Ode to Clementine: New Iberia restaurant pays homage to a folk art legend

The spirit of Clementine Hunter lives on in the antique bar and charming restaurant that was named after her in New Iberia 10 years ago. Clementine’s, located on historic Main Street, is a fine dining establishment where a combination of Cajun, Creole, and French-inspired dishes are served with New Orleans flair. Adjoining the restaurant is a catering facility, which is popular among locals during the holidays.

Owner Wayne Peltier named the restaurant after his favorite artist, a folk legend who is often referred to as the “black Grandma Moses.” From her humble beginnings in 1887 as the child of former slaves on a cotton plantation along the Cane River, until the end of her life a century later, Hunter’s artwork had been reproduced in dozens of magazines. Her art has been the subject of several scholarly books. Hunter started painting in her 50s, when her works were sold for 10-25 cents. Today, her early paintings can bring tens of thousands of dollars. Peltier has been collecting art for the past 35 years and displays some of his collection at Clementine’s, which is New Iberia’s best restaurant.

“We have art openings where we showcase the works of local artists,” he says. “We try to stay local because they don’t get enough recognition. We sell more art to our out-of-state guests than anyone.” Consignment art can be seen throughout the charming dining room and bar.

Clementine’s is one of those south Louisiana dining establishments where everyone knows everyone and people visit from table to table. Live music is performed on weekends and the mood is festive. The dimly lit bar area, warmed by red walls and flickering lanterns, is usually packed on weekends. Guests visit over the sounds of live zydeco, blues, and jazz.

Those at the bar can enjoy “bar bites,” which include oysters Rockefeller, po-boys, tasso coconut shrimp served with a spicy Asian vinaigrette, Cajun wontons filled with crawfish boudin and served with a fig dipping sauce (my personal favorite), beef kabobs served with a rich raspberry demiglace, bulbous mushrooms (stuffed with spinach, artichokes, tasso, and cheese), fried crab fingers, and a cheese plate that changes weekly.

For dinner, start with the crab cakes, sesame seared tuna, or the fried green tomatoes topped with sautéed crab claw meat and a luscious, lemony hollandaise. For a salad, I recommend the wilted spinach salad tossed with an andouille balsamic vinaigrette, shaved red onions and nut-encrusted goat cheese. If you want an entrée salad, go for the Caesar topped with grilled or fried shrimp or oysters (you can ask for a little of both).

A dozen entrées are listed on the menu, the best of which are the roasted half duck topped with a honey raspberry glaze set on a pear and andouille hash, and the tuna au poivre. Sashimi grade tuna is coated with crushed peppercorns, seared in butter, flamed with brandy, and finished with cream and a touch of green onion. For lovers of barbecue shrimp, Clementine’s spicy rendition is every bit as good as those found in the best French Creole restaurants of New Orleans, served with crispy crostini.

For something more substantial, order the osso bucco that melts in the mouth. The pork shank is braised in a smooth red wine veal reduction and set on Yukon gold mashed potatoes with seasonal fresh vegetables. It is an ample feast. The steaks here are excellent, including the “sterling silver” eight-ounce filet mignon and the 22-ounce cowboy ribeye designed for serious carnivores.

For Thanksgiving, Clementine’s catering division is a popular choice among locals who want to order various dishes for their family feast. “You can order the entire meal here,” says Peltier. “We’ve got great rice dressing, oyster rice dressing, eggplant dressing, and cornbread dressing. You can get the whole turkey stuffed, and most people get it already sliced. You pick it up the day before Thanksgiving with the gravy. We also have bread pudding, pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, and pecan pie,” he points out. “My mom still makes all the pecan pies. She also makes a delicious bourbon pecan pie, which is good with vanilla ice cream.”

Peltier celebrates Thanksgiving at home or at his mother’s house with his family. “We have gumbo and my sister will do a potato salad. We have a traditional turkey and a wonderful sugarcane glazed ham coated with brown sugar, whole grain mustard, crushed pineapple, and black pepper. I boil the ham in apple juice. I also do a delicious oyster pie, and I usually make it the day before.”

Clementine’s does on-premises and off-premises catering as well, something he started five years ago. “We’ve catered weddings in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Houston, and locally,” he says. “This restaurant is my soul. You get a certain feeling when you walk in here. I think people recognize the love and dedication we have at the restaurant for our food and for our guests.” Clementine’s is located at 113 East Main Street in New Iberia; call 337-560-1007 for reservations and orders.


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