Driving along the quiet stretch of Bayou Lafourche in Galliano, Louisiana, you could easily pass Alzina’s without realizing it. Faded lettering on the side of a former welding shop, barely visible from Highway 308, is the only giveaway to this reservations-only restaurant.
Inside, Alzina Toups has prepared classic, straightforward Cajun meals for locals and visitors alike for almost 40 years. Until recently, guests could watch Alzina pick fresh herbs from the back of an old blue pickup truck. She’s since replaced the truck garden with a collection of planters on the concrete slab behind her restaurant. Healthy sprigs of parsley grow through the cracks where errant seeds fell during spring plantings.
Steps away in the open kitchen, Alzina cooks heartfelt menus based on the seasons and her guests’ preferences. She’s perhaps best known for her Spicy Smothered Shrimp, Crabmeat Lasagna, Black-Eyed Pea Jambalaya, and numerous gumbos. Alzina’s lighter-than-air dinner rolls are a masterpiece.
Over the years, Alzina has self-published two books: Cajun’s Joy: Cookin’ and Eatin’, and Cooking for Life: a Cajun Guide to Healthy Eating. Her personal copy is full of penciled notes, aging handwritten recipes on crinkled loose-leaf paper, and years of stove-side smudges and stains.
As she cooks, her granddaughter Jenny often helps in the kitchen. They chop, chat, and stir the bubbling pots as rich aromas fill the room. Ever so often, they stop to take a taste, and with her soft, smooth Cajun lilt, Alzina asks Jenny, “How’s the spice? (It’s good.) Brown sugar? (Add a little bit.) What about the salt? (No, no. The shrimp will be salty.)”
And that interaction mirrors the whole Alzina’s dining experience. It’s a casual, homey environment where diners can relax: She likens it to having dinner at your grandmother’s house. “I am very comfortable with people when they come here. People will come help me in the kitchen,” she says. “Others will even stay and help wash the dishes. I realize that people come here to unwind.”
Many of her visitors, groups of six or more, come from New Orleans, but Alzina has hosted international groups as well. After a meal or two, they’re hooked: Some folks make reservations a year in advance. Meals are served family-style on long tables.
In that large room, guests are surrounded by Alzina’s extensive cookware collection. It includes well-worn cast iron, mid-century Pyrex sets with delicate patterns, and tin measuring-cup sets (“They don’t make them like they used to,” Alzina says). Some of these treasures Alzina acquired during her travels, while others were given to her by grateful guests.
After pressing out the dough for her Tarte au la Bouillie—a traditional Cajun custard pie—Alzina saves the scraps and makes them into cookies.
“The old-timers called them ‘pillow case’ cookies,” she says. “When the oystermen went out, they’d nail a sack of them to the back of the boat. When they wanted a cookie, there they were.”
Alzina’s father was an oysterman who worked 30 days at a time on the oyster reef for a dollar a day. With his savings, he was able to purchase the property on which Alzina’s restaurant still stands. Her mother, who immigrated from Portugal, was a talented artisan: When she wasn’t weaving nets for area fishermen, she arranged flowers for their church, crocheted, and cooked for the family.
“God gives each of us a gift,” she says. “If everybody had the same gift, the world wouldn’t work.”
[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_2″ last=”no”]
[fusion_builder_column type=”1_2″ last=”yes”]