As I grow older, the more and more I like to ‘sleep in’ when I can on Saturday mornings. Yesterday, I didn’t get the chance and boy am I glad I didn’t! By 8:00 a.m, I was in the heart of Cajun country, sitting in a restaurant with a full service bar and a live band. Joie de vivre, my friends.!
Our friend Sharon had a birthday last week. So, she decided to throw herself a birthday party and invited Jo Ann and me. Turns out that the birthday party was in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana and started at 8 a.m. Since moving “back home” a year or so ago, Sharon has pretty much forced Jo Ann and I out of our middle aged, empty nest, suburbanite rut. Sharon has a “Louisiana Bucket List” and has included Jo Ann and me on some of those adventure. Turns out she wanted to have her birthday party at Cafe’ des Amis in downtown Breaux Bridge.
Cafe’ des Amis (which means coffee with friends in Cajun French, by the way) is a quaint little restaurant located in what was an old dry goods store in the heart of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, right on the banks of Bayou Teche. Most of the buildings in the area date from the 1890’s or so. The cafe is a typically nice, local eatery most of the week.
What makes it special is what happens on Saturday mornings. Starting at 7:30 every Saturday, the cafe’ opens for breakfast with a live Zydeco band playing and people lining up outside to get in. We got inside, paid the cover charge (yeah, I know.. first time I ever paid a cover for breakfast) and found Sharon inside.
It didn’t take long to figure out that this place was not only rockin’, it was special too. First, where else but South Louisiana would you find a cafe’ open for breakfast with a full service bar and a live band.
People were dancing and having a good time early on a Saturday morning. It wasn’t long til the next part of our party arrived, my buddy Jeff Gill.
At this point, maybe a little culture and history lesson are in order for my friends and relatives from “up North”; like Monroe, Shreveport or Dallas. Breaux Bridge is in the heart of Cajun Country, west of the Atchafalya River, located Bayou Teche. Also known as Acadianna, it is the part of Louisiana settled by the Acadiannes, French speaking people who were expelled from Canada when England took over that part of Canada in the late 18th Century. The King of England wanted them to swear allegiance to him. As Justin Wilson used to say, they wouldn’t swear to him, but the swore at him pretty good, I guarontee!. So when they were expelled, most of them headed for the French colony, La Louisianne. New Orleans was not for them. They were not city dwellers. They were farmers, woodsman and fisherman. They were proud, independent and wanted a place where they could live their lives and raise their families in peace and solitude. So, they migrated west and settled along the banks of Bayou Teche, on the edge of the Atchafalya swamp.
They built a culture which was based on hard work, family, good friends and good times. They worked hard and, when the work was done, they played hard. The motto of the Cajuns was and is “laisezz le bon temp rouler”, which loosely translates as “let the good times roll”. They learned to cook wonderful, simple food using a few spices and things that were readily available to them, like crawfish, crabs, fish and vegetables. They had their own kind of music, a fast chank-a-chank beat, heavy with fiddles, washboards, accordions and bells. Later, black people in the area adapted that music to a little faster rhythm and some different lyrics and Zydeco was born. The biggest thing that the Cajuns/Acadians brought to Louisiana was an outlook on life that is summed up as “joie de vivre” or the joy of life. It means that a man may have to work to live, but life is really about eating and drinking with family and friends, music and dancing and good food. Enjoying life, in other words.
Now, back to the story at hand. Jo Ann, Jeff, Sharon and I spent our wait time having some Mimosa’s and dancing. I took a minute to wander down the street and discovered that Cafe’ des Amis was not the only place on the block to have live music with breakfast. There were actually two more. By then, Sharon’s college friend Billy and his friend Chrissy were there. When our table was ready, the rest of our party was not there yet, so they seated us at a table with two other couples we didn’t know. One of them was from Louisiana and their friends, John and Anita were visiting from Seattle. They brought them down to Breaux Bridge for a little culture shock. It didn’t seem strange sitting at a table with strangers. That is another Cajun thing. Good people and good times, it doesn’t matter whether you know them or not.
We continued to dance and pass a good time while we waited for our food. At one point, I headed outside to get some air and take a smoke break. On the sidewalk I encountered an angel. There was a young couple there, with their 2 year old daughter Hannah. Even Hannah was having a good time.
You could hear the music outside on the sidewalk and Hannah was definitely enjoying it too. I couldn’t resist showing her a few steps and before long, she was definitely getting her Zydeco on.
Hannah enjoying the music!
I come from a Baptist background, where dancing is a huge no-no. But it has always seemed a little odd to me that as soon as they are old enough to walk, you don’t have to teach kids to dance. Actually, you have to teach them NOT to dance.
As I headed back inside, I ran into my high school buddy and Sharon’s sister, Susan. She had her daughter, the ‘other’ Hannah, in tow.
Not long after that, our food arrived. Food is not only nutrition in Louisiana, it is a cultural experience. My breakfast looked delicious.
Cheese omelet, with crawfish etoufee on top, homemade biscuit and cheese grits with tasso. For any New Jersey Americans reading this, tasso is a Cajun spiced ham that can add great flavor to anything.
Before and during our meal, both Sharon and Jo Ann got offers to dance from some of the Cafe’ ‘regulars’. These guys seemed to be dancing with every woman in the place. We later figured out that that was their job. They were supplied by the cafe’ management to get folks dancing and having a good time.
By that time, John and Anita’s food had arrived and they were getting their Cajun on!
About that time, the rest of our party arrived, Jean Ann and Lisa.
Some more food and fun ensued, and some more dancing.
I even got to dance with Susan. By my calculation, the last time that happened was 1979, in the gym at the old Live Oak High School. 🙂
Eventually all good things come to an end and Jo and I had to head back home. But it was a wonderful time and I would definitely recommend trying Cafe’ Des Amis if you are looking for something to do on a Saturday morning. Plan on going early and staying late! That is a Cajun thing too!
Here are a couple of other young at heart girls who couldn’t resist dancing!
Apparently the fun kept going after we left.