For the longest time, I have spoken critically of Don’s Seafood. But a few weeks ago we received an email inviting us to visit the Don’s near our home to see the $ 2M renovations they just completed among their six locations. Mary Ann accepted the invitation. Her feelings about Don’s were ambivalent. And she figured if a place has been around in the same family for nearly a hundred years, maybe there is something going on.
We had lunch with the owner Tracy Landry, whose grandfather started in Lafayette in the Twenties with a grocery store and then a beer hall. Tracy’s great aunt helped her brother by cooking all the food, and soon Don’s became Don’s Seafood And Steakhouse. The original Don was one of eleven siblings, so there was plenty of help. And cousins.
After the original Don passed away, there were 41 heirs, and only a handful worked in the business. A restructuring was in order. After everyone had been bought out, the current three-person team of ownership and management emerged. Decisions are a lot easier to make, like the $ 2M investment in cosmetic changes at the restaurants. Better flow, but not really obvious with a casual glance.
We started our lunch with oysters. Chargrilled. These were small but good, with a lot of cheese and bacon. Also in this first round was a dish they call jacked-up shrimp. It is served in a cast iron skillet, but one made for abelskivers, the rolled Danish pancake.
In each round space of the skillet, there were shrimp in a sauce covered with a brownish crust of melted cheese. What could be wrong with this? Nothing. It was delicious, especially if you like cheese.
Some very ordinary buttered bread was brought with this, but we stuck to these cheesy things. Next was a round of gumbo which Mary Ann declared old-fashioned because a nose of Kitchen Bouquet preceded it when it was placed before her. I liked this way more than she did.
Tracy recommended we try his favorite thing on the menu, ironically the hamburger steak with brown gravy and onions, served with a stuffed baked potato. Mary Ann was unconvinced, thinking this an odd thing for a place like this to have , but agreed upon tasting it that it was very good indeed. The “stuffing” in the potato appeared to be mostly cheese. Tasty enough. Then fried shrimp and fried catfish arrived at the table, as well as grilled amberjack topped with lump crabmeat in a garlic sauce. Also a grilled catfish, one of my favorites, and a stuffed and grilled shrimp with crabmeat. They do something unusual with their shrimp here. They are butterflied, and the coating is more of a breadcrumb than a typical fried seafood seasoning. Not cornmeal or flour. This tended to be less greasy than can sometimes happen with other coatings. But this unique approach is just a surprise.. The last thing on the table was Tracy’s salad topped with lump crabmeat. His willpower was impressive.
One of the things I’ve tried to do in all these years of food writing is to occasionally check in on someplace to see if it changes. Don’s does not seem to change, remaining consistent with their original recipes, though they are constantly updating, like the jacked-up shrimp.
Like Mary Ann said in the beginning, if you’ve beem around nearly a hundred years, you must be doing something right.