Whoever came up with red-eye gravy was either very hungry or very hungover, maybe both. Afterall, coffee and salty pork fat don't exactly seem like a winning combination. But red-eye gravy is simple, it's Southern as cornbread (y'all), and more than anything, it's salty as hell.
Dietary guidelines be damned, some morning you just need an extra punch of salt - even if it's mixed with coffee and ladled over grits.
Red-eye gravy is basically two ingredients: salt-cured country ham and coffee. On it's own, it's rough. Think Vegemite via Montgomery, Ala. Just as Vegemite works better on buttered toast (I'm told), red-eye gravy is made to dress grits.
I love grits, but there's no getting around how bland they are. Add a good bit of butter, salt, pepper, cheese, even barbecued shrimp, and you transform the grainy porridge into a pretty nice dish. A little red-eye gravy does the trick, too.
The bitterness of the coffee works with the salt and cooked pork flavors from the country ham. A little butter adds a needed bit of richness to the gravy.
To make it, simply fry up a couple slices of country ham, deglaze the pan with black coffee and whisk in some butter. Now, the other night I was watching Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (I have no excuse for myself) as Guy Fieri tasted some Arizona cook's red-eye gravy. It was made with chicken stock and involved no ham or coffee. I don't know what they were doing, but they weren't making red-eye gravy. It's one thing to play with a recipe, but once you remove the primary ingredients it becomes a different dish.
And then I reminded myself I was watching Guy Fieri.
(makes 4 servings)
2 slices of country ham
2 cups of coffee, black
2 tbs. of unsalted butter (or more to taste)
Red-eye gravy is a very quick dish. If you're going to make it as part of a large breakfast (and you should), cook the ham first (about 3 minutes per side) and deglaze the pan with 1 to 2 cups of coffee (to taste), making sure to scrap up the stuck on pork bits. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter (or more to taste). The gravy doesn't reduce (please, don't reduce it), but it can be kept warm while you prepare the grits, eggs and whatever else you plan to have.
Once everything it ready, simply ladle on the red-eye gravy (y'all).
The first time I went to Acadiana, on a random Tuesday night, I wasn't expecting much. I'm usually not a big fan of Southern-style cooking and there are so many restaurants serving mediocre Cajun, Louisiana-style, or general Southern cuisine, so I figured Acadiana wouldn't be much different. Also, Southern food tends to be a bit heavy and overly greasy, just for the sake of being heavy and greasy, which I rarely enjoy.
But Amy wanted to try Acadiana so I figured, "What the hell."
I was very surprised that I ended up enjoying my meal from start to finish. Service was spotless -- the food fantastic. We shared the oysters au gratin to start with, which were pretty good baked in butter
and Parmesan cheese, but then again, what isn't?
But it was when the entrees came that we started eating the really
brilliant food. Amy happened to have the special, a 4-hour marinated
prime rib loaded with garlic and what I thought was balsamic vinegar
(I'm probably wrong about the balsamic vinegar, it was a while back). This dish didn't have much to do with Southern food though, but was just a nice simple preparation of a fantastic cut of meat.
I opted for the "Grillades and Grits," a dish of sauteed veal medallions served with wild mushroom gravy and jalapeno cheese grits. The veal was tender and full of flavor from the mushroom gravy. The cheese grits are amazing -- I love them! They were creamy but not runny and packed a little bit of a punch with the jalapenos.
Our desserts were very good as well. We shared both of our desserts - a praline creme brulee and beignets. The beignets were especially good -- Acadiana serves them covered in powdered sugar and with a coffee pots de creme. This was my kind of dessert -- not too sweet and simple.
Overall, it was a great meal.
Last weekend, I went to Acadiana again, this time with my brother and his wife who were visiting from Boston. I had more chances to try some of the more typical southern-style dishes.
I should mention first that I tried to make a reservation for Acadiana on Monday for the following Saturday night, and since it was so early in the week, I figured I'd have the pick of the litter as far as times were concerned. I was wrong. The only choices I had were six and nine PM. Reluctantly, I took the six.
My experience this time was a little different. I didn't leave quite so blown away, but the food was still good. I think that, in general ,the food we had that night lacked subtlety. Take the dish I had as an example. The grouper is crusted with sweet onions and andouille sausage, and is on top of a sweet potato hash made with red peppers and onion. At first, I thought this was a wonderful dish. It wasn't the most visually appealing, but once I got past that, the grouper wasn't overcooked and had a flaky, meaty texture like salmon. The crusting actually had a little heat to it after eating it for a little while, which I appreciated. But after a while, it just got to be a bit much combined with the peppers and onions in the sweat potato hash and I could barely taste the grouper.
Everyone else seemed to enjoy their dishes. We all ordered appetizers, which was a mistake. Two appetizers for the four of us would've been plenty, but we all wanted something different. I should mention that the foie gras that Amy ordered was beyond excellent. The preparation was simply done with Mayhaw Jelly.
The fried green tomatoes that my sister-in-law ordered were way overdone and complicated. Fried green tomatoes, done well, are a great appetizer. However, Acadiana tops them with gulf shrimp remoulade. By the time you get to the tomatoes, they are a soppy mess.
Both times at Acadiana, our service was very attentive. Our glasses of wine were kept full. The servers know the menu very well and can make informed recommendations. I didn't notice it myself, but both Amy and my brother felt rushed on our last visit. After they commented on it though, I did notice it myself. Our entrees arrived before we were all done with out appetizers. And before we were done with our dishes, the servers were coming by, trying to clear plates and hand us dessert menus, despite the fact that some of us still had food on our plates. We were one of the first reservations, so it might have been that the servers were trying to keep the pace of the meal from dragging so the reservation coming in after us didn't have to wait. I can understand that though, because I do tend to drag a meal out as long as I possibly can, sometimes for two or three hours. However, the rushed pace is a little incongruous with an elegant, Southern-style restaurant.
The other thing I noticed is that the tables are packed in pretty tight if you are only a table of two. For parties of four, the tables are well spaced, but the two rows of tables for two are kept pretty close to each other, and they are close to the noisy bar. I'd say it's not the best atmosphere for a romantic dinner out with that special someone.
Update: I almost forgot to tell you about the cost of the meals. Acadiana is no cheap night out. Dinner for 2 is easily over $100, expecially if you order wine. Entrees are in the $20 to $30 range and appetizers range from $7 to $14. You can see their full menu here.
901 New York Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20001
Mon - Fri: 11:30am - 2:30pm
Mon - Thurs: 5:30pm - 10:30pm
Fri, Sat: 5:30pm - 11:00pm
Dress Code: Business Casual - I wore "nice" jeans with a sport coat the second time and seemed to fit in fine. Overall, it's fairly dressy, but not formal.
Smoking: Allowed at the bar
Closest Metro: Mt. Vernon Square
Parking: Valet Parking is $5. There's not very much street parking in the area.
Reservations: Taken. Use OpenTable.
Baby-Friendly Rating: 1 out of 4 diapers. I'd be very hesitant to take Noah here for dinner. It's just too upscale and I'd worry about disturbing other people's dinners too much to enjoy myself.