Welcome to the world of the Linksters ' "Dr. C" and "Coach T" ' self appointed boudin critics, who for the past decade have been trying to answer perhaps the most incendiary question in all of Cajun conversation ' where do you get the best boudin? They've been scouring the back roads of rural Acadiana, hunting down tips and rumors of handmade, expertly seasoned sausage; tasting, comparing and most controversially, rating every corner store version. Bob takes notes. The compiled information, posted on Bob and Noland's Web site, www.boudinlink.com, has brought unexpected notoriety and some highly seasoned e-mails to the UL Lafayette professor and his buddy, a high school football coach. Since they created the site in 2004, they've managed to rate 66 boudin hot spots across Acadiana.
Ya'll [sic] are doing a service to the world. I live in Egypt and just got your review today ' it is a taste of home. I'm originally from south Mississippi. My favorite boudin is from Stelly's at Lebeau ' Stelly's is an old Texaco station near Bunkie. God I want some boudin. Keep up the selfless service to your fellow man. Andrew Lewis, Cairo, Egypt
Bob, who is head of the history department at UL, arrived in Lafayette 10 years ago. Originally from Spokane, Wash., he received his Ph.D. from Arizona State. His introduction to Cajun culture came at the close of his interview for the job, when Julia Frederick, UL Honors Program director, took him to Billeaud's in Broussard for a link of boudin on the way to catch his flight home. "I'm sitting there at my job interview to be a university professor, sucking on a sausage with a strange woman in the a parking lot. How strange is that?" Bob says. He immediately accepted the job.
It took him just a few months to meet Crowley Catholic High football coach Noland Theriot, who grew up eating his uncle's homemade boudin in New Iberia. How did they hook up? "Blind date," quips Noland. Actually, Noland's mother-in-law is Bob's next-door neighbor.
Bob and his wife had been buying boudin exclusively from The Best Stop in Scott when Noland invited him out on what Bob describes as a traditional male rite of passage, a Saturday morning boudin run. Noland was looking to broaden Bob's horizons, so he brought him to Don's Specialty Meats in Carencro. For the next several Saturdays they wound up contentedly back at The Best Stop, one of the closest boudin shops to their houses, until Bob began asking questions.
"When you start talking to people," Bob says, "you find out they have never gone to many places. They have this allegiance to one place." Which corresponds with another UL professor's assessment of where people go to eat crawfish as well as boudin. Dubbed the "Ancelet dictum" after its author, folklore professor Barry Ancelet, the corollary states that the best boudin is the closest, the best boiled crawfish is the farthest away. "We decided to bust the dictum," Bob says.
They set out to eat boudin in every place that grinds out the local sausage. They planned to hit three boudin joints every Saturday. "The first time, we each ate three links," Noland says. They groan at the memory of the early days before they came up with a foolproof system.
1. No more than three places in a morning.
2. Get the smallest link they got.
3. Cut it in half.
4. Eat just a little bit.
5. No beer.
"Boudin and beer is a good combination," Noland begins, before he is interrupted by Bob.
"I think Red Bull and boudin are the perfect combo," says Bob, who doesn't drink alcohol but is an admitted caffeine junkie.
"I don't drink beer because if I drink a half a case of beer before we eat boudin, it's all good," Noland explains.
"So it's a professional obligation?" Bob asks.
"Devotion to the job," Noland responds.
"Actually it's on the way home that he gets loaded," Bob adds.
"Loaded on pork fat," Noland retorts. "My wife keeps asking me to get my cholesterol checked. For what? I'm not changing my diet. I'm not a cheese guy [hogs head cheese]. Not stuffed tongue, not chaudin. It's all about boudin."
I hope your "fountain drink" is simply a G-rated version of cold beer on the website for the kids. Everyone knows boudin must be accompanied by cold beer, even if it is 7:30 a.m. Gregory Engelsman, Alexandria, La.
At first, Bob and Noland were writing reviews of the boudin they sampled on napkins and greasy brown paper bags. Then Bob, the academic, took over and developed a seven point rating system. Today, Bob pulls out his "official" aluminum clipboard. Noland sits on the tailgate and takes a small taste of the Eunice Superette's boudin.
I'm glad to see the disclaimer on your site. Some people like a "meaty" boudin and some prefer a "ricey" boudin. I do like the grades that some of my favorites are getting. I have a suggestion for another location. Have you tried the Eunice Slaughterhouse? I find the Eunice Slaughterhouse boudin kicks Don's Specialty Meats right in the teeth. They don't advertise and they might not make a lot of it, but man...it's good. Keep up the good work. Mitchell J. Myers, Louisiana
"The casing isn't crisp. It's a little chewy, not easily broken," says Noland, chewing thoughtfully. "The mixture is mushed up, like a paste."
"It's a loose filling," Bob adds, eating with one hand, taking notes with the other, his foot on the tailgate, the clipboard on his knee.
"It needs salt. And seasoning. It's not peppery at all. You understand what I'm saying about paste. I'm kind of likening it to a gravy roast," Noland says.
"You could say it's mild," says Bob. He carefully minces the boudin in his back teeth, trying to get more flavor.
"The rice is whole grain," Noland says.
Bob squeezes the boudin and peers at it. "The meat is red."
"There's hardly any meat in it, there's more rice than meat," Noland says.
"I agree with you, but there's meat, not like that one from Crowley," Bob replies.
"I don't like this one," Noland finishes.
Bob is writing. He looks up, waits for Noland to continue. "B," Noland says.
"B-," Bob responds.
They bust out laughing. "If there's one thing we are, it's consistent," Bob says.
Not everybody appreciates Bob and Noland's work. Dave's Quality Meats in New Iberia got a C- rating for a "soggy, salty filling with a strong liver taste." Says owner Dave Romero, "When they first rated my boudin, they wrote it out as being a low carb link. It isn't. I contacted them and asked them to take me off their site completely. They didn't. I don't appreciate that they put that I'm in a bad area of town. Some people from out of town may shy away because of that. I know how much boudin I sell, and I know what some of the people who got A+ sell, and I can tell you I sell a lot more boudin."
Sandra Degeytaire, who owns M&S Grocery in Lafayette, also takes offense at her B- rating. "You might want to bring along your own bottle of hot sauce to spice things up to your liking. The boudin is a good beginner's link," the Linksters comment on their site. "Not everybody has the same taste," Degeytaire complains. "Our customers love our boudin."
"People call me out," Bob admits. "Then they dis me for not being a Cajun."
Ok, I agree Dr. T has the credentials to judge boudin and being a native has the right to do so. BUT Dr. C, if that is your real name, is a Yankee and a Washington state Yankee at that. How can he in just 8 short years have any idea what makes good boudin. I was born and raised in Opelousas and know full well what makes Meche's different from Billy's and Ray's and Dr. C I bet you never experienced the BEST, Dupre's. Mr. Dupre had the combination that made you want to slap not only Meche, Ray and Billy but their mothers too. He died over 10 years ago and his recipe has vanished from the Louisiana market. So Dr. C I'll give you props when you've spent 30 years eating the best food on the planet...Cajun!!!! Cajun Dan Miller
The Linksters try to post a new site every two weeks, and regulars log on to check out the recommendations. So many people e-mailed wanting to buy boudin from Bob and Noland that they finally added a link to Bourque's Super Store in Port Barre, an A+ listing, which ships boudin overnight. Bourque's initially got an A- rating. Shannon and Chad Bourque were unhappy with their grade and actually revamped their recipe, then invited the Linksters back for a second evaluation. "They agreed with us and worked out a new, better boudin," Bob says. The second round of boudin evaluation resulted in a "fantastic" comment. "Bourque's is the only one that's done that," Bob says. "We get very little feedback from the places. It's kind of surprising."
The majority of e-mails come from local boudin eaters and those who are far away and jonesing for a taste of Cajun spice.
GREAT website! I mean, just perfect! Two regular guys (ok, cool regular guys!) eating killer local sausage and then writing reviews with pics to boot! Chris Trussell
My husband, a truck driver, just tried boudin for the first time today. He ate 4 of them. If I don't find some soon he may not come home. Your link may save our marriage. Thanks !! Tamara Baltimore (KY)
Just got back from a week in Ville Platte and Opelousas and my first experience with boudin. Now I'm stuck in Seattle with NONE!!! AAAAAUGGGHHHH!!! Ann
You guys are living the dream. Franklin
Last year, Bob and Noland decided to capitalize on their fame and are now marketing themed T-shirts on their Web site. "Vote for Boudin" is a riff on indie film hit Napoleon Dynamite's "Vote for Pedro" campaign slogan. So far, they're keeping their day jobs, since only seven T-shirts have sold. Their new baseball cap slogan, "Got Cracklin?" is the result of an ongoing, intense discussion between the Linksters. Having covered most of the boudin joints in Southwest Louisiana, they are considering branching out into east Texas (the Cajun west), reviewing commercially produced boudin and adding a cracklin category to their listings. "My little boy says he's the cracklin expert," explains Noland. "We might call it the Cracklin Crunch, or something like that."
They are also becoming a bit wary of their growing popularity. "Last week, we were recognized at the Abbeville Slaughterhouse," Bob says. "I realized I couldn't hide this when I was in Martin Hall and [UL President] Dr. [Ray] Authement came out of his office and said, 'There he is, the Boudin Man.'" On the other hand, their boudin chops may boost them into the sort of gonzo food category that attracts national attention. "I never thought this was anything that anyone would know I was doing professionally," Bob continues. "It was kind of silly. Then I wrote an article for Louisiana Life. Southern Foodways [Association] contacted me, and I realized it was serious and maybe I need to do a book on it. My other goal is to get on the Food Network."
"Noland will say it's becoming more like a job," Bob adds. "But I'll never say that. I find myself going to little towns in Louisiana, driving the back roads that I would never do otherwise. And it's great, because new places open. I want to drag this out forever."
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