Ode to Jolie Blonde: Cajun legend inspires fine dining venue in Lafayette

World-renowned artist George Rodrigue awoke in the middle of the night, haunted by the image of the Cajun legend that tells the story of Jolie Blonde, a pretty blonde woman who left a lover for someone else. Inspired by the tale, Rodrigue painted the portrait with long, fast strokes, finishing at daybreak. This was to be the first of hundreds of versions he would paint over the years from his imagination. His portraits of her would eventually be recognized as the universal image of the legendary Acadian muse.

A reproduction of Rodrigue’s mesmerizing original portrait of Jolie Blonde hangs above the marble and mahogany bar at the handsome new Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro, a beautifully appointed fine dining establishment located at 507 West Pinhook Road in Lafayette (337/504-2382). A quarter mile down the street is the more casual Blue Dog Café, which was also inspired by the art of Rodrigue. Both restaurants feature the artist’s work and are owned by Steve and Suzi Santillo along with Rodrigue’s sons, Jacques and Andre.

“We wanted the Jolie Blonde theme to bring another aspect of Rodrigue’s work into a dining concept,” says managing partner Steve Santillo. His wife, Suzi, handles marketing and guest relations. “We needed more fine dining in Lafayette. Nobody here was doing Creole fine dining reminiscent of New Orleans. We are doing a blend of New Orleans Creole and Nouvelle Creole. We are trying to let people know that Pinhook Road is a fine dining row.” Located across the street from Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro is Ruth’s Chris steakhouse, Café Vermilionville is further down the street, and Blue Dog Café is located nearby at 1211 West Pinhook Road.

When entertaining out of town guests or planning a special night out, there is no finer place to experience the essence of south Louisiana than Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro, which has already amassed a considerable following. The restaurant provides a bird’s eye view of the Acadian culture (featuring 35 Rodrigue paintings that emphasize his early historical interpretations of Louisiana life) with an old New Orleans ambiance.

Reminiscent of the famous Brennan family’s popular Palace Café on Canal Street, which has a spiral staircase, an open kitchen, and murals depicting Louisiana characters, Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro is nestled in a beautiful building with dark green shutters, tall windows, and a 12-foot-deep porch complete with ceiling fans and outdoor tables. The 100-seat dining room is enhanced with pressed tin ceilings, crystal chandeliers, and a spiral staircase that leads up to a 30-seat private dining area with a wrap-around balcony, perfect for receptions, birthdays, and corporate entertaining.

The Old World ambience sets the stage for Chef Paul Mudge’s delectable contemporary Creole creations and classic New Orleans fare. When sampling the hearty turtle soup redolent of sherry, authentic oysters Rockefeller and Bienville, beignets and BBQ shrimp, diners are taken on a culinary journey through the best of New Orleans. Chef Mudge jazzes up the diverse menu with creative dishes that produce lasting taste memories.

Diners take in the beauty of renowned paintings such as Rodrigue’s Aioli Dinner and other Louisiana themed pieces including the legendary Evangeline while feasting on appetizers that include New Orleans BBQ shrimp, buttery and redolent of herbs and spices, accompanied by charbroiled herbed crostini hot from the oven; fresh mussels in a velvety garlic cream; the artfully presented fried escargots en brochette with a garlicky roasted red pepper aioli; and oysters three ways: Bienville, Rockefeller, and Jolie which features oysters baked on the half shell with a creamy blend of crawfish, andouille, corn, and mascarpone cheese.

Savory soups and opulent salads accented with everything from crispy quail to lump crabmeat serve as a segue into the generously apportioned main course offerings such as the memorable pecan-crusted ruby red trout Provencal served with pecan wild rice pilaf, and the luscious pan-seared mahi mahi with a toothsome roasted corn and black bean salsa served with an earthy sidekick of smoked paprika and corn grits.

Not to be missed is the fig-glazed pork tenderloin en croute with a deeply flavored shallot demi-glace and the succulent grilled duck breast with black cherry Madeira demi-glace served with savory bread pudding. A good spot to be seated is in a small raised dining area with banquettes that is fondly referred to as the Governor’s Bistro due to Rodrigue’s portraits of The Kingfish, Earl Long, Edwin Edwards, Kathleen Blanco, and Bobby Jindal. Diners delve into melt-in-the-mouth steak Diane and garlic-rubbed lamb chops after imbibing the signature Jolini. This popular house martini is made with fresh strawberry-infused vodka, a real treat.

The brightest new star in the constellation of Louisiana restaurants, Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro is open evenings for dinner (dark Monday), and for special occasion lunches including Mother’s Day. The Santillos have created yet another hit in Lafayette, one that is well worth showing off to friends.


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