It’s one of Lafayette’s most iconic signs: a man in a chef’s coat and toque rendered in stained glass. He holds a long carving knife and fork, and slices into the breast of a roast turkey. A pineapple and cherry-covered ham, fashioned from slivers of yellow and red glass, rests adjacent to the large bird, awaiting the chef’s blade. Elbows akimbo, he smiles at the viewer with cheery upturned brows. Arcing above his head, like a child’s representation of the sun or a large halo, is the name of this restaurant: “Dwyer’s Cafe.”
Stanley Dwyer, that stained glass saint of a chef, opened his place in 1965. For two decades prior he had worked for the Stinson family as a cook at a series of downtown Lafayette diners. First at the Gem Restaurant, located in the Gordon Hotel. Then, following the death of Gem owner Wilbur “Pop” Stinson in 1953, a cafe named Mrs. Pop Stinson’s, run by his widow, Essil.
Those Stinson-owned eateries were emblematic of the diner culture of the era: a menu of sandwiches, soups, salads, and a selection of daily specials. Stanley Dwyer could prepare it all. A native of the Breaux Bridge-Parks area, he had learned to cook in FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps, where he was schooled in butchery, baking, and just about every other kitchen task. When he bought and renamed the restaurant, which he ran alongside his wife, Yuline, he brought in a steam table to expedite the lunchtime rush—Dwyer’s would become a plate lunch paradise.
Come to Dwyer’s today and, if you don’t order off the standard menu, you’ll be ushered down a long hall to the back of the restaurant, to the steam table full of lunch entree options. You can get roast pork or beef most any day of the week, Monday through Sunday, along with a variety of smothered choices: smothered chicken, smothered pork chop, smothered steak. There’s more exotic fare severed every now and then. Look out for Tuesday’s calf tongue, or the stuffed bell pepper special. Fridays bring seafood, of course: shrimp stew, shrimp étouffée, fried catfish, seafood casserole.
As you walk back to your table, tray now spilling over with meats (or fishes) and vegetable sides, make sure to take a look at the wall of fame on your left. Photographic portraits of Stanley Dwyer and his son Mike, who purchased the restaurant from his father in 1975, wearing a matching white chef’s coat and toque, his workaday uniform until his dad passed away in 2001. There are photos of longtime employees and Mike’s sons, Brett and Craig, who now run the restaurant. Mike still shows up for kitchen duty most every day, and, towards the end of lunch service, greets exiting customers with hearty shouts of “C’est bon!”
If the table is open, take a seat under Stanley’s stained glass window and, before digging in, perhaps offer a bit of thanks and praise that this Lafayette landmark lives on.