Lafayette, LA – Prejean’s (Review)

Prejean's Lafayette(From out travel archives) Prejeans…………..Before Levi’s?

I’d seen the restaurant Prejeans many times when driving up I-49 between Lafayette and Shreveport. I had never had an occasion to stop, although I had heard fairly good things about it. Local publicity calls it “award winning” and the “best Cajun cuisine in the South.”

Those are pretty strong recs, so I was eager to try it out. My only reservations from the get-go included some mild hesitation because they are open for all three meals a day, and because they really try and rope in the tourist (and group travel) business. I’m pretty a believer in the “jack of all trades, master of none” thing.

The occasion to sample their fare came when some locals, with whom I had some business dealings, suggested we head their for a lunch meeting. It was a Wednesday, and we were to meet at high noon.

Prejeans was started in 1980 by Louisiana native Bob Guilbeau, who apparently spent some time living in California as well. His dream was to create a pre-eminent restaurant serving the foods of his youth in Louisiana, but he also “wanted to duplicate what the Mexican restaurants of California had created by combining food and music to maximize the guest dining experience.” He hoped it would create a “fun, casual atmosphere” for food and entertainment.

On a number of levels, one would guess that he has succeeded. At the appointed day and time, the parking lot was jammed, there were a significant number of diners waiting for their tables (all sporting those larger than usual ‘restaurant beepers’ that the hostess had given out, and one had to negotiate their drive into the parking lots to successfully navigate past the tour buses.

If you take me at my word usually, you can stop reading here. I didn’t enjoy the experience. If you want the details, read on.

While some diners set their ‘satisfaction meter’ by the number of cuisines melded into one experience, you know I don’t give a rats about ‘fusion.’ If you want a menu representing a half dozen cultures, go to Friday’s. If you advertise yourself as known for your specialty in one particularly genre or cuisine, stick to it, I say.

The menu at Prejean’s is lengthy, and filled with interesting “sounding” items, but misses the mark, IMHO when it comes to “pure Cajun.”

I’m not sure that the early Acadians would have approved of Crawfish Enchiladas, or even known what a “brown butter shitake sauce” was. Beer battered fried cheese strips probably never crossed a Cajun’s mind, unless it was by accident.

Ditto for a tasso cream sauce, or a tandoori pork tenderloin served with a chili and low-fat yogurt cream, accompanied by a curry chutney jambalaya. The combinations of those flavors is bad enough to contemplate, let alone the cultural faux-pas this dish would present in its native land.

The main dining room is cavernous and noisy, probably conducive to large groups of friends and families gathering, but certainly not for a business conversation. The mixture of vehicles in the parking lot leaned heavily towards pick-up trucks being in the majority.

The food is far better than average, and if you stick to the “purer” dishes, you’ll be more than pleased with the output of the “award winning kitchen.” (Tho few of those medals come from more than 100 miles away as the crawfish flies).

You’ll be less happy with the output of your wallet, as Prejeans, for “fun, casual” is pretty dear. Appetizers run from 6.50 to 13.95; salads are all at 9.95; gumbos and soups at 4.95 a cup, or 8.95 a bowl; and entrees from 13.95 to 28.95, with the majority fall in the 18-20 range.

So split an appetizer, a salad, each have a soup, an entree and a dessert, and we’re talking a lunch tab in the $60 + range for two, not including beverages. That seems pretty brutal for “fun, casual.”

So what was the best thing about Prejean’s? It wasn’t my turn to buy.

Prejeans is located in North Lafayette, on the east frontage road of I-49.

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