Story and photos by Emmett Burnett
About 16 miles from Foley, Silverhill is a community of 700 residents. If you would like to meet them, be at Café Acadiana at noon. Most of them are either there or will be.
They gather at the town’s landmark restaurant. Critics praise Café Acadiana for having one of, if not the best, cuisines in Baldwin County, South Alabama, and perhaps the state.
With four years running, the Gulf Coast Media organization ranked Café Acadiana number one for “Best Cajun Restaurant in Baldwin County.” Redbook.com cited the eatery with “Best Seafood in Alabama,” and AL.com announced it as one the state’s 12 best restaurants. And the Alabama Department of Tourism notes Silverhill’s café is one of the state’s 100 restaurants to eat in before you die.
Not bad for a restaurant that will be 10 years old in September.
“We have been blessed with accolades,” says Gerald Ardoin, Café Acadiana’s owner, head chef, greeter and server, who performs all four functions simultaneously while being interviewed. The man is everywhere.
“I do what it takes,” Ardoin says with a smile. “I am here every day. I love my business and enjoy our customers. I try visiting our guests’ tables when we aren’t terribly busy.”
When they are busy, which is generally on days ending in Y, Ardoin joins the crew, waiting tables and working the kitchen. His wife, Christina Ardoin, tends the restaurant on Friday nights.
Ardoin also credits his employees. “I have a fantastic crew. They cook, handle all the tickets, grilling, and lots of behind-the-scenes work. Most of our staff has been here at least two years. They do amazing work.”
The work, as noted by the restaurant’s owner, is deliciously different. Culinary Cajun, Creole, seafood, steaks and more, served exclusively at Café Acadiana. “We offer unique things here,” he notes. “Many of our menu items cannot be found anywhere else in South Alabama other than us, right here in Silverhill.”
The lunch menu includes Flounder Pontchartrain, a fabulously flat fish lathered with in-house shrimp and crawfish cream sauce. Other dishes include fried shrimp and crawfish etouffee, mahi Orleans, and blackened tilapia. An assortment of Bayou burgers and sandwiches are available, including the Bama Burger, the War Eagle, Crazy Cajun, and the Shrimp Opelousas Sandwich.
There are also daily lunch specials. Today’s features blackened chicken alfredo, pork roast, and hamburger steak.
The dinner menu takes it up a notch with signature specialties: Boudreaux’s Burrito (crawfish, shrimp, and crabmeat stuffed in a tortilla with all the trimmings), Crab Cake Pontchartrain, Fried Boudin Balls and Catfish Gerald are good starts.
Do not leave without ordering the 12-ounce angus ribeye steak, topped with crawfish etouffee or shrimp Opelousas. One bite of this Cajun concoction can make an Alabama fan cheer for LSU.
“We also sell a lot of platters,” notes server Kati Fontenot, embracing plates laden with seafood as she weaves in and around tables.
“And we go through a lot of crabcakes,” Fontenot adds. Locally harvested Gulf blue crabs are a crustacean elation, topped with shrimp and crawfish cream sauce. The sauces are made by Ardoin every morning, before the restaurant opens. He also prepares red beans and rice, crawfish etouffee and seafood gumbo.
Customer satisfaction is high. “When I leave the table there is nothing left from my order but the tails,” claims Keith Felcyn, a Missouri vacationer. He shows his clean plate that once held fried shrimp but now is a pleasant memory. “I come back for the quality and variety.”
A lifetime of Louisiana cuisine
With 40-plus years of experience in Cajun creole cuisine, Ardoin brings South Central Louisiana’s recipes to South Alabama. His epicurean journey began in 1979, in Opelousas, La. Working at his father’s restaurant, Ardoin’s Seafood, the son learned all aspects of the restaurant business. “I’ve been doing this since I was 16,” he says.
After his father retired in 1995, Ardoin opened his own Opelousas restaurant, Café Acadiana. The name (pronounced A-K-D-ana) reflects the Louisiana region and the culinary world in which he grew up.
But Gerald and Christina learned of central Baldwin County on a Gulf Shores vacation. After selling his hometown restaurant in 2003, the couple moved to Alabama’s Eastern Shore. They rented a house in Fairhope and ultimately discovered Silverhill.
“We thought it was a quaint, wonderful town,” he recalls. “We were right.” The couple purchased a house in Silverhill around 2004 and have been here ever since.
After leaving his Louisiana home and café for Baldwin County, Ardoin worked for US Foods for about 8 years. But he missed the restaurant business.
“I had my eye on a small diner here in town,” he says. “After watching five or so restaurants open and fail in that building, I told Christina, ‘I think I’m going to buy that little restaurant.’ She looked at me like I was crazy but said, ‘Okay.’”
Thus was born the restaurant of renown in a tiny community with many fans.
After six months of remodeling, on Sept. 3, 2013, Café Acadiana – the Silverhill version – opened for business. It was packed from day one and remains so today. “Every year we have been open, we have a record year,” Ardoin says.
The recipes are from Gerald, his father, and traditional Acadian fare tweaked Ardoin style.
Café Acadiana has 26 tables, seats 96, and does so often. There is an occasional line at the door, but do not be discouraged. The wait is short and always worth it.
With so many nearby beach restaurants available, the couple are grateful so many choose their place. Their message to patrons is merci beacoup, mes amies! (thank you my friends.)
The feeling is mutual. Café Acadiana’s followers loyally return, from Silverhill and beyond.
16137 Silverhill Ave.,
Silverhill AL. 36576
251 945 2233
Hours: Sunday and Monday: Closed
Tuesday 11 am – 3 pm
Wednesday – Saturday: 11 am – 8:30 pm