A very long while back I visited Bayou Bakery with a friend, on our way to the Arlington Wine Festival. He mentioned the place in passing as we drove past it, and it seemed so delightful that I asked him to stop so that we could pop in for a quick pre-wine brunch. He fed the meter a half hour’s worth of quarters so it wouldn’t go hungry as we indulged in gluttony.
Chef David Guas is a proud Louisiana native. He breathes elegant flare into Southern rustic classics and slaps on a wonderful barista style coffee service inspired by his Cuban heritage. His down-home menu features stuff like buttery breakfast biscuits, gumbo and muffaletta sandwiches (which have been named one of the top 20 “Best Sandwiches in the U.S. by Food & Wine in 2012). During the summer, one can get a refreshing New Orleans style sno-ball with a variety of house-made syrups drizzled on.
The place has, very deservingly, gotten its fair share of good press. Chef Guas was named Food & Wine’s People’s Best New Chef in the Country for 2011 and 2012. Bon Appétit chose him as one of eight “Dessert Stars” in the country. His place has been named one of the Top Three Bakeries by Washingtonian and one of the Top Three King Cakes in the Country by The Washington Post. Guas is a bit of a personality in the restaurant industry and Bayou Bakery is his magnum opus. But despite the growing reputation, Guas remains one of the good ones, dedicating his “free” time to seeking out new local suppliers to work with. On the front page of his menu, he personally thanks the farms and producers whose products form the foundation of his wonderful cooking.
The Beignets here are a definite must-have! And I don’t just throw exclamation points around randomly… They are fried golden brown with an addictive texture – crispy, hot and caramelized sweet on the outside and airy, eggy soft inside. They are sweet little pillows dusted with a considerable amount of powdered sugar which melts slightly against the heat coming off the nutty peanut oil coating the delicious donut. They’re 3 for $3 and big enough to have only 1-2 of. Not like the fritters need this at all, but I think I even saw some jarred preserves and artisanal honey by the coffee set-up stand. A spoonful of raspberry jam might put this over the top.
Having noted that the customizable Southern-style biscuits seem ridiculously flaky and wonderful, along with the fact that the Bloody Mary’s are served in Mason jars and look damn good too, we left the place with plans to come back for a full brunch sometime soon. As we were walking out, though, we saw a bucket of live crawdads on the curb and that made us turn right back around to ask the friendly dude behind the counter what that was all about. He told us they were planning one of their occasional crawdad dinners that night. That was enough to pencil Bayou in for post-wine dinner.
So four hours after having their breakfast beignets, we returned slightly buzzed and very excited about these mini-lobsters. They were prepared in the typical Cajun crawfish boil kind of way, cooked along with potatoes and corn with a muslin bag containing bay leaves, mustard seeds, cayenne pepper, oregano and thyme. These are dumped out and shaken up with some hot sauce, which coats the shell in salty, spicy flavor. My friend instructed me on how to eat them: separate the abdomen from the head with just the right amount of pressure on the tail so that the innards in the body cavity come out attached. Pinch the tail so that the meat comes out in one piece. Finally, suck the fatty, salty juices out of the head. Unfortunately I failed at doing this well enough to actually be full by the end, but as I’ve heard it takes some practice.
I’ve promised myself to return to Bayou Bakery, and next time I’m getting everything on the menu.