Bon Ton Cafe is the place to know the joy of crawfish etouffe, especially in May, the peak of the season when crawdads are plumpest. You can have etouffe as a main course or as one part of a monomaniacal meal of bisque, etouffe, Newburg, jambalaya and an omelet, each of which is made with crawfish. Or you can start dinner with an appetizer of fried crawfish tails. They look like little fried shrimp, but taste like shrimp’s richer relatives.
Dinner begins with the delivery of a loaf of hot French bread tightly wrapped in a white napkin. When the napkin is unfurled, the bread’s aroma swirls around the table. Then comes soup – either peppery okra gumbo made with shrimp and crab or turtle soup into which the waitress pours a shot of sherry. Other than crawfish in any form, the great entrée is redfish Bon Ton, which is a thick filet sauteed until just faintly crisp, served under a heap of fresh crabmeat and three gigantic fried onion rings. For dessert, you want bread pudding, which is a dense, warm square of sweetness studded with raisins and drenched with whiskey sauce.
A big, square, brick-walled room with red-checked tablecloths, Bon Ton is soothingly old-fashioned. Service by a staff of uniformed professionals is gracious and Dixie-sweet. The place is crowded with locals at lunch, but mostly groups of tourists and celebrants at supper. Either time, and whether you are a regular customer or a first-timer, Bon Ton feels like Creole home.