Black’s Revisited: Abbeville oyster bar is back on track

The home of Steen’s Cane Syrup, Abbeville is the heart of Vermilion Parish. It hosts the annual Cattle Festival (formerly known as Dairy Day) each October, and the Giant Omelette Festival in November, followed by festivities during the holiday season that include concerts in the historic square and a symphony of lights throughout the town lined with mossy oaks. Abbeville is also known for its restaurant culture, having several wonderful seafood eateries within close proximity, including Shuck’s, Dupuy’s Oyster Shop, Richard’s, The Riverfront, and Black’s Oyster Bar and Restaurant.

Black’s reopened several months ago with a new owner, and the talk is that things are getting better. The restaurant had really gone down during the brief former regime. Blake White of Cow Island is the new owner. Originally from Baton Rouge, he came to Vermilion Parish to hunt at the age of sixteen and was taken with the area. He has introduced live Cajun music on Thursday nights and is also bringing it in on Saturday mornings.

The original owners, Wilton "Black" Bourque and Rena Bourque, opened Black’s in 1967 and moved the oyster shop to its present location across the street from St. Mary Magdalene Church in 1989. Their son Bryan took over in 1982, and in 1988 purchased the former Landry’s department store on the corner and expanded the restaurant to 16,000 square feet. Under his regime it became an institution, attracting visitors and locals alike. People used to line up and wait for hours for a table at the legendary oyster shop. There is a bar area when you walk in with several tables, and an Indian statue greets visitors to the room filled with memorabilia. The cavernous dining room is a festive setting for great oysters and other seafood fresh from Gulf waters.

Bourque sold the restaurant in 2004 and things started going down. Black’s closed in September 2006. It had gone from being a fun seafood haven to an unpredictable dining establishment. I remember waiting a couple of hours once just to get our appetizers, and another time when everyone’s courses came at different intervals, the dessert preceding the entrée. The service had become deplorable.

But now, the good service and great food are back and so are the patrons. Bourque has retained ownership in his wholesale business that provides much of the seafood to the restaurant.

The best way to start a meal here is with a round of ice cold, salty Barataria Bay oysters on the half shell. I prefer them grilled and always enjoy the tantalizing aroma that precedes each luscious bite. The seafood gumbo, corn and crab bisque, and turtle soup are all dependably satisfying starters. If you arrive and have to wait in the bar, check out the mudslide martini made with Starbuck’s new coffee liqueur, or the ultimate white Russian, made with coffee liqueur or cream liqueur. We’ve had some nice lunches in the bar area, which is cozy and inviting. It is more fun to sit in the main dining room for dinner.

The oyster loaf is legendary, loaded up with fat crisply fried oysters. The shrimp and catfish loaves are also recommended, but I have always had a preference for oysters at an oyster shop. Of course, the best way to go is to order a seafood platter, which includes fried oysters, shrimp, and catfish; stuffed shrimp; stuffed crab; and frog legs. You can also get dishes marked "heart healthy" such as broiled catfish and tilapia (ask them to top it with étouffée for an added kick), farm raised quail, chicken breasts, and duck kebobs. Recommended appetizers include gator bites, the oyster cocktail, crawfish tamales, seafood stuffed mushrooms, and seafood quesadillas.

Sides include some very good sweet potato fries, grilled veggies, and a stuffed potato that could suffice as an entrée. Steaks are also offered; the porterhouse is a whopping 16 ounces and is broiled to perfection, accompanied by slaw, fries, and French bread. Salad choices include fried or grilled seafood (always a nice option), and grilled or fried chicken salad. Boiled crabs and crawfish are offered when in season.

Everyone is glad to see this wonderful Abbeville icon back on the map. And the live Cajun music is spicing things up just right for this neck of the woods. On your way out the door, pick up some Cajun Power garlic sauce, Black’s seasoning, or a T-shirt.


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