Road Tripping For Food

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris May 21, 2022 22:00 in Dining Diary

Mother’s Day was a whole lot more fun when the kids were around. My daughter used to say that the “gifts” I asked for (homemade things and general adoration) were torture. We had a great time joking about it.

And now everyone is gone and Mother’s Day is just another day. My son is married to a mother so he’s occupied far away. My daughter offered to do whatever I wanted. I surprised her by saying I had no plans for her. In many past years, my favorite thing to do was stay home and cook because that was an anomaly for this family that ate out every meal. 

This Mother’s Day I decided to do what most mothers do, if restaurant statistics are to be believed. We would eat out. My daughter accepted the pass since she was leaving town that afternoon.

Tom and I drove a route that is now almost too familiar to us. We went back to the vicinity of Manresa Retreat House, and dropped in at the Houmas House for their Mother’s Day buffet brunch. In this case, the word buffet is definitely not pronounced boo’ fay.

Chef Jeremy Langlois is still in the kitchen there, after a few comings and goings. Kevin Kelly hired Jeremy as a snot-nosed kid, as Tom often called the younguns. He has blossomed into a really good chef, so we expected a lot from this $98 all-inclusive spread.

I was attracted to the brunch because first, I love the Houmas House, and I love Jeremy’s food, but also because pics of former brunches there always show rows of white tableclothed tables lined up on the lawn under massive shady oaks. 

When we arrived I was surprised to see the lawn bereft of rows of linened tables. We went inside, me secretly grateful that I didn’t have to make Tom sit outside and be guilty forevermore. It was hot and the air-conditioning inside felt good.

The large space was starting to empty since we arrived at 1:30 and they stopped seating at 2. There was still plenty of seating and plenty of food.

Proprietor Kevin Kelly inherited his father’s warehouse business, made it bigger, and uses some warehouses to store a personal collection of fine items hand-picked from around the world. He has a keen eye and impeccable taste, and any party or service at Houmas House is replete with gorgeous things.

Antique tables held silver and fine china which showcased Jeremy’s food in an appealing way. A long table against a wall had large ornate pewter bowls filled continually with gorgeous salads, making it look like the buffet had just started. There was potato salad, which was good but not necessary unless one wanted to eat gumbo the Cajun way. 

This first table against the left wall also had a Caesar salad which was perfectly dressed: Not overdressed, but with enough dressing to make a statement. It was a terrifically tasty version of a Caesar dressing without a heavy anchovy taste. I had three helpings of this. 

Beside that bowl was another filled with mixed lettuces in a sweet dressing with pecans, currants, and blue cheese. After two bowls of this I was filling up fast, and I hadn’t even looked at anything beyond this table. 

Beside the salads were two silver soup tureens. One had a crawfish and corn pumpkin and curry bisque. This was smooth, mildly thick, and bursting with complex flavors. We both loved this soup.

But while Tom focused on that one, I had chicken and andouille gumbo. It was dark with a thick roux, and a lot of thinly-sliced andouille, as well as small bits of chicken. A third silver tureen had white rice. This gumbo thrilled me enough to have two bowls.

It’s a good thing I was underwhelmed with the main tables of buffet items. More large silver-plated serving dishes surrounded the wide antique circular table. There was a silver tray of oyster patty shells that were a little dry and seemed slightly stale. These sat beside a chafing dish filled with crawfish etouffee. I’m not usually a fan of etouffees, but I would expect a good one from Jeremy, and it was.

Going around the table were a few pretty ordinary dishes like sauteed mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes, and a spicy corn maque choux. The best thing on this table I didn’t notice until we were about to leave, which was too bad. It was a Louisiana Cajun dirty rice dressing with pecans. And it was as tasty as it sounds.

This would have been an excellent accompaniment to the roasted duck breast in a sugar cane sauce, which was my favorite of the “proteins.” There were a lot of these on the other large round table and most were ordinary.  There was sliced roast pork, which seemed dry and boring. I had one slice and it was fine but nothing special. And it was as dry as it looked.

The glazed ham was better than the pork. It too was a tad overdone. Around the other side of the table was a creamy chicken dish, and salmon with a sort of dressing on it. All of this was fine but, as Tom would say, something you’d expect on a buffet. I would rate it all as ordinary lukewarm buffet food.

It pained me to pay $98 per person for this until I discovered the cold seafood spread. This was worth the price of admission all by itself. Beautiful chilled raw oysters on the half-shell were as plentiful as anyone needed them to be. Tom used to love raw oysters, but he rarely eats them anymore. He made six exceptions this day, declaring them wonderful.

My eyes popped out at a bowl filled with crab claws. I helped myself to a small portion and was glad it wasn’t larger. They didn’t have a lot of flavor. The same is true for the boiled shrimp, which was a big disappointment. These needed cocktail sauce, and maybe that was the key. I don’t often eat cold seafood spreads. Is it normal for the shrimp to be rather bland for the cocktail sauce to ramp up the flavor?

There were pieces of Alaskan King Crab and stone crab claws! (Which are all about the hype.) Not much to them. A cold seafood lover would have been thrilled by this pirogue of Louisiana bounty, and miscellaneous crabs. There were also mussels in a tidy pile.

Next to the cold seafood was a carving table, where an amiable and obliging young man carved prime rib. Another tall silver serving dish offered au jus. A small silver bowl of horseradish was nearby. All of this was predictably fine.

Another tall silver tower displayed seemingly endless desserts offered in small individual portions. There were tiny eclairs and truffles and macarons, larger slices of cake and cheesecake, and a silver chafing dish filled with bread pudding in a thick sauce. Tom ate five portions of this. None of these seemed interesting enough for me. Besides, I was grotesquely full, as is the customary way for patrons of a buffet to feel.

A final antique wooden table was loaded with coffee. Small plates and saucers and spoons were constantly replenished, as was the coffee, which Tom declared excellent.

I’m glad we finally made it out to the Houmas House. It is not an easy trip to make, but it is definitely worth it. By any measure the place is stunning. This old plantation is alive. It is the country home of its owner, whose two dogs are ferried around on golf carts all day.

It looked especially lush as the gardens are beginning to grow out again. Big and little fountains everywhere offer visitors a soothing calm.

We left by way of the River Road, determined to continue our adventure. We stopped at Manresa to walk the grounds near the river, We drove through Garyville and had to double back by the Marathon Oil facility, ending up on the old highway 61 to cross the Spillway. A lot of families were outside enjoying a more natural Mother’s Day outing.

We passed the old Airline Motors restaurant, which was big in its heyday. It’s a sad rusting heap now. Tom had a lot of memories of the place and regaled me with tales of Airline Motors most of the way home.

We passed the old airport, which I will go back to calling Moisant Field now that the new one is operating. And I noticed that the last remaining outpost of Voodoo BBQ is gone. The once-delicious mainstream chain that expanded quickly, then contracted just as quickly, is now no more. Perhaps a casualty of the hipper BBQ joints?

And I learned that hanging out with one’s progeny isn’t the only way to have fun on Mother’s Day. But it is still the best!