We've been trying to get around more and break out of our old habits. In the process we’ve discovered that the food we have closest to home is really quite all right. We have a place called The Abita Brew Pub very close to our house, and we pass it often on the way home. We never stop. But they own a tiny little building in front that has been a lot of things, none of which ever lasts, but the building remains a good place to hang banners. I saw one advertising a family-style dinner and I thought we should try it.
Weeks went by and now things are open again, so we decided to go there and dine-in, or really out on the patio, which backs up to the Tammany Trace. Saturday was a beautiful day, and the line for a table was commensurate with the weather. We quit early.
The Abita Brew Pub would have to wait, but we went back to Square One for another new place. This time we drove to Madisonville for Lama’s St. Roch Seafood. If the name sounds familiar, The St. Roch Market is the family’s origin, though it is so different from what any of them knew, it is hard for them to see it now, or so I have heard.
Present day St. Roch Market belongs in Napa, and its clientele is about as far from that of the original one as the century that separates it.
The Lama’s are a large Sicilian New Orleans family spread out all over the city. When Nick, the owner, came to chat, I asked him if he was related to the Nick Lama of Avo. “A cousin,” he replied whenever he was asked about three other restaurants bearing the name Lama at one time recently. An alarming number of Nicks.
This Lama’s St. Roch was only in Madisonville, and there for a long time. It was a small seafood market on the way west on Hwy 22. This new building moved them closer to the action and gave them space for a dining room. Using the words dining room for this space is an exaggeration. It is spartan with enormously high ceilings, a pale gunmetal grey interior, and the most nondescript table and chairs possible. That doesn’t sound flattening, but neither is it a complaint. There are wall hangings that make it rather pleasant for a place so no-frills.
Ordering is at a window and not a single member of the staff could possibly have been any nicer than they were, from cooks in the kitchen, to the busboy, to the girl taking the orders. As usual, we got carried away, ordering a seafood gumbo, seafood platter with stuffed crab, a muffaletta, and a bread pudding. So as not to embarrass ourselves, we only got the muffaletta because they mentioned their Sicilian connections on the board, and those Sicilians are synonymous with the muffaletta in New Orleans.
I was shocked by how very tasty the seafood gumbo was. It wasn’t that I didn’t expect it to be, it’s just that it was outstanding. Maybe it was salt, because I don’t eat much salt, and I used to love it, so when something registers as spectacularly good, I usually realize it’s salt. Regardless, this was a really really good taste.
At $29.99, the seafood platter was ampled, crispy, golden brown, well-battered, and a good sample of everything. It had the traditional slice of toast accompanying, but not like the old days on the bottom to mop up the grease. This toast did not drain the fried seafood. There was no need for that. It was greaseless. The fried potatoes that came with it were those peculiar but expensive looking semi-curlicues like those at Deanie’s, but these seemed under-fried. I ate the coleslaw instead, which was shaved in long pieces, and just-right creamy. The shrimp, oysters, and fried catfish were battered just right in cornflour and came out of the kitchen stove hot. Tartar sauce was disappointing enough for me to ask for pickles, which they happily brought aplenty.
The stuffed crab was another thing that resembled Deanie’s. The stuffed crab at both places is stuffed into the crab shell overflowing enough to resemble a baseball. It is then deep-fried. All of this sounds unappealing, but the stuffed crab was loaded with crab, which is something they do not have in common with Deanie’s. Every bite here contained a forkful of claw crab meat.
The muffaletta was a big disappointment. It had enough meat and cheese on it, as well as olive salad. But the bread was almost like a rice flour bao. Spongy nothingness. I was shocked to hear it explained as Leidenheimer’s. What is going on with this bread? We each had literally a bite of muffaletta and took it home. A piece was warmed today and the heat made it seem better, at least. The bread pudding looked ordinary, which was a good thing. It was already enough food.
Lama’s Seafood Market & Eatery
5404 Hwy 22, Madisonville.