King of the frottoir
As deeply rooted in the Cajun culture of the Bayou State as crawfish étouffée, the frottoir is one of only four true musical instruments that are original to America; in 2002, two frottoirs crafted by Lafayette native, Tee Don Landry, took their place alongside the Hope Diamond, Sant Ocean Hall and Spirit of St. Louis exhibits. The frottoir, the Cajun rub board vest, a mainstay of zydeco bands, was immortalized when it was placed in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. Not to be confused with the washboards of jug-band fame, the frottoir (Cajun French meaning “vest to be rubbed”) is a ribbed stainless steel length of armor, sans the washboard’s wooden frame, that hangs from the neck of a musician like a knight’s breastplate. You may think of knights until the band begins playing –– then the rub board somehow reminds you of the hide of a giant armadillo. No zydeco band is complete without it.
The history of the frottoir began back in the ‘40s when Landry’s father, Willie, a Louisiana native, was working in Port Arthur, Texas, as a master welder/metal fabricator right after World War II. He happened to meet two other Louisianians, two Chenier brothers whose Christian names were Cleveland and Clifton, respectively. Cleveland accompanied his brother’s phenomenal zydeco music by playing the traditional washboard strung around his neck by a rope and strummed with bottle openers. Clifton sketched a design for a newer kind of rub board and asked the senior Landry if he could make it.
Tee Don Landry recently told the Acadiana Gazette that his father’s response to the future King of Zydeco was, “I can make anything you want.”
Landry remembers watching Cleveland Chenier play the rub board as a small child. “No one has ever been able to duplicate his technique,” Landry says. “Scratchers” are used to rhythmically strum the instrument, and Landry eventually began strumming the frottoir himself. He then mastered his father’s techniques for making the instrument.
“It is a real instrument … without the rub board in a band, the band is incomplete and should not call itself zydeco,” Landry claims.
Each frottoir made by Landry is handcrafted, registered and numbered. His Key of Z workmanship has furnished frottoirs to the likes of Billy F. Gibbons, the guitarist of ZZ Top; Buckwheat Zydeco; Cyril Neville; MOJO and the Bayou Gypsies; Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown; and even R & B superstar Rihanna.
Key of Z rub boards, Tee Don Landry, 385 Sandpiper Place, Sunset, (337) 654-0858, keyofzrubboards.com
FORK IN THE ROAD
For anyone who has put in a long, hard day, a good drive-through that serves something beyond fast food is a godsend.
Siblings Katy and Molly Richard have created a perfect, unique and convenient eatery called Taco Sisters.
The restaurant’s signature dish, the Signature Fish Taco, consists of succulent fish that’s been plucked from the nearby Gulf of Mexico. Smoked in-house in a soy-ginger sauce, the fish is nestled on a grilled soft taco shell along with their secret Sisters sauce, fresh tomatoes and spices.
Contributing to the delight of the dish is the lettuce mix especially created by the two siblings. A combination of crunchy apples, chopped celery, carrots, green onions and spring greens gives this delicious, unusual taco an added dimension of flavor perfect for the smoked fish. Utterly divine are the smoked shrimp tacos that are now served daily by popular request. A tortilla grilled with olive oil serves as a base for the marinated smoked shrimp, crisp salad mix, tomatoes and spicy sauce. And the sisters don’t give meat the cold shoulder when it comes to taco making. The Smothered Brisket Burrito is filled with meat that has been slow-cooked in a vibrant adobo sauce until it dissolves into a divinely disconnected debris of flavor, wrapped in a soft flour tortilla along with refried beans, melting cheese and chives. In the Smoked Meat Taco, you get your choice of chicken with the tang of a jalapeño-lime marinade or pork smoked in a spicy-sweet brown sugar glaze. Your selection is placed in a soft taco shell and the secret sauce and spices, aforementioned lettuce mix and tomatoes are added. All of the meat and fish are smoked on Taco Sisters’ own smoking porch sans any liquid enhancers. The orders, packed with a dynamite spectrum of flavor, are almost discretely slipped into your hands via a small side window.
Taco Sisters, 407 Johnston St.,Lafayette, (337) 234-TACO, tacosisters.com