It is rare to come across a Cajun dance hall that offers international fare and a fine dining experience on par with some of the best restaurants in Louisiana. Randol’s Restaurant et Salle de Danse in Lafayette breaks the glass ceiling on the Cajun dance hall formula. Sure, there are cowboy hats and fiddles and you will see people “cuttin’ da rug” nightly on the dance floor, but when you sit down to eat, you are in for a very pleasant surprise.
The restaurant’s menu has evolved in recent years due to one of its owners, a commercial airline pilot who lived in Hawaii and ran a four-star restaurant there. Adding to this, Randol’s has its own seafood processing plant, so all the seafood tastes like it was just fished out of the Gulf the same day. Randol’s all-lump crabmeat used in the crab cakes has been picked from huge blue point crabs just moments before they appear on the table, and the crab and corn bisque is simply phenomenal. There is so much crabmeat in the bowl that your spoon never descends to the bottom, resting atop all that wonderful fresh lump crabmeat.
Few restaurateurs in Acadiana can boast having dozens of people at work hand picking crabmeat out of crabs in a building located just behind their restaurant while the seafood creations are being served at the tables. With its own seafood processing plant right outside the 350-seat dining room and adjoining Cajun dance hall, Randol’s is top shelf in the seafood department. Each day, 35 women are hand picking fresh lump crabmeat and peeling crawfish tails for the many wonderful dishes that are prepared by Randol’s award-winning Chef Donavan Soliste. He has picked up quite a few Gold medals, including several for his “White Lake Dreaming” lump crabmeat and béchamel cream crab cake served with a Parmesan cream reduction (to die for).
The seafood plant also provides shellfish for various clients; however, the Randol family is very particular about who they share their prized fresh lump crabmeat with. As the owner’s son, Rusty Randol, explains, “Our philosophy is quality over quantity.” Plans are currently underway to expand the seafood processing division of the family business, says Rusty. He runs the plant while his brother, Beau, manages the restaurant with their dad, Frank Randol, the restaurant’s founder. Frank’s wife, Kathy, grows all the fresh herbs just outside the restaurant that are used for the extensive menu that includes everything from ginger and cane-glazed shrimp to soft shell crabs stuffed with seafood and topped with crawfish etouffée, enormous barbecue crabs, and certified Angus steaks served with crawfish enchiladas.
Beau runs the restaurant like a tight ship, paying attention to every single detail due to his former restaurant experience at a posh fine dining haven in Maui, where he resided with his wife before returning to live in Lafayette to settle down and run Randol’s a few years ago. Beau was also formerly a pilot for Continental airlines, and he still flies airplanes.
“When I came back from living in Maui, I wanted to do something different with the local traffic at Randol’s,” he says. “I arranged to send our chef to do a stage at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago.” This perhaps explains the diverse menu with Asian accents. Not your typical Cajun dance hall fare, you will find sophisticated items such as Shanghai tilapia pasta, prime Angus rib eye toped with a sweet soy and Samba chili glaze, Thai snapper with Randol’s lump crabmeat in a curry cream sauce, and some of the finest sushi-grade, sesame-encrusted Ahi tuna I have ever had. It is pan-seared rare and set atop a crisp eggplant medallion, drizzled with a ginger Steen’s cane syrup glaze and topped with three blackened jumbo shrimp. At first glance, the three-inch tall cut of tuna was so large that we believed it to be a steak.
Randol’s actually started out as a seafood processing plant in 1971. Frank opened the plant and eight years later, he opened Randol’s, which eventually evolved into a big Cajun dance hall scene. “This land was originally a sugar plantation in my grandfather’s family,” says Beau. “Dad used to fly an ultra-light motorized hang glider, and he had a greenhouse as a hangar. Over one weekend, he and a friend built a greenhouse structure for the restaurant and he opened it in 1979 with just 20 tables,” he reveals. “At the time, it wasn’t even within the city limits of Lafayette and people told him he was crazy,” Beau says of the restaurant’s location on Kaliste Saloom Road. From the street, it looks like a giant greenhouse, but as you walk closer you can hear the live Cajun and Zydeco music playing inside and smell the wonderful food. Be sure to check out the life-size alligator in front of the restaurant, which was carved with a chainsaw.
There is a glass wall between the dance floor and the restaurant, so you can easily visit with your dining companions and not compete with the music. People on the dance floor are videotaped, so you can view the action from the dining room TV monitors, even after they have stopped dancing. The rustic atmosphere enhances the authentic Cajun dance hall experience. Randol’s is a fun place to take friends while in Lafayette. You can view the full menu and live band line-up at randols.com. Check out their line of prepared foods at cajungrocer.com. My personal favorite: the qua-duck-ant, which is a quail, a duck, and a pheasant prepared turducken-style, only in Louisiana!