Acadiana’s best pit stops pride themselves on filling up empty tanks and empty stomachs, seven days a week.
Photo by Terri Fensel
The sun is just starting to come up and break through the clouds when the first customers start rolling in. It’s a cold overcast morning and most trucks drive straight past the vintage gas pumps before hissing to a halt by the front entrance, where the ram on the storefront sign — also the mascot of nearby Acadiana High School — stares out over the parking lot. Bundled in thick camouflage jackets, they hurry in from the cold, setting off a bell every time the glass doors swing open. Many people go straight for the coffee, then get in line at the front counter, steam rising up from their styrofoam cups.
Linda Duhon, her short frame barely topping the register, calmly rings up her steady stream of patrons, occasionally glancing over to the glass case on the counter to gauge her rapidly depleting pan of boudin balls. The other hot seller is the Torinado, a slender fried burrito stuffed with your choice of egg, sausage, and bacon, popular with many of the Mexican construction workers who come through regularly.
The bell rings and another blast of cold air creeps in as a man walks hurriedly up to the counter and begins scanning the assortment of wrapped biscuits and fried foods laid out behind the glass.
“What are you lookin’ for?” Duhon asks.
“Where’s the smoked sausage biscuits?”
“Sorry,” Duhon says. “I don’t have any sausage. The truck’s not coming until tomorrow because of the holidays.”
Still not believing it’s true, the man continues to survey the glass cases and puts his hands up on his head in exasperation. “Why don’t you try some boudin on a bun with some chili?” Duhon suggests. “You never had boudin on a bun with chili?” she asks, with a laugh. “Or some boudin on a bun with mustard? That’s what my husband eats all the time.”
Customers expect their food fast, cheap and in limitless supply. “You don’t realize, we cook so many boudin balls a day,” Duhon says. By 10 a.m., customers will start wanting lunch, which is why the barbecue pit, located in a small shed to the side of the store, is already full of half chickens and pork steaks mopped with Jack Miller’s Bar-B-Que sauce.
Barbecue days, Thursdays and Sundays, are especially busy at Acadian Food Mart, one of the dozens of local corner gas stations that takes pride in going well beyond the standard filling station fare of potato chips, candy bars and self-serve nachos. The clientele mainly consists of blue-collar workers and neighborhood regulars who pass by daily, and word gets out about the plate lunches here. It’s also where I ate one of the best pork steak sandwiches in town — for only $3.
Ask around and you’ll probably find many of your co-workers and friends have their own secret, out-of-the way Conoco or Chevron, with fried chicken and barbecue they swear by. Word of mouth is usually the main driver of business at these pit stops, which don’t do much in the way of advertising. Often, the storefront “breakfast” or “plate lunch” signs are hidden, torn or missing a few letters.
To-go orders are the norm. There’s rarely a menu. Tables are hard to come by, and there’s never any real plates or metal silverware. The day’s special, often decided that morning, may simply be written on scratch paper taped up to the glass in front of the steam trays and heat lamps.
I found fried pork chops sizzling on top of red beans and rice, select crawfish boiled with jalapeno peppers, boudin-stuffed biscuits sweetened with Steen’s syrup, barbecue brisket po-boys, smothered beef short ribs, and homemade peach cobbler as good as you’ll get at any popular sit-down restaurant. Only here, it’s heaped into a Styrofoam to-go box and sold over the same counter where people buy gas, sodas, cigarettes and lotto tickets.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been working my way through what began as a short list of recommendations. In the end, I made more than 20 stops, put close to 300 miles on my car, at least a few extra pounds on my stomach, and am probably still just scratching the surface of first-rate gas station lunch counters in Acadiana. My only criteria was limiting my list to stores that still sell gas, which eliminated several famous local meat markets, like Don’s and Best Stop. And while I enjoy Krispy Krunchy chicken as much as the next guy, I did not include any of the plethora of chain and franchise restaurants that have cropped up in gas stations, focusing on the mom-and-pop-run kitchens.
The following seven establishments are prime examples of ordinary, out-of-the-way corner stores that are also one-of-a-kind lunch destinations.
MAXI-MART, 3146 VETERANS MEMORIAL DRIVE, ABBEVILLE, (337) 893-6761
Photo by Mary Tutwiler
Nobody starts giving people their crawfish fix earlier than Maxi-mart, located in the BP station on Veterans Memorial Drive near the Abbeville airport. Maxi-mart began serving boiled crawfish Nov. 1, at the very start of the current season. Opened 24 years ago by the husband and wife team of Cindy and Max Chreene, Maxi-mart pulls its choice crawfish daily from the family business next door — D&T Crawfish — run by the Chreene’s daughter and son-in-law. The store also recently began offering boiled shrimp in season.
Purged and boiled in a pair of screened-in rooms built onto the back of the store, and served out of a drive-thru window painted with crawfish, Maxi-mart can run through 30 sacks on a busy night. The crawfish are all good sized and seasoned to perfection, complemented with your choice of “filler” — potatoes, sausage and corn — and a healthy dose of jalapenos, which are sapped of all their heat after boiling and add a subtle sweet flavor to every batch.
Propped on a stool by the front counter, Max says the crawfish business has been going strong since it first started 10 years ago. “We haven’t done much advertising,” he says. “We used to bring a tray out here on the counter and tell people to sample ’em and they’d eat some and say, ‘Oh, these are good.’ And then they’d buy a couple of pounds. That’s how we’d promote ’em, just over the counter.”
CORNER STOP CHEVRON NO. 2**, 3111 U.S. HWY. 90 E., BROUSSARD, 837-4902
Corner Stop No. 2 — the small kitchen inside the Chevron at the corner of Highway 90 and Southpark in Broussard — used to be known as Tuffy’s. After a brief stint as the now-shuttered po-boy franchise Donnie and Clyde’s, the store recently returned to what they do best: plate lunches. Now Corner Stop No. 2 (Corner Stops No. 1 and No. 3 are separately run Chevron kitchens), the store serves an assortment of breakfast biscuits and fried foods, but specializes in dishing out down home lasagna, stuffed turkey wings and peppery brisket served over a mountain of dirty rice.
“It’s just home cooking,” says Clara Boudreaux. “We don’t do nothing special, just home cooking, and they love it.” Wearing purple clogs and a black apron that says “Over the hill and still cooking,” she works a flattop grill, stovetop oven and fryer with another cook each day. “I think what they love the most is having dessert,” says Boudreaux, showing off the day’s spicy peach cobbler. “Put a piece of cake in their plate lunch, and they just love it.”
STOP 92, 3901 VEROT SCHOOL ROAD, YOUNGSVILLE, 856-5263
The day’s menu at Stop 92 is written in black marker on a brown paper bag taped up to the glass window in front of the fried foods. It reads: “Hamburger steak, choice of mash pot or rice, pork and beans, cookies and a roll, $5.00.” Owner Linda Hebert, a garrulous woman who can be seen at the store almost all hours of the day, puts her food up against anyone’s. “We don’t need no McDonald’s out here,” she declares. “My biscuits are better.”
Her store, which she opened on an empty lot at the corner of Highway 92 and Verot School Road 13 years ago, used to be a Conoco station but is now just called Stop 92. It draws in large crowds each morning for its country breakfasts. Several locals come in practically every day for some of Hebert’s hand-cut and battered chicken fingers (Hebert says she goes through some 400 pounds of chicken a week). Look around and you’ll see that chicken isn’t the only thing that draws regulars. “We’re an unusual store,” Hebert says. “We do a little bit of everything.” Stop 92 also functions as a Western Union, check cashing service, catering business, bait shop, U-Haul renter, propane dealer and snowball stand. And if her boudin balls happen to clog your arteries, Hebert is also known as a healer, in the tradition of local traiteurs. “I am whatever people need,” she says. “I do a little bit of everything, and I have the hours to go with it.”
ACADIAN FOOD MART, 618 RUE DU BELIER, 981-5026
Linda Duhon opened her store at the corner of Congress and Rue Du Belier almost 30 years ago. In those days, Congress Avenue was still a gravel road and Acadiana High School had just opened up the road. “This used to all be country,” says Duhon, who in those days commuted to work at the Charity Hospital. “It was all farmland here,” she says. “It’s come a long ways.
“There were no grocery stores,” she adds, “and so I just said, I think I’m going to open one.” Soon after opening, Duhon started doing plate lunches and barbecues, which were an instant success with the burgeoning neighborhoods nearby. More recently, the store has become the unofficial sponsor of Acadiana High football, hosting barbecue fund-raisers and cooking for the entire staff and team through the winter.
Burt Bertrand, a retired salesman for Hostess cakes, serves as the store’s grill master on barbecue days, loading up 30 pounds of charcoal into a gigantic black grill in a small smoke house built to the side of the store. “I’m used to getting up early in the mornin’,” he says as he turns the pork steaks and half chickens sprawled out on the grill. “I love doin’ this.”
ATHENA GREEK & LEBANESE EXPRESS**, 2133 KALISTE SALOOM ROAD, 216-9975
One of the busiest lunch stops on Kaliste Saloom Road is the Citgo station at the corner of Marshall Avenue. Here, Helmi Abdalla and his son Ahmed serve 350 to 400 plates of their specialty Greek and Lebanese plates a day, starting around 9:30 each morning and working steady through the close of dinner service at 8 p.m. The Abdallas, who hail from Kuwait, opened up Athena lunch counter in 2002 after closing their previous restaurant, Arzi’s, and then being approached by the owner of the Citgo. “A lot of people think gas station and they think, ‘Oh no,’” says Ahmed. “But then they try the food, and they’d rather come here than to a sit down restaurant.”
One of his customers had a wife who refused to eat at a gas station, until he brought some of Athena’s food home to her. “Now, she’s a regular customer,” he says. “They come in with their kids about three times a week.” The grape leaves, chicken shwerma and gyros plates have been so popular that about two years ago the store took out two of its gas pumps as part of an expansion to make more room for Athena. Now, three rows of purple tables with yellow chairs sit out in the middle of the store behind racks of potato chips and coolers of beer. Ahmed says being in a gas station convenience store has done wonders to draw business to Athena, which recently opened a second, full-fledged restaurant in the Ambassador Row shopping center. “It helped people here to start finding out about Lebanese food,” he says. “People come just to fill up gas and will get something to eat. And you can get everything you can get at a restaurant here but at a better price and convenience. It’s like a one-stop.”
BP FOOD MART, 1332 S.W. EVANGELINE THRUWAY, LAFAYETTE, 236-5995
The BP station at the corner of Pinhook and Evangeline Thruway is very much in the tradition of the family run corner store. Owner Anthony Batiste runs the store with his sister Faye, and has brought in his nephew, Jude Aubrey, to head up the kitchen. Another relative, Sidney Jones, works alongside Aubrey preparing the meals.
“Jude’s 20. Sidney’s 52,” Batiste says. “They feed off each other. They both have their own ideas, you know. They really work good together. I just stay out and let them run the kitchen.” BP has a set lunch menu which rotates a number of classic home-style meals. Look for the stuffed brisket dinner on Fridays, Thursday’s traditional meatball stew, or Batiste’s favorite, Tuesday, which features three varieties of chicken: smothered, stuffed, and fried. Smoked turkey wing and necks and Creole stuffed breads are served every day and BP Food Mart also serves a variety of breakfast sandwiches each morning starting at 5 a.m. “People just like home cookin’,” says Batiste, who traveled around to feel out several other small plate lunch restaurants before opening. “We all carry the same kind of foods,” he says. “Monday is red beans, Tuesday’s chicken, Friday is seafood. But people don’t get tired of good home cookin’. You can’t eat it all the time but you don’t get tired of it like you do hamburgers and fries and other fast food. If the food’s good, it brings ’em back.”
LAGNEAUX’S COUNTRY STORE, 2817 S. FIELDSPAN ROAD, DUSON, 981-1054
Any food lover will immediately appreciate Lagneaux’s. Located past Judice Middle on Fieldspan Road, Lagneaux’s is a meat market, corner store and superb plate lunch deli all rolled into one. People will drive for miles to get one of the store’s stellar weekend specials: Barbecue brisket and shrimp po-boys on Saturdays, and Sunday barbecue featuring your choice of pork steak, chicken, ribs, sausage, and five sides, including the store’s signature cornbread dressing. Owners Stephanie and Danny Hebert opened Lagneaux’s in its current storefront Chevron location in 2002. Prior to that, Stephanie ran a corner market by the same name on Golden Grain Road. With the new location came a kitchen and the daily plate lunches, including Thursday’s popular premium ribeyes and stuffed mini-pork roast.
Be sure to also check out Lagneaux’s fine in-house meat department, where you’ll find everything from barbecue variety packs to stuffed chicken and pork roast to homemade meatballs and hamburgers to down home packets of mixed debris (beef heart and liver) and country style pork backbone.
CHIASSON’S CORNER MART, 2978 N.E. EVANGELINE THRUWAY, LAFAYETTE, 232-6617
Chiasson’s is developing quite a reputation on the North side for its plate lunches’ consistent quality, prepared daily by Emily Williams. The skinny, self-trained cook comes in each day between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. and has a good-sized kitchen in the back all to herself for the morning. Depending on the menu she sets at the beginning of each week, the results include crispy fried pork chops, her perfected gumbo, shrimp étouffée and smothered sausage and pork over rice.
Williams has been with Chiasson’s since it launched its plate lunch deli about five years ago. Owned by John Chiasson and his son-in-law Todd Dugas, Chiasson’s is in the ExxonMobil station just off the I-49 Pont des Mouton exit. On weekends, Chiasson’s sells heaping barbecue plates with pork chops and chicken and soon hopes to be offering boiled crawfish in the evenings.
MORE STOMACH FUEL ...
GAUTREAUX’S, 257 AUSTRIA ROAD, DUSON, 873-8886
Gautreaux’s used to be its own meat market just off the Highway 95 exit off I-10 but recently moved next door into the Duson Travel Center (Chevron). Gautreaux’s serves up tasty cracklins, giant fried boudin balls, plate lunches and has its own small meat department including stuffed pork chops, frog legs and crawfish stuffed chickens.
HUNTER’S DELI, 104 E. GLORIA SWITCH ROAD, LAFAYETTE, 236-8685
Angelle Fitch opened this lunch counter, named after her son, in the Chevron just off I-49 in 2005. Get a fried pork chop on top of red beans and rice, meatball stew or everybody’s favorite Thursday special, beef short ribs and rice and gravy. All plates come with delicious homemade corn bread muffins.
LIL’ DADDY’S REAL PIT BAR-B-Q, 1339 S.E. EVANGELINE THRUWAY, LAFAYETTE, 261-5253
Lil’ Daddy’s, inside the Exxon on the corner of the Thruway and Pinhook, comes as advertised, with real smokers built into the back walls of its side lunch counter. Chicken, ribs, sausage, pork and brisket, sliced or chopped come on a bun or plate with sides of potato salad, slaw, rice dressing or vegetables. Lil’ Daddy’s offers large scale catering as well as a small dining area, each table topped with a bottle of its own in-house barbecue sauce.
KYLE’S CAJUN KITCHEN, 3002 GRAND POINT HWY., BREAUX BRIDGE, 332-0300
Inside the Chevron just off the I-10 Henderson exit, Kyle’s Cajun Kitchen is a one-of-a-kind gas station restaurant. Where else can you find their weekend special, boudin biscuits topped with Steen’s cane syrup? Kyle’s also does daily plate lunch specials, homemade burgers and crab burgers.
P.J.’s COUNTRY STOP, 1265 HWY. 182, BROUSSARD, 369-3316
You can’t miss this building painted with the American Flag, which P.J.'s shares with the Lucky Spot Lounge, on Hwy. 182 toward Cade. P.J.’s cooks daily plate lunches including crawfish étouffée, shrimp stew and meatloaf, as well as Sunday barbecue. Don’t miss the homemade sweet dough pies.
MOUTON’S FOOD MART, 704 HWY. 1252, CARENCRO, 896-8471
If you like fried food, then check out Mouton’s inside the Chevron on Hwy. 1252. Fried chicken, crawfish pistolletes, boudin balls, livers and gizzards are among the daily offerings, as well as homemade chili dogs and a variety of sliced meat po-boys.
SONJA’S CAJUN DELI, 2807 KALISTE SALOOM ROAD, LAFAYETTE, 988-0516
Formerly Comeaux’s, this tiny yet popular Exxon station is practically a full scale restaurant, offering breakfast, daily plate lunch specials, po-boys, and dining tables to boot.
CHEVRON FOOD MART, 600 E. KALISTE SALOOM ROAD, 237-8575
Formerly known as Smokin’ Joe’s, this Chevron has a reputation for stellar barbecue. Since Smokin’ Joe left, the barbecue, including ribs, burgers, pork steaks and chicken, has been scaled back to only Tuesday through Thursdays.
PEPIN’S, 601 RIDGE ROAD, LAFAYETTE, 993-8866
Billing itself as the “Home of the Cuban sandwich,” this filling station comes replete with pictures of its signature item on the sides of its gas pumps. Owners Jose and Donna Pepin also serve a variety of other sandwiches and salads.
FOOD N FUN DELI’S, VARIOUS LOCATIONS
There are a number of Food N Fun delis in Chevrons across Acadiana, but only a few offer plate lunch specials and each is its own independent kitchen. For good home cooking, you can count on the Food N Fun at the intersection of Highways 90 and 92 and the one in Cade at the intersection of Highways 182 and 92.