Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Little Something Extra For The Texas Hill Country

The counties of the Texas Hill Country are about as different from the swamp parishes of Louisiana as anything could possibly be. While the climate of southern Louisiana is hot and rainy, the climate of the hill country of Texas is also hot, but drier. Some swamp parishes of Louisiana are below sea level, while the counties of central Texas are many hundreds of feet above the sea. The parishes of southern Louisiana are historically French in origin. On the other hand, the most recent historical and cultural origins of the hill country of Texas are mostly Spanish, Mexican, and German.

There are other differences as well. The swamps of Louisiana have alligators. The hills of Texas have scorpions. Cordgrass is native to Louisiana, while prickly pear cactus is native to Texas. Traditional music in southern Louisiana consists of jazz, blues, and zydeco. Traditional music in the hill country is a mix of German, Tejano, regional Mexican, country, and, of course, the diverse music found in and around Austin. The traditional foods are different as well. Louisiana food includes boudin, fried oysters, and gumbo while Texas food includes beef brisket, chicken-fried steak, and tacos.

However, Seth Hudson, owner of Parrain’s Louisiana Kitchen in Jonestown, Texas, has it about right. He says it best, when he correctly points out, that despite the differences, the swamps of Louisiana and the hills of Texas do have something in common, and that, he says, is “water.” Hudson says that the hill country lakes remind him of Louisiana. And this explains how a restaurant serving excellent Louisiana cuisine ended up in a very small town in the Texas Hill Country.

Seth Hudson is originally from Louisiana and moved here with his father, but like many people who visit hill country, he “fell in love with Austin,” and ended up staying. But just because he likes his new home in Texas, doesn’t mean he forgot about Louisiana, or, the importance of both his family and the traditional food of his youth.  As a result, Parrain’s Louisiana Kitchen on the north shore of Lake Travis is a product of both.

Seth is a friendly and engaging man, who is proud of the fact that he creates most everything from scratch. Initially, he opened a small deli in Jonestown. But after only 9 months, the positive response he received caused him to look for larger quarters. He liked Jonestown, so he quickly located a place right across the road next to the Lone Star Bar, but it needed work. Seth and his family completely gutted the existing building, and personally rebuilt the space. Concerned about the environment, and the preservation of natural resources, Seth sold an old automobile to raise money for the recycled wood he wanted to use in the construction. The large wood support beams, for example, are over 100 years old.

About 3 months ago, when the building was completed, Seth Hudson and his Parrain’s Louisiana Kitchen welcomed customers to the new location. The construction efforts of Seth and his family were a success. The atmosphere is cozy and laid-back, with ceiling fans swirling gently overhead to tamp down the Texas heat. In short, it is a perfect spot to enjoy some Louisiana cooking.

In Seth Hudson’s mind, building something from scratch neither begins nor ends with a construction site. Like the building in which he serves his food, he creates his menu offerings in much the same way, from the ground up. His crawfish are brought in fresh from Louisiana, and his oysters are from Aransas Bay on the gulf coast of Texas. Many of his menu creations are homemade, including the sausage. And, he uses gluten-free corn meal. While the food offerings are not fancy, the menu at Parrain’s Louisiana Kitchen is both Louisiana focused and very delicious.
Seth Hudson
The menu has all the items you would normally expect from a restaurant serving up fine Louisiana cuisine, including, gumbo, etouffee, boudin, andouille, catfish, shrimp, Po’ Boy sandwiches, and fresh and fried oysters. But, Seth Hudson has a little secret. In the back, between the building and the parking lot, there is a covered barbecue pit, where he smokes turkey breast, pork loin, and sausages over a fire fueled by pecan wood. He also has another little secret; his sister is the head chef.

My problem, when visiting restaurants serving up Louisiana cooking, is always deciding what to order, because, I want it all. I always wish that one of these places would come up with a “sampler,” so I could satisfy all my Cajun and Creole cravings on a single plate. But, in lieu of that dream, I usually go with the Po’ Boy, at least during lunch, and I normally order it with either shrimp or oysters packed inside.

On the day I visited Seth’s place, I went with the shrimp, and I was delighted, because there were a lot of shrimp, and each and every one of them was delicious. The fried shrimp on my sandwich were hot, lightly breaded, and not greasy. Other diners that day, including my wife and son, were enjoying another selection, the “Wild Card Basket,” where you choose your meat, and add a side of fries or slaw. Specials are also available, and, on the day we visited, the special was boiled crawfish, with potato and corn. And, if you so desire, you can enjoy a glass of fine wine or beer with your meal. It was all very good, but, my family, including myself, were too stuffed after our meal to try any of the bread pudding or pecan pie for dessert.

In Louisiana, they have a special word for a small unexpected gift, or a little something extra a merchant might give to a customer, and that word is “lagniappe."  The swamp parishes of Louisiana are a long way away from the hills of Texas, but that doesn’t stop Seth Hudson and his family from giving a lagniappe every single day to the citizens of Jonestown and the surrounding area, and that gift is Parrain’s Louisiana Kitchen.