After returning from The Frozen North on Christmas Eve and watching movies ’til my brains turned to mush on Christmas Day, I found myself restless on Boxing Day.
I decided to take a drive up River Road with no real destination in mind, just to see what I could see. I crossed over the Huey P. and went up on the Westbank, through the weird combination of plantations and industry. There were lots of neat things to look at. I was treated to some good advice:
I ended up in Donaldsonville, which has a quaint little downtown area, but was super dead that day, due to it being both Sunday and the day after Christmas. The Grapevine Cafe was open, however, and seemed to be doing a brisk business.
Here’s a blurb from their website:
Grapevine Cafe and Gallery’s award-winning cuisine has earned rave reviews from food writers and local residents for its authentic and original South Louisiana fare.
Our recipes draw from the diverse cultures that have made Louisiana the unique treasure it is. With the perfect blending of Cajun, Creole and African traditions, we are proud to offer you the best in Louisiana dining.
The restaurant resides in a 1920s storefront on the main drag of town and features high ceilings, brick walls, and displays by local artists. I sat by a side window that looked out at a lovely alley-way garden, complete with a cat sitting outside on the sill. “A” for atmosphere!
I knew that the place was famous for Chef Cynthia Schneider’s white chocolate bread pudding– which she served at the James Beard Awards Dinner in 2006– so I was sure to order light to save room for it. I got a cup of seafood gumbo and a grilled crawfish tail appetizer.
The gumbo was good; not as thick as some I’ve had, but it came with a side of rice that solved the problem. It was also accompanied by a scoop of potato salad that was heavy on the relish or pickle juice or something, but tasty nonetheless.
I found myself slightly disappointed in the crawfish tails. The seasonings didn’t add a whole lot of flavor, and the tails themselves tasted like they’d been sitting for a bit before winding up at my table–not very warm. The remoulade tasted like the same pickle monster made it who made the potato salad. Again, not bad, but a little overwhelming.
So. Mediocre fare thus far, but I wanted to stick with it through dessert, which did end up salvaging the whole meal. That’s some damn fine bread pudding, as Dale Cooper would say. Spongy and warm, with a subtle flavor to showcase the stellar white chocolate sauce that it was drenched in. Not to mention the fact that the serving was more than generous.
I’ve read nothing but phenomenal things about the Grapevine Cafe, so I’m guessing I just chose poorly from the menu. If I ever get back to Donaldsonville I’ll give the place another try, this time for dinner, though, since the lunch menu is truncated.
Here’s a copy of Chef Schneider’s bread pudding recipe (via):
White Chocolate Bread Pudding
Stale French bread, sliced 1/2-inch thick
3 cups whipping cream
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup sugar
2 cups chopped white chocolate
2 large eggs
8 large egg yolks
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly spray the bottom of a 4-by-8-inch baking dish and place a layer of bread slices.
2. In a saucepan, scald the cream with the milk. Add the sugar and white chocolate. Remove from heat and stir until smooth.
3. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the yolks. Gradually whisk in the white chocolate mixture until blended. Pour half the mixture over the bread and let it stand until absorbed. Cover with another layer of bread and pour the remaining mixture on top, making sure each slice is thoroughly soaked.
4. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the center of the pudding puffs up. Uncover and bake 5 more minutes. Let cool until set, about 15 minutes. Scoop the bread pudding into bowls with an ice cream scoop or serve in squares, topped with warm White-Chocolate Sauce.
White Chocolate Sauce
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup chopped white chocolate
Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler. Whisk in the whipping cream until smooth. Serve warm.
The Grapevine Cafe and Gallery
211 Railroad Avenue
Donaldsonville, Louisiana 70346
(interior photo courtesy of grapevinecafeandgallery.com)