In 1976, while working for Duke Power Company (now Duke Energy) I attended a conference for the nuclear power industry held in New Orleans. It was my first exposure to the city and to Cajun food. I immediately fell in love with the city and as far as the food went … it was love at first bite. As far as I know I had never had Cajun food before but immediately I took to it. Ever since then I have loved the food and loved cooking it.
Years later, in the early 90s, my family and I moved back to Columbia, SC to accept the call of Covenant Presbyterian Church to be their pastor. Around the same time Richard Burguet moved there too to pastor a church. Even though Richard had been in seminary together, we did not know each other all that well.
Once we met up in Columbia, however, it was like twin brothers of different mothers being reunited. No where was this more true than in the foods we both loved. Many time we would go into a brand new restaurant and sit down and get ready to order and one would look at the other and say: “What are you going to order”? The other would reply, “You first” and 9 times out of 10 we were planning on ordering the same things.
And no where was there a cuisine we each loved more than Cajun. We both loved (and love to cook) Cajun food: jambalaya, etouffee, gumbo (starting with a good roux of course). Learning to make it and knowing what it is suppose to taste like also made us good (or bad depending on how you look at it) critics. At one point our wonderful wives (Debbie and Anne) almost started refusing to go out to eat with us, at least when we went to get Cajun. A new place opened in Columbia that had the name New Orleans in it and Richard and I could not wait to go. Well we got there and Richard said: “What are you going to order?” and I said “You first” and simultaneously we both said “the jambalaya”
Now one thing about Cajun food is that usually it does not “plate well” as they say these days. There is not a lot of color, gumbos are dark browns, etouffes light to dark brown and jambalaya has green peppers and tomatoes in it but often they are cooked so long that much of the color blends. This is a pretty good example of what it is suppose to look like:
On this occasion, however, the “chef”, apparently was more concerned about “plating” than “tasting”. The waiter came back with our orders and put something in front of Richard and me that had a sort brown hue to the rice, various red, green and yellow bell peppers (uncooked) on top of the dish and small bits of sausage and shrimp. As soon as it was put before us Richard and I said in unison “I ordered the jambalaya”. The waiter looked at us with a quizzical expression: “That is jambalaya”. To which in unison we both replied “No it isn’t”. About that time our wive threatened to leave (fortunately we had come in one car) if we did not behave. So we ate our non-jambalaya dish and thought to ourselves: “we should have stayed home and made our own.”
Don’t even ask me about the time Richard and I were scoping out a restaurant in Panama City and argued with a server (waiter for those of you over 45) that the crawfish were not fresh unless there were some running around on the floor of the kitchen.
Well I guess you can figure it out. I love Cajun food. Whenever I see a sign that says Cajun food, Louisiana kitchen or the like I am sure to turn in. I would say that 9 out of 10 times I am disappointed. I will say, however, that since we have been in Murfreesboro there have been two Cajun restaurants that really knew their stuff: Cajun Corner which was only open for a short time and place that was run by a Cajun family of long standing that was operating when we first moved here almost 9 years ago.
All this to say that Debbie and I were recently pleasantly surprised by a trip to a Cajun restaurant in Georgia. We had celebrated Christmas in Murfreesboro and were heading to South Carolina to celebrate the New Year with our families. We were traveling south of Chattanooga toward Atlanta when we saw one of those interstate “food” signs that tell you what restaurants are available at that exit. Well just as we were speeding past the sign (which as you know usually only has fast food joints on them) I saw out of the corner of my eye “Louisiana Kitchen” there was a name attached to it but I just could not make it out viewing it as a big eighteen wheeler was passing.
Debbie and I had been looking for a place to eat and as soon as I saw the sign I said “Here is where we are eating”. She said “Where?” I told her the sign said Louisiana Grill and she said ok. One of the great things about being married to someone you really love and who really loves you is that you learn to not only put up with their peccadilloes but you make them your own (sometimes anyway). She said she was game so we pulled off the exit for Acworth, Georgia, All-American City
We had never heard of Acworth, much less visited it. As we got off the interstate we were basically left to our own because there were no more signs to lead us on our quest. So Debbie pulled out her phone, Googled Louisiana Kitchen Acworth and we found out that the name was Henry’s. She put in the address to the GPS function on her phone and after leading us around Dan’s barn and though a couple of residential neighborhoods, we finally found downtown Acworth and it almost took our breath away. It is stunningly beautiful. A somewhat typical small Southern town that perhaps was being rebuilt by money from people worked in Atlanta. It was one of those places that a Southern bell would simply say “Why this place is just darlin’, just darlin'”
This gave us hope for Henry’s, though I still knew my track record for Cajun places. We found Henry’s and to put it mildly it was amazing, just amazing. We did not order much. We had a trip ahead of us and I didn’t want to fall asleep and having recently lost my job so we were were being thrifty. So Debbie ordered a shrimp po’boy and I ordered an oyster po’boy. You might wonder how you could tell how good a Cajun place was by a po’boy but I will just say that there are remoulade sauces and there are remoulade sauces there clearly had the latter. But I ordered one other item. I order a bowl of crawfish etoufee’. My, my what can I say. I make a pretty good etoufee’ and I have eaten it in I don’t know how many place but this was without a doubt the best I had ever had.
As I ate it I noticed a taste in it that I had never tasted in etoufee’ before. Now as I cook I just have to try to figure this stuff out to make my own better the next time. Well I could tell by the taste that it was an ingredient, not just a spice or an herb but just couldn’t put my finger on it. Well, when we got to SC I found Henry’s place on the internet got, Chef Henry’s email address and wrote him to ask about the “secret ingredient” and just about as soon as I sent the email it came to me I said “I bet it was …”. I about forgot about the email but about a week later I got an email back from Chef Henry and he very kindly shared the “secret ingredient” with me and it turned out that I nailed it! If you want to know I suggest you go buy a bowl and see if you can figure it out for yourself.
So if you love Cajun food or have had a desire to see what the real thing tastes like I could not recommend in any higher way that you get up to Acworth and go to Henry’s. You will not be disappointed.
In fact I would say that if you live in Atlanta this place is clearly worth the drive (think they won an award sounding something like that) or if you live in Chattanooga. Just about anywhere in North Georgia or Southeast Tennessee you had better make the trip.
Hey guys, one last thing this is Henry’s place on the internet: