There is nothing outside to tell you that you are at a landmark. No sign that says “This is the World’s Last Popeyes Buffet ever.” No photos or press cuttings saying “Anthony Bourdain ate here.”
It’s typical of an area where the culture is still genuine and not ramped up for tourists. I’ve lived in Acadiana for 16 years but this is my first visit to the much talked about buffet. I’m looking for the sign described above, I’m waiting for the welcome. I’m greeted by an efficient “Yes?” that I’m hoping really means, “Welcome to the last remaining Popeyes Buffet on Earth, we are pleased to have you here.”
Then some friends arrive; one should never do these things alone. I take one of everything available - including a biscuit, chicken of course (spicy and mild), a chicken liver (yep), mashed potatoes, red beans and rice, mac and cheese, coleslaw and a couple of other side dishes and gravies. I’m reminded to ask for ‘Cajun Sparkle’ - the little packets of spices that seem to be kept a secret. Of course, I use my best English accent and am handed four of the little packets to sprinkle on my food. I open one and keep the others as a souvenir. I imagine they are kept in a little safe with a Cajun password and only handed out to those who show bravery. (They are at least not on show and you have to know about them to request them.)
The food is fresh and classic Popeyes - and gets better with conversation. I’m told about the mythical things that used to exist on the buffet - spaghetti, blueberry biscuits, vanilla pudding, maybe tacos. Someone is sure that it used to open for breakfast and everyone discusses the mac and cheese, now famous as Anthony Bourdain's “really disgusting shameful pleasure.” Apparently, he dined here for three days in a row when he was in town filming for Parts Unknown - I’m guessing he loved the get-exactly-what-you-expect simplicity, the anonymity, and yes, the never-ending side dishes.
The magic is growing on me, people tell stories and I walk from table to table to sit with different friends. It doesn’t get more Cajun than this. And then it does…
A group of about 20 high school students arrives dressed for a dance of some kind. It’s December and 4.30 in the afternoon. They are in formal attire, the boys all proud and smart and the girls in dresses and heels with corsages on their wrists, and I’m too English to ask questions. A friend soon starts the conversation for me - it’s Homecoming (they are a basketball school, not football). Their school is small (only 47 in the graduating class) and they have driven from a town just over 30 miles from here to come to this Popeyes. This exact Popeyes. Because of the buffet. Because it’s the last buffet in the county. They have a Popeyes in their town, but it doesn’t have a buffet. They will eat here and drive back to the dance.
I look around. They have ordered from the menu - not the buffet. It makes me smile.
This place is wonderful just because it exists, there were originally other Popeye’s Buffets - 5 years ago at least 3 were reported. This one is still here. And still very much part of things. I leave well fed, both by the food and the stories I’ve heard.