Vermilionville, we're more like tour guides," owner Ken Veron Jr. says as he describes pairing the restaurant's Abita Strawberry and white balsamic veal cheek with a 2009 Mondavi Fumé Blanc ($32 by  the bottle). The veal cheek, accompanied with a blue cheese flan, charred tomato and spicy walnut salad with braising sauce, is sous chef Patrick Waters' play on a classic summer salad.

The restaurant's veal cheek dish. Photo by Robin May

"The dish is fruity, light and clean. The bright blue cheese helps all of the flavors blend together and bring out the smoky flavor of the wine," Waters says. "It complements the lighter meat."

The entrée is part of a larger EatLafayette special, available until Aug. 15. For $25, diners can enjoy a four-course meal, with options of each course, including turtle soup, crawfish and tasso crêpes, Louisiana crab cakes and Key Lime pie.

Located on 1304 W. Pinhook Road, Café Vermilionville is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner Monday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. - Katie Macdonald

Thomas Peters

The Science of Sipping
Newly opened in River Ranch, The Lab is a coffee connoisseur's paradise.
By Katie Macdonald
Photo by Elizabeth Rose

Not many new eateries would dare to open in the midst of the Fourth of July holiday - notoriously the slowest week of the year in the culinary world. But for Thomas Peters, his nearly 20-year dream couldn't wait. On June 28, The Lab Handcrafted Coffees and Comforts opened to an enthusiastic Lafayette in what Thomas could only describe as a "mad rush."
Lafayette's newest café was born out of Thomas and his wife Pam Peters' joint desire to create a unique "hang-out" destination that reflected the duo's love for flavor and experimentation.

"Everything we do is based on science, chemistry and experimentation," Thomas says.
At The Lab, the menu is simple - crafted by a combination of fresh and local ingredients.
"Ingredients first, local second," Thomas says in a firm tone. "If you don't start with good ingredients, you will get a bad product."

Thomas and Pam took months to select the bold-tasting coffees and teas that form the heart of the menu. They looked for both quality products and distributors that emphasize a direct relationship between farms and roasters. The fruits of their labor are a unique combination of six micro-roasters and one tea manufacturer. Cuveé Coffee Roasters from Austin, Handsome Coffee Roasters from Los Angeles and Populace Coffee of Bay City, Mich., are three of The Lab's most popular roasters, while all 25 teas come from New York-based SerendipiTea. Since Louisiana's climate does not support coffee or tea, the Peters use local providers for fruit, honey and produce.

In order to serve the freshest products, Peters follows the unwritten "rule of 15."

"Roast 15 months from harvest, grind 15 days from roasting and serve 15 minutes from grinding," he says. "[The flavors of] older coffee will start to break down. You learn this kind of thing along the way."

This emphasis on flavor plays a key part in Thomas' vision. He expresses a desire to create an "ah-ha moment," where "people realize coffee doesn't need to be weighed down by sugar or cream." The best example of this is The Lab's unique hand-poured coffee, which Thomas recommends drinking black. The process is detailed, as Thomas rattles off the exact measurements and temperatures, but combined with a two-and-a-half minute pour time, the product is a coffee devoid of the traditional bitter taste.

"It extracts the most beautiful flavors," Thomas says as he places a fragrant mug on the table. "And the filter removes all of the bitterness from the grounds."

While coffee and tea are an essential part of The Lab, Thomas continues to perfect his own "experiment in imagination" - cold sweet cream. It's a hybrid between ice cream and gelato, as Thomas manipulates the three definitive components of frozen dairy - milk, temperature and air - to create a unique dessert. He describes the icy treat as having the density and body of ice cream and the flavor profile found in gelato.

Thomas' cold sweet creams come in a variety of flavors, including café au lait, salted bourbon and caramel, pear and Riesling, and Abita root beer.

"We think of desserts or pairings and then make them into cold sweet cream. Sometimes it will take two or three batches to get just right," Thomas says.

But flavors aren't limited to sophisticated desserts; Thomas says the six-flavor rotation will always include two kid-centered tastes, like Skittles, Red Hots and the cereal-inspired Charmed of the Lucky.

In addition to coffees, teas and cold sweet cream, The Lab offers homemade pastries, fresh juices and artisan chocolate bars. While he currently buys chocolate from companies like Dandelion, Ritual and Askinosie, Thomas plans on embracing the "bean to bar" mentality whereby he'll manufacture his own artisan chocolate in the future.

At 1042 Camellia Blvd., The Lab's location in the heart of River Ranch makes it ideal for walkers and bikers, and convenient for drivers across Lafayette. Thomas made the decision to occupy the former CC's coffee spot primarily because of its large windows and the ability to tailor the atmosphere to fit his vision. "I wanted to create an environment that wasn't centered on the area, but on the experience," he says. "I want you to forget where you are."

Despite an open and airy environment, The Lab retains a scientific feel with its window overlooking the starkly-lit kitchen and walls covered in chalkboard paint. However, while the majority of the science takes place behind the counter, The Lab's atmosphere is its own social experiment. Long community tables and bars foster conversation between friends and strangers, while quality customer service encourages customers to interact with employees.
"The people are my favorite part of the business," Thomas says. "A lot of what we do is educate [our customers]. I enjoy witnessing them try a new coffee bean they've never tried before, and getting to know somebody and their story."