Bayou Eats | Acadian Superette
article by Vanelis Rivera
photography by Kelly Moore Clark
Originally from West Monroe, Chef Don Green is flexing his culinary chops at Acadian Superette in Lafayette.
He first dishes that Chef Don Green learned to cook from his mother. “I honestly just started making the dishes I loved eating,” he says, listing chicken and dumplings, beef tips with rice and gravy, and smothered steak and mashed potatoes. Originally from West Monroe, he moved to Baton Rouge around age twenty, finding his way into the culinary world by way of Maxwell’s Market, a traditional-style delicatessen. His first cooking job “ever” took the form of assisting in the meat market section. Drawn to the meticulous preparation and craft of butchery, he ended up enrolling at the Louisiana Culinary Institute. “That’s where I really started my whole journey of cooking,” he says. Currently, Chef Green is flexing his culinary chops at Acadian Superette in Lafayette. With no plans of slowing down, he has found fulfillment in his craft and in the enjoyment of sharing his passion one savory dish at a time.
“I wasn’t really much of a home cook,” admits Green, adding “I was considered a husky child growing up, so I did like to eat.” For him, Northeast Louisiana was at the crossroads of country cooking. It was a place where soul food met Cajun flavors with a dash of Texas flare. Simple flavors came alive under careful technique and preparation. While working at Maxwell’s Market, he learned the ins and outs of cooking on a grill and the joys of using cast iron skillets, which he considers “the Holy Grail of cooking.” He still has the first cast iron he ever owned, a gift from his father purchased at a “feed and seed” on the road toward Farmerville.
Before joining the rich history of the Acadian Superette, Chef Green started as a banquet chef at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Baton Rouge. There, he learned the tedious art of managing a large-scale operation, at one point catering for an event of 2500 people. “We would host the LSU football teams, so I was able to get this really good view of cooking as far as going to large scale,” he says. When he moved to New Orleans, he trained and worked at La Petite Grocery under chef and owner Justin Devillier. Green took the road again, this time to Lafayette when he was offered a job in restaurant sales with a regional market chain. Unfortunately, his work with them only lasted a year, which forced him into corporate food sales. Though he kept at it for about four and a half years, he was not a fan of the corporate world. When he heard the Acadiana Superette was reconceptualizing their approach to food preparation and in search of new staff, he got on board.
The Acadian Superette has flourished in the Freetown-Port Rico neighborhood since the 1940s. Originally a grocery store, it was turned into a restaurant around the 1980s under the ownership of the famed Lynn Derenthal. In 2017, Derenthal sold the restaurant to Dr. Robert Autin, a full-time surgeon with a penchant for cooking, butchering, and smoking meats. Like many Acadiana locals, Autin believes that food is “foremost among the many gifts our region has to offer.” Green shared Autin’s enthusiasm, also holding an appreciation for Southern classics while striving to leave room for innovation and discovery. “We were both wanting to go in the same direction of things,” informs Green, referring to plans of revamping the property and creating a menu geared toward dishes made from scratch. “Here we are, two years later, and we’re still kind of making progress on it all,” says Green who officially joined the Acadian Superette on March 2021.
The restaurant’s shift was geared toward “meat-centric” ideas, like barbecue, smoked meats, and charcuterie. “And so I was able to bring that,” says Green, describing his joint effort to build a base and foundation for the restaurant that extended beyond its breakfast menu. For the first six to eight months, that translated to getting used to new restaurant equipment, and “trying different things out.” The efforts resulted in a concise menu reflective of the food Autin and Green grew up with and enjoyed eating. “I enjoy the simpler food. I enjoy the simpler approach to things,” says Green, emphasizing that the food they offer is a contemporary approach to classics. In other words, “flat top diner style” meets comfort food.
At the corner of Lamar and Stewart street, the light pink and cherry red, midcentury modern-style smokehouse is hard to miss. At the same time, this eatery also feels like it is built into the surrounding quaint and colorful neighborhood. “Whenever you walk in, it’s kind of like a trip back in time,” says Green. Known as a place where you can come in and let down your guard, the interior is simple but comfortable. Light blue, metal shade light fixtures line the order counter, while pops of teal blue, golden yellow, and red burst from a vintage-style painted mural. An assortment of specialty meats—tasso, smoked boudin, andouille, pastrami, porchetta, and more—are displayed in a deli case adjacent to spaciously distributed seating.
The magic happens at the back end with Green incorporating his fine dining, the classical French approach to the process of each dish. “It’s these little bitty tiny things we do in the back that’s really refined how we put food on the plate,” says Green. “By far, the Reuben is our favorite sandwich.” Dubbing it one of their most unique and sought-after sandwiches, it has a substantial prep. First, they take a pastrami brisket and brine it for about ten days. Afterward, the meat gets smoked for about eight to ten hours, then it is finished overnight in the oven. The chopped meat is placed on grilled marble rye bread and topped with sauerkraut, swiss cheese, and “something special” called spicy’rette sauce. “Even though it is a Reuben, it’s a very, very, very unique sandwich,” emphasizes Green. This two-week process has high rewards as well as high stakes. “It can be nerve-racking because there’s no time for mistakes,” he says. At this point, his team has the math down, but that doesn’t mean that they are not thinking of the factors that could impact their cook. “It’s almost like baking. It’s very technical.”
Another technical cook that you can’t go wrong with is their USDA Prime Texas-style brisket. Using a “hot and fast then low and slow” method, this cut of meat is first smoked, then it is wrapped with tallow and finished off. In total, it’s a nineteen to twenty-hour cook, but at the close “it’s hard to beat.” Customers can enjoy this tender meat on a barbecue plate or savor the debris by way of their Philly Cheesesteak (chopped brisket, chargrilled onions, peppers, mozzarella, pepper jack cheese, and mayo on grilled French bread) and the Roast Beef Poboy. As a “burger person,” Green will always recommend burgers. “I know it’s kind of a cop-out to say the burgers, but there’s a couple of things that we do that I don’t think anybody does,” says Green who likes to cook the beef in tallow and glaze it in a housemade beef stock. Recently, he put a specialty burger on the menu, appropriately naming it “The Don” (Louisiana beef patty on a grilled bun, topped with grilled onions, two slices of American cheese, pickles, and “the one and only rette sauce”). It’s the kind of burger to reserve for your “cheat” days!
Ultimately, his experience at the Acadian Superette has allowed him to tap into his creative side, which is just to say that he has found his joy. “You have to be proud of something you do,” says Green, adding, “You have to wake up and give yourself a little purpose.” Not only does he find instant gratification in making meals for his customers, but the food he prepares has become a form of self-expression. “It brought me out of a funk,” he confesses. “And, you know, made me find myself more than anything.”