[caption id="attachment_2739" align="alignnone" width="980"] Photo by Lucie Monk-Carter.[/caption]
On the classic Cajun combo: Regional cuisine served hot and ready
Imagine: it’s lunchtime, and you’re hungry. You don’t have much time to get a bite to eat, but you can’t bring yourself to join the line for the drive-thru—not when you have access to some of the best culinary fare in the world. No, you’re craving something a little heartier and a lot more satisfying; but grab-n-go style, with lunch special prices. Enter your new favorite meal: the plate lunch.
Food historians agree the term “plate lunch” likely has Hawaiian origins, but the roots of the meal itself are varied and stretch back to the early twentieth century—around the same time that lunch counters and buffet-style eateries were introduced to American diners. The fast-yet-filling meals on the go quickly got popular—especially in regions with large working class populations—on account of their hefty portion size, convenience, and affordability. In the South, the styrofoam spreads tend to be known as a meat-and-three; in the Appalachian region, they call it a blue-plate special.
The Origins of Rice and Gravy
Here in South Louisiana we likely have rural meat markets to thank for introducing the plate lunch to Acadiana’s blue-collar workers. Small-town butchers would save their unsold meat cuts and daily scraps, cook them down in a thick, roux-rich gravy, then serve them over rice—historically one of Acadiana’s largest cash crops and a staple of any Cajun or Creole diet—with sides of smothered vegetables and bread the next day. They were cheap to make, calorically dense, and homemade: perfect for hungry farmers and oil and gas workers. It’s no wonder that rice and gravy remains a beloved dish on local tables today. In fact, Acadiana is such a hotspot for plate lunch houses that we even have a festival dedicated to “the ultimate plate lunch experience.” Each September, plate lunch connoisseurs and rice-and-gravy fanatics flock to Sugar Mill Pond in Youngsville for Tony Chachere’s Plate Lunch-A-Palooza, a free, family-friendly event with live music and well over a dozen plate lunch vendors to choose from.
Plate Lunch, St. Martin-Style
In St. Martin Parish—a place that also happens to claim the title of “Crawfish Capital of the World,”—is it any wonder that Cajun and Creole flavors naturally find their way onto plate lunch menus, too? Alongside standard plate lunch offerings like BBQ, pork roast, and country style ribs, you’ll find signature dishes like crawfish étouffée, fried fish, and gumbo. The best part? Menus usually change daily, so there’s always something new to try or a tried-and-true favorite to revisit.
St. Martin Parish is home to several plate lunch houses that have been serving their mighty, made-from-scratch recipes for generations. Must-try contenders include the smothered oxtails from Jeaux’s in St. Martinville—owned and operated by Marcus Joseph Cormier Sr., whose mother, Joséphiné, ran Joséphiné's Creole Restaurant in the same Main Street space for 24 years before Cormier opened Jeaux’s in 2019; and the turkey legs from Glenda’s Creole Kitchen in Breaux Bridge. When Ms. Glenda appeared on Anthony Bourdain’s Travel Channel television show, No Reservations, in 2011, he credited her with making “the gravy of the gods.” But don’t just take his word for it; see (and taste, for that matter) for yourself at any of St. Martin Parish’s plate lunch houses, listed below.
1251 Berard St. Breaux Bridge, LA 70517 (337) 442-1425
238 Rees St. Breaux Bridge, LA 70517 (337) 332-5855
2577 Coteau Rodaire Hwy. Breaux Bridge, LA 70517 (337) 667-6914
3232 Main Hwy. #31 Breaux Bridge, LA 70517 (337) 332-0294
715 Hank St. Breaux Bridge, LA 70517 (337) 804-5907
124 Rees St. Breaux Bridge, LA 70517 (337) 332-2500
830 S. Main St. St. Martinville, LA 70582 (337) 342-2477
1350 Henderson Hwy. Henderson, LA 70517 (337) 228-4283
1069 Freeman Road Broussard, LA 70518 (337) 837-6825
222 East Bridge St. St. Martinville, LA 70517 (337) 342-2633
807 South Main St. St. Martinville, LA 70582 (337) 654-5159
1406 Rees Street Breaux Bridge, LA 70517 (337) 332-2426
2942-F Grand Point Hwy. Breaux Bridge, LA 70517 (337) 667-6073
1706 South Main St. St. Martinville, LA 70584 (337) 394-6880
273 Rees Street Breaux Bridge, LA 70517 (337) 442-1238
2939 Grand Point Hwy Breaux Bridge, LA 70517 (337) 667-7150
625 Grand Point Breaux Bridge, LA 70517 (337) 332-0078
3015 Main Hwy #A Breaux Bridge, LA 70517 (337) 332-2108
1905 Rees Street Breaux Bridge, LA 70517 (337) 332-2500