Earlier this fall, I had to go to Cape Girardeau to do some training for the guys from Stereo One. I got in the evening before and I got hold of an old friend and former co-worker from years ago, Aaron, who works at Stereo One and wanted to see if he was up for getting some dinner and drinking some beer. He said he was and wanted to know where I wanted to go. I said, "Wow, man, I don't know. This is your town." He said there was a great Cajun place in downtown Cape Girardeau by the name of Broussard's. I told him, "We're there!"
Broussard's Cajun Cuisine started in 1986 when Louisiana transplants Barron and Kathy Broussard moved to Cape Girardeau and opened up the restaurant in what was the site of the old Town Pump restaurant. Broussard also owned restaurants at one point up the road in St. Louis and out in Lodi, CA. Many of the foods that Broussard served in his restaurant in Cape Girardeau were from family recipes he garnered over the years.
The center piece of the restaurant was a tank with a live alligator in it. For years, Broussard's kept a small alligator in a fish tank for the customers to look at when they visited the place. I don't know what they did with the alligator after it got too big, but they do serve alligator dishes at Broussard's. The alligator had a name - Felix - and an alligator continues to be the prominent feature of Broussard's logo.
In 1991, Dennis Stockard took over the business and kept a lot of the touches Barron Broussard had put into the place. Dennis Stockard believed in a more professional approach, heavy upon customer appreciation. Broussard's began to gain a following throughout Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois. Many Cajun aficionados said the food at Broussard's was as authentic as any Southwest Louisiana bayou restaurant.
Dennis Stockard retired in 1997 and turned the business over to his son, Shawn. He kept a lot of the same elements of the restaurant his father ran, but marketed the bar toward more of a younger crowd, all the while maintaining the dining room for Cajun cuisine. For years, Broussard's has hosted a number of local bands to play in the place during the weekends.
In 2004, former employee Hunter Clark, and his wife, Stephanie, bought the business from Shawn Stockard. Clark, who had a background in the restaurant business with both Shoney's and Captain D's, worked as a supervisor for Dennis Stockard at Broussard's from 1992 to 1994. Clark had been driving a truck before he and his wife bought Broussard's, but wanted to get back into the restaurant business. They took over and other than a few cosmetic changes to the place, Broussard's is pretty much the same as it was 20 plus years ago. Many of the items on the menu are still true to Barron Broussard's family recipes, and now Broussard's has garnered a national food following with their great Cajun food.
At one point, Cape Girardeau had an outstanding upscale Cajun restaurant - the Royal N'Orleans, but it shut down a couple three years ago. I had been there on a couple occasions and it was certainly a treat to have some excellent Cajun and Creole food from that place. I hadn't been familiar with Broussard's Cajun Cuisine because during my limited travels to Cape Girardeau, I'd focused on wanting to go to Royal N'Orleans. I made my way downtown - past the darkened Royal N'Orleans - and found a parking place in a lot just north of Broussard's.
Broussard's is housed in an 1890's building that is part of the Cape Girardeau Commercial Historic District and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places a couple short blocks from the Mississippi River (see map). I met Aaron near the front of the building and we went in.
The main entrance into Broussard's takes you into a vintage 50's style bar area with a long bar, blue neon lights circling the ceiling, and some booths along the wall. To the left is the gaming/music area of the place, and to the right is the dining area.
We were seated in a booth along the wall, just under one of the bright red neon crawfish lights. Our waiter came over with menus and we ordered up some beers. I wondered if they had any Abita beers, since it was a Cajun restaurant and Abita is out of Louisiana. The waiter said, "No, sorry. We do have them, but they're for catering only."
I said, "Wait a minute! Catering only?"
Aaron said, "Dude, you're catering to US!" We couldn't quite grasp our minds on how a place could have beer, but wasn't willing to sell it. We asked for other types of beers and the guy kept saying, "No, we don't have that either" to our requests. I just decided to cut my losses and order a Bud Light - they DID have that, and Aaron got a Sam Adams.
On the wall facing me, there was a big mural - one of many paintings in Broussard's - by local Cape Girardeau artist Scott Kelley. Each mural or painting has something to do with people who have either worked at Broussard's over the years or who have graced their doors with regularity. Some paintings are a tad twisted with animals depicting some of the people. This one was overly colorful - even with the bright red light from the glowing neon crawfish on the wall.
Aaron gave me the drill about Broussard's - everything he'd ever had there was great. They had four different variations of etoufee, they had shrimp creole, jambalaya, gumbo, and chicken creole parmesan in a spicy creole sauce over rice. They had ribs, steaks and sandwiches - including Po' Boys. They had boiled crawfish (probably from China), red beans and rice, frog legs and blackened catfish. My head was spinning from all the possibilities they had to offer.
Aaron suggested we split the four combo platter - crawfish etoufee, shrimp etoufee, alligator etoufee and jambalaya. Red beans and rice came with it and we both got a bowl of gumbo for good measure. Aaron said, "There's no way we'll be able to finish all of this food, but it will give you a good idea of how good all their food is here."
The waiter was a little slow with both our food and our beers. He didn't bring out our gumbo at first like we wanted. It came out with our combo platter. And he was a little lax on getting our beers to us after we'd ordered them. I think he was the only waiter in the place that evening, but it was only Aaron and I, with people at a couple other tables in the dining room.
Aaron wasn't fooling about not being able to finish everything. There was a lot of food to sample sitting in front of us. The first thing I tried was the gumbo. It was simply outstanding. I zipped it up a bit with some Tabasco, but it was pretty zippy to the taste on it's own. The gumbo at Broussard's was some of the best I've every had.
We had asked for an extra spoon and an extra plate apiece to scoop portions of the platters for individual servings. The waiter was woefully spacey and we had to remind him again before he ran and got the spoons and a couple small plates.
I tried all three of the etoufees and the best of the three was the alligator etoufee. The taste sensation sent me to the roof. While the shrimp etoufee and the crawfish etoufee were very good in their own right, the alligator etoufee was just outstanding. It wasn't rubbery like I've found with some alligator I've had in the past, but was moist and easy to chew. The taste was a knock out. "When I come back here - and I WILL come back here," I was tellling Aaron, "I'll get the alligator etoufee on its own."
The jambalaya was certainly on par with the alligator etoufee. Big chunks of andouille sausage permeated the jambalaya and with a little zip from Mr. Tabasco, it was even better. And I was also surprised with the red beans and rice. Too often, places that serve red beans and rice don't do anything other than the beans and rice. At Broussard's, they put large chunks of andouille sausage in with the red beans and rice and it was some of the best I've ever had. I'd never had red beans and rice with andouille sausage. I don't know if I'll be able to get red beans and rice at any place other than Broussard's.
Later in the evening, I had ordered a beer and it was a good 10 minutes before I realized that I hadn't gotten it yet. I said, "I thought I ordered another beer."
Aaron said, "You did! I think our waiter is slacking."
I got up to go to the restroom and when I came back, the waiter was standing up by the host stand talking to the cute little hostess. I said, "Hey buddy, I ordered a beer from you over 10 minutes ago and I haven't gotten it yet."
We both looked up at the bar and there was a solitary Bud Light on bar, waiting to be picked up and brought to my table. He grabbed it and handed it to me. I said, "Man, this has been sitting up there for quite awhile. Can I get a cold one?"
He said, "That felt cold to me." Whatever... I just took it from him and went back to the table.
We certainly did have a pile of food left over and I told Aaron to take it home with him. He said, "That's great. Thanks. The kids love coming here and they love the leftovers."
The waiter came with a container for Aaron and he asked us if we needed anything else. As he was scooping up the leftovers, Aaron looked over at me with a devilish grin and said, "They have the most outstanding bread pudding here."
I groaned in agony, completely full from the excellent food we'd had, not wanting to have another bite of anything. I said, "You bastard! I LOVE bread pudding."
The waiter said, "We have great bread pudding."
Aaron looked at me and said, "They really do. It's probably the best bread pudding that I've ever had." I winced, shook my head and looked down at the table. Aaron looked up at the waiter and said, "We'll have a piece with two spoons."
And it took a long time for the bread pudding to come out. This time, I didn't mind because it gave my stomach time to digest the rich Cajun food I'd had. Over 10 minutes after he'd ordered the bread pudding, I said to Aaron, "What did they have to do? Go down to New Orleans to pick it up?" Quite honestly, as scattered the waiter was, I thought he'd forgot to put the order in.
The waiter finally came out with it and the bread pudding was sitting in a shallow bowl, drenched with a rich rum butter sauce with powdered sugar sprinkled on top. From the first bite, it was just simply divine eating. The bread was moist and flavorful. I had about four bites before I couldn't eat any more. Aaron, who is a pretty small guy, finished off what he could and there were still a couple bites left. We couldn't do any more damage to the meal than we had.
Our bill with the combo platter (which was $19.95), the bowls of gumbo, bread pudding and multiple beers came to $50 bucks. The waiter got a $5 dollar tip because, well, he was bad. And it's too bad because that was the only thing bad about our experience at Broussard's. The food was excellent, some of the finest Cajun I'd ever had in my life. I love coming to Cape Girardeau - it's a pretty neat little city - and I'm hoping that I can make it down to see the guys at Stereo One a couple times a year. And when I do - as I said - I WILL be back at Broussard's.