Selection from Kartchner's
A Mile of Boudin and Dreams: Krotz Springs is the missing link on the boudin trail
Krotz Springs is a sliver of a town known largely for one thing: the speeding ticket you eventually will get coming over that double bridge on Highway 190. Outside of that legacy, the other thing the scrappy little outpost has going for it is no less than four boudin and cracklin shops in that short mile, and within them, a panoply of pork-and-meat sausage delivered with heart, spirit, and dreams. The fine sausage entrepreneurs of Krotz Springs have some ideas.
In boudin circles, Krotz Springs rests in the shadow of the titans in Scott, Breaux Bridge, and Lafayette. The place is absent from the boudin map on BoudinLink.com. Ever the intrepid explorer, willing to risk the unknown and a burgeoning waistline to find what Louisiana has to offer, my faithful running partner Clarke Gernon and I set off to sample the mile of boudin in Krotz Springs.
Kartchner’s Grocery and Specialty Meats
This place is full of meat, a classic gallery of refrigerated cases that can hold their own against the displays at Poche’s in Breaux Bridge and Bergeron’s in Port Allen. It is a dazzling demonstration of monochromatic power, the rich rainbow contained in just the red-brown hue of smoked sausage. I’m eyeing the sausage infiltrated with crab boil seasoning and a full-size crawfish pie. Clarke is looking at a tenderloin stuffed with boudin wrapped in house bacon ... and pricing ice chests.
Manager Jordan Leger recognizes us as connoisseurs. “We make everything here: head cheese, boudin, cracklins, beef jerky.” I try to ascertain how much boudin he makes a month and Leger offers, “Well, it’s easier by day. We make and sell 300 pounds of boudin a day. We sell it hot, cold, frozen in five-pound boxes that we ship all over the country.” Kartchner’s has been here for only four years, taking over the spot once held by T-Belle’s Meat Market. Leger offers what sets their meat apart. In some boudin circles, his words are heresy.
“We don’t put all that extra rice in it; rice is a filler. Ours is a meatier boudin. There’s no liver in it. Liver can turn people off sometimes when it’s too strong a taste. And it’s mild enough where people here like it, people up north like it. We appeal to the masses.”
Kartchner’s smoked boudin is the thing; true to Leger’s claim, it is denser and also has a nice snap to it. All the boudin balls at Kartchner’s, and in Krotz Springs in general, have one thing in common: a slight flour coating holding them together as opposed to a deep fried cornmeal batter. The crawfish boudin is a fine representative of the form, and Kartchner’s pork boudin has a pleasing, meaty texture with a mild afterbite. But the ones embedded with cream cheese and jalapeños are a wonder; the cream cheese highlights the tang of the pepper while bridging the flavor back to the pork and the rice.
Most remarkable are the cracklins. I can only eat so many cracklins before I fear breaking a tooth or breaking a treaty with my digestive system, but I could eat these all day. They are popped fresh—Leger said they installed an intercom system to call for fresh ones to be thrown in the fryer for each order.
Clarke filled his ice chest with sausage embedded with Stein’s syrup and some fresh backstrap bacon, and we braved the beautiful day, wondering how we were going to eat any more.
Billy’s Boudin & Cracklin
When people talk boudin, Billy’s name is said in hushed tones. Based in Lafayette and with outposts in Opelousas and Krotz Springs, Billy’s is considered the go-to link joint.
The setup at Billy’s is considered the proper boudin-buying experience: a line of customers snaking back to the drink coolers in a gas station convenience store, queuing up in front of a steamed glass case with a couple of pro-grade crock pots keeping them filled. The young women behind the counter try to maintain order as the regulars, the good people of Krotz Springs, engage in gossip.
The pickings are slimmer here. Boudin links, cracklins and balls are brought in from Lafayette, so we order one of each and partake in a classic setting: the hood of my car. I note on my recorder app, “My hands are so greasy I can hardly operate my phone. Boudin is fixing to slide down my hood.”
The cracklins were the meatiest of the day—juicier, more filling, and not as spicy. The boudin balls had the same bready softness to them, but were mushier. The meat was shredded finer, making a relatively loose mortar around the rice. The pepperjack variety had a great twinge to it, the hit from the cheese working well with the green onions in the pork and rice mixture.
The boudin links were textbook examples down to the loose bond between the meat and the casing. There was definitely more liver in this one, but not to the point that it felt like I was licking an iron skillet. I found the boudin mixture had a richness to it that you don’t always find.
Given that we had two more stops to go and were already feeling the effects of our excess, we left the car behind and walked.
I will not lie; I was relieved when the convenience store clerk told me they were out of boudin. “They have some across the street at Billy’s,” she added helpfully. I nodded and bought a roll of Tums in the attached convenience store.
Cajun Corner Cafe/Krotz Springs Canal
The first thing you notice at the Canal gas station is the massive mural by local folk artist Bobby Soileau depicting an alligator named Pierre wearing white shrimp boots, one foot cocked on the prow of a pirogue, holding a net of crawfish in the other. I like this kind of thing; it transcends kitsch in its homey, unabashed appreciation of itself.
As I was explaining my mission to co-owner Denise Kimball, her husband walked in from the kitchen and, before even telling me his name, pointed out the logo on his t-shirt and showed me an artist’s rendering of his restaurant idea. “I’m in the process of franchising the Cajun culture,” says Toby Kimball, a man with a detailed retail dream. “We didn’t show up here on no goddamn 747. We walked carrying black iron pots,” says Kimball, expressing his fierce love for the food he makes.
I ask Kimball about the thin breading in the boudin balls of Krotz Springs, and the conversation turns philosophical. “Let me tell you something about quality,” extols Kimball. “Quality and consistency is what sells. About ninety-five percent of entrepreneurs, when they get to a certain level, leave that quality behind. That’s when you see a boudin ball that is burnt-looking. They don’t want to buy flour, they don’t want to pay to roll it, so they just fry it.”
This impromptu business seminar is cut short as the iron pot of hog lard in the kitchen reaches the right temperature. Kimball sprinkles a bit of his seasoning in my hand to taste it’s lemony-tones, its sweetness, but most importantly, how it’s not too salty. He gingerly drops a bin of cooked cracklins into the oil to “pop” them, allowing the 400 degree grease to fluff them up, giving the skin that important blistered quality.
The afternoon’s third paper sack of cracklins are the chewiest and densest of the bunch. They are crispy, but without that enamel-chipping hardness that a heat lamp can cause. These taste like meat, like pork rinds, like fresh seasonings—they taste special.
Each place had its nuances; each owner his or her own idea of how things should be done. My stomach was glad we’d exhausted the boudin and cracklin offerings of Krotz Springs, but it left me wondering about its potential. What if the town was two miles long? What dreams would be cooked up in its back kitchens then?
Details. Details. Details.
Kartchner’s Grocery & Specialty Meats 24562 Highway 190 Krotz Springs, LA (337) 566-0529 kartchnersspecialties.com Billy’s Boudin & Cracklin 24467 Highway 190 Krotz Springs, LA (337) 566-2318 billysboudinandcracklin.com Morrow’s Diner 24442 Highway 190 Krotz Springs, LA (337) 566-3737 Cajun Corner Cafe/ Krotz Springs Canal 24386 Highway 190 Krotz Springs, LA (337) 566-8003 cajuncornercafe.com