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Dancing and Dining on the Prairie

Posted July 11, 2013 in Louisiana Travel

Dancing on a Saturday evening at Rendez-Vous des Cajuns in Eunice.
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Dancing on a Saturday evening at Rendez-Vous des Cajuns in Eunice.

Cajun dancing is hungry work, though happily wherever people are doing a waltz or two-step good food is usually nearby. That’s certainly the case on Saturday evenings in downtown Eunice, that farm town and hub of Acadian culture out on the Cajun prairie.

Each week, people line up in front of the vintage Liberty Center for tickets to the Rendez-Vous des Cajuns. This long-running live show, broadcast on local radio and television, has musical guests, bilingual commentary from the evening’s host and a format following in the tradition of the Grand Old Opry, the Louisiana Hayride and even a Prairie Home Companion.

The show’s venue, the Liberty Center, is a historic movie house from the 1920s, and with its gleaming marquee and prominent address in the heart of downtown Eunice, it’s easy to imagine that it was once a focal point for life on the prairie. Today, the Rendez-Vous des Cajuns show still radiates a small town feel, with lots of families in the audience and an eager crowd taking the dance floor.

After this early-evening show wraps up (around 7:30 p.m.), people start looking for dinner. These days, that leads many of them just two blocks up Second Street, the zig-zagging main drag, past a pool hall, a coffee shop and some storefront offices, to Ruby’s Restaurant & Courtyard.

Ruby’s is a family-style Cajun restaurant where people tend to leave with leftovers and where it’s hard to imagine anyone leaving less than stuffed. It’s a place for appetizers the whole table needs to split, for straightforward steaks, po-boys and platters of local seafood with etouffee used as a sauce and cheese applied by the fistful.

This Ruby’s was opened last summer by the owners of Ruby’s Café, a diner just around the corner. The restaurant is new, but its address has quite a history. Until recently it was called Nick’s on Second, and Nick’s went back to 1937 when Nick Ferro and Blackie Guillory first opened it. Initially, this Nick’s was a barroom and men would convene for games of dominoes and the Cajun card game bourre.

A story goes around that the big, ornate, mirror-backed bar here was delivered via horse-drawn wagon. Today, that bar and a collection of old photos on the walls are links back to the past for what is otherwise a modern neighborhood restaurant. The courtyard referenced in the name is a mid-sized events space attached to Ruby’s main dining room, a long, narrow space with no windows and a sort of out-of-the-box, homey country store look. It’s what’s on the plate that usually commands full attention anyway.
There’s a choice of gumbos (seafood or chicken and sausage), which are joined by an uncommon seafood chowder mixing oysters and shrimp in a white base as thick as a sauce. You won’t be surprised by fried gator and catfish on this appetizer list, though the char-broiled oysters and BBQ shrimp are a little more New Orleans-style than we usually find on the prairie.

Fried shrimp and catfish platters, a few pastas and entrée salads and those steaks and po-boys make up a lot of the menu, while some of the specialties plumb the great contemporary Cajun zeal for mixing various seafood and capping it all with cheese and rich sauces. Both the seafood enchilada and the seafood crepes emit a blend of plump shrimp and sweet crab bound up with enough creamy goodness to make these fillings resemble a seafood dip. The seafood Dot brings big fried shrimp curled over a casserole dish of molten, bubbling shrimp and crab au gratin. A slab of grilled red snapper gets the au gratin treatment too.

This is not exactly delicate cuisine. Instead, Ruby’s menu sits at the intersection of abundant seafood and an exuberant approach to dressing it up for hungry diners. After a few spins around the Liberty Center’s dance floor, it’s just the thing.

Ruby’s Restaurant & Courtyard
123 S. 2nd St, Eunice, 337-550-7665
Lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner Wed.-Sat.

Rendez-Vous des Cajuns
Liberty Center
200 Park Ave., Eunice, 337-457-6577