There is a river by this name that rolls through south Louisiana. It begins as a branch off the Mississippi at the far southwest point of the state of Mississippi. The Atchafalaya was encouraged, maybe goaded, by the Corps of Engineers into serving as a flood control measure to help protect New Orleans from spring floods. That was a good idea since many a spring, as Kat and I sipped coffee and chomped beignets outside the Café du Monde (in that stinky old French Quarter), we have seen tankers and container ships roll slowly down the river, high, high above us with only those Corps levees holding back all that water. Something like 25% of what could have been went to the Atchafalaya instead.
Louisiana people will tell you the Atchafalaya is the deepest river in the state. Correct them by noting the existence of is source, The Mississippi, and they will reply “Still the widest.” Nope, that again is The Big Muddy. “Well, then it’s the most treacherous.” Perhaps, but that would likely depend upon one’s experience on each river. I heard — no I was taught — those things growing up in north Louisiana. No wonder there’s more than enough ignorance to go around!
I can tell you for a fact that the Atchafalaya Basin (swamp) marks the dividing line between andouille and boudin country. Hearty pork and garlic andouille is favored to the east, with the rice/blood/liver concoction in a casing being the go-to sausage west of the basin. Andouille is, believe it or not, a German invention, while boudin is of Cajun French origin. Both are wonderful and when you’re down here screaming “Laissez les bon temps roulez”, be sure to sample both.
Atchafalaya is also New Orleans’ only 5-A restaurant. Kat, daughter Stephanie, her guy Kevin, and I brunched there recently. The food was good, the drinks superb, and the music might have been even better. Kat and Steph raved over their Eggs Atchafalaya featuring poached oeufs with Hollandaise, fried green tomato, and lump Gulf crabmeat. Kevin liked his shrimp and grits, heads and all, ya’ll. I love fried chicken but hate to cook it (grease spatter spoils the fun) so I simply had to order Biscuit and Chicken with country gravy and roasted potatoes. It was good, but that’s a dish done best by Popeye’s.
The cafe has a lovely Bloody Mary bar where you make your own, so I did. They sling a fine Mimosa and offer many craft beers. And on Sunday, while we were there, they featured live music. Jenn Howard, the vocalist, absolutely slew Over the Rainbow in her own voice. She later nailed Otis Redding’s I’ve Been Loving You Too Long in a superb tribute to Janis Joplin, and then sang some solid Sam Cooke. You just can’t beat good food, good music, and great company.
Atchafalaya serves New Orleans’ best brunch.