On our way for a long weekend getaway with friends in South Louisiana, we found ourselves too early for our usual lunch stop at the venerable Middendorf’s Seafood Restaurant located near Pass Manchac at the beginning of the causeway to New Orleans. We hated to miss the fabulous paper-thin, perfectly fried catfish at Middendorf’s, but we had another plan. We continued on the causeway and exited on Highway 310 South toward Destrahan where we crossed the Mississippi River and continued south to US Highway 90 toward Houma, Thibodeax and Franklin, our ultimate destination. As soon as we entered US 90 we began to watch for the historic German settlement of Des Allemands and its highly recommended seafood restaurant, Spahr’s. We had heard great reports about Spahr’s for years, but heretofore our timing had not been right for a stop. Today, our timing was perfect.
Des Allemands was settled in 1721 by immigrants from Germany. “Des Allemands, in fact, means “the Germans” in French. The German Louisiana colony was originally located up the Mississippi River in what today is Arkansas, but the local Native Americans there were so hostile that the whole group moved to a safer location much closer to the colonial capital of New Orleans. Over time they intermarried with the French and later the Acadians and helped create the unique Cajun culture. In fact, it was the German settlers who brought the diatonic accordion, which became the main instrument in Cajun music.
Fast forward to the twentieth century when in 1968 the Spahr family founded its namesake seafood restaurant. Des Allemands is located on a network of lakes and bayous where seafood, especially shellfish, abounds. Locating Des Allemands, just east of Houma, was easy; locating Spahr’s was a little harder, even with a GPS. We discovered, however, that virtually everyone in town knows where it is and will direct you. We finally found it tucked away on a road under US 90. Its exterior is unpretentious, to say the least, and, except for the fairly large sign in front, is not noticeable from the highway. You really have to be looking for it, but it is well worth the effort.
Once inside, the atmosphere is purely local. On this July Friday noon, it was welcoming and casual, and buzzing with conversations of young people at the bar and families at large tables. Everyone seemed to speak with a strong Cajun accent, but German forebears were evident in the facial features and blond hair of many of the patrons. The seafood, however, was pure South Louisiana good!
My husband, Albert, ordered a cup of gumbo as an appetizer and one look told me it was a winner. Clearly made from very dark roux, it was brimming with all manner of shellfish and here and there slivers chicken or perhaps duck were visible. A good cup of gumbo is a thing of beauty and this was definitely a ten. He generously offered me a taste and after one spoonful, it took all my will power not to take the whole thing away from him. Perfection! I was tempted to order some myself, but our time was limited and I had stuffed crab coming, so I contented myself with a few more spoonfuls. I wanted to order a gallon and take it with us and now wish I had.
When I complimented our young waitress on the gumbo, she told me the original owner makes it daily. The second generation now runs the restaurant, but Papa is still in the kitchen making gumbo. This is a very good thing.
In answer to my question about the stuffed crab, she assured us it was fresh and “homemade”. Indeed it was. No concoction of breading and a tiny amount of crabmeat or its facsimile in shells from who-knows-where and delivered frozen from some large conglomerate was this. Nope. Like the gumbo, this stuffed crab was the real thing, chock full of fresh crabmeat with just the right amount of breading wonderfully seasoned and cooked to perfection. I cleaned my plate and wished I had ordered more.
Albert always orders shrimp at a seafood restaurant and can be a bit hard to please with this, his favorite food. On this day he was very happy with his entrée of grilled shrimp served with Spahr’s “onion sticks”, small petals of nicely-breaded onion and lightly fried. I also had some of these with my stuffed crab, and they were delicious.
Since it was, after all, lunch and we were on our way to three days of feasting with our friends in Franklin, we reluctantly skipped dessert. Next time we will allow plenty of time to make a meal at Spahr’s a main event and not just a quick lunch stop. And, you can bet, there will be a next time.
If you venture into Cajun Country near Des Allemands, treat yourself to a meal at Spahr’s. Start with the gumbo. –Lisa W. Davis