A fried catfish platter with French fries and hush puppies is a favorite Friday night supper during Lent. And you can’t find a better plate of a fried catfish than at the iconic Baton Rouge restaurant of Ralph and Kacoo’s Seafood. I wasn’t surprised when I checked out their internet site and saw that they boasted of being the largest seafood restaurant in the South with a seating capacity for 800 patrons. The restaurant is massive and everything about the place shouts “big.” The restaurant has an interesting saga. My favorite food and memory of Ralph and Kacoo’s Restaurant is however, not the catfish, but their hush puppies. Their little fried cornmeal treats are unique — just a touch of sweet with green onions and spices. The best ones that I ever have eaten. I am going to try to re-invent these hush puppies. However, rather than frying catfish, we’ll more likely serve them with broiled or baked catfish — I’ll save that recipe for another time.
The Saga of an Iconic Baton Rouge Seafood Restaurant
Ralph and Kacoo’s Seafood Restaurant has an unique and interesting story with ups and downs. It was founded by Ralph and Kacoo Olinde as a fried fish and seafood restaurant in 1969 on False River in the very rural Pointe Coupee Parish of Louisiana. False River is a U-shaped lake that was formed when the Mississippi River changed its course in the 1700s. The “river loop” no longer has any direct connection to the Mississippi River. The lake has many fishing camps dotted along its shore. It is a popular boating, sailing, fishing and recreational attraction for both local folks and those what want a weekend getaway.
The restaurant had a wonderful reputation as a seafood joint and eventually the Olinde’s opened a restaurant in Baton Rouge. We were excited about this expansion as their reputation for seafood was well-known. Ralph and Kacoo’s Restaurant turned out to be exceedingly popular; it was always busy with a line out the front door. The restaurant was our “go to” place when we needed to entertain family or visitors from out-of-town. The fried seafood platters were a feast for the very hungry.
The Olinde’s went on to build another restaurant — apparently their “dream restaurant” — across town which opened in 1986. This was the mammoth-sized restaurant with three main dining rooms and seven smaller, private rooms which seated around 800 folks, total. The restaurant’s exterior was painted pink stucco. And the inside décor certainly was unique too. There was a gift shop at the entrance where you could purchase odd Louisiana-related trivia. And there were huge fish tanks as you walked in. One dining room was dedicated to LSU memorabilia; complete with a stuffed tiger — one of LSU’s mascots. Another dining room featured fishing and hunting trophies mounted high on the walls — taxidermy birds, sharks, sword fish, African animal trophies. The Olinde’s built an apartment upstairs for themselves.
Of course, you can’t operate a profitable restaurant of this magnitude without having a successful business plan. And the Olinde’s apparently had a keen business sense. For example, the Olinde’s (and this is from my memory) went to the Gulf coast themselves and purchased seafood at a cost savings directly from the fishermen unloading their shrimp and fish catches. And the Olinde’s paid attention to service and quality of food. All the shrimp and seafood was prepared from scratch. I seem to remember that the restaurant had enough deep fat fryers so that each food (hush puppies, French fries, fish, shrimp, etc) had its own fryer — therefore flavors were never intermingled. And if you have eaten multiple foods cooked in only one fryer — you will know why this is important. There was no dessert menu. Rather, the waiter/waitress came to your table with a tray of cut desserts which were prepared daily. Difficult turn these luscious desserts down!
And so the restaurant flourished. The Olindes opened several other restaurants in Louisiana and neighboring states. Eventually, the Olindes were offered a lucrative deal from Piccadilly Cafeteria Corp. to sell out — and they astutely realized the value of the offer. Thus, Ralph and Kacoo’s Restaurant became one of the Piccadilly Cafeteria chain’s restaurants. And over the years, things changed inside the restaurant. Gone were all the bounty trophies that lined the walls of the dining room. The LSU tiger was gone, too. I was relieved, actually, as it was sort of surreal to eat surrounded by stuffed birds and creatures (and a tiger). The menu appeared to continue the same — still with huge fried seafood platters. There were now some “diet” or broiled entrees on the menu. Whew! I loved the blackened fish and garlic salad.
In succeeding years, the restaurant was sold several other times to investment groups and currently is owned by Great Texas Foods Corporation. Perhaps because of competition from the growing number of local seafood restaurants or other factors, we sought out this restaurant less often. The restaurant quietly closed in the summer of 2020 in the midst of the pandemic. According to the press, structural repairs to the building were needed. From the photos, you can see that the pink stucco exterior has been removed. Don’t know what the future of the restaurant will be. Well, it is an interesting saga — I have many fond memories of meals eaten there with family and friends. (And I can count eating in five of the dining rooms at some point in time.) There are still four other “Ralph and Kacoo” restaurants: two in Louisiana, one in Texas and one in Mobile, Alabama, if you want to partake in a great seafood meal.
The Olinde’s wrote and published a cookbook. I purchased one eager to learn about the recipes served in the restaurant. The cookbook was published in 1986 and turns out to be more of a “family and friend” recipe book. (Now a vintage cookbook.) It is a treasure trove of traditional Louisiana seafood recipes — but not necessarily the ones served in the restaurant. However, the recipe for hush puppies is huge and calls for 5 pounds of cornmeal and 2 pounds of flour. I figured it would probably make about 225 hush puppies. Hungry? I got out my calculator — and high school math — and modified the recipe scaling it back in size.
What are Hush Puppies?
Hush puppies are definitely associated with Southern cuisine. They are made with a cornmeal based-batter and formed into small, round balls which are deep fried. In restaurants hush puppies are served along with fried seafood and frequently come to the table as an appetizer or in place of dinner rolls.
I am making these hush puppies based on my memory of eating at Ralph and Kacoo’s restaurant as well as the recipe in their cookbook. Their recipe contains both cornmeal and all-purpose flour. The recipe also includes an egg, baking powder, baking soda, salt, parsley and evaporated milk. Ralph and Kacoo’s hush puppies have a slightly sweet taste and their original recipe actually contained quite a lot of sugar. I included sugar but reduced the proportion of this ingredient. I substituted creole seasoning for garlic powder and cayenne pepper. And I love the green onion in the hush puppies — don’t omit this ingredient. Of course, these little treats are deep fried.
There are lots of brands and types of cornmeal. Some brands are more course and some are ground very fine — like a flour. The brand you use is a matter of preference. For this batch, I used a mixture of Quaker Corn Meal, Aunt Jemima White Corn Meal as well as all-purpose flour. The white corn meal has fine texture — which is nice. Next time, I’ll probably use a different mixture of corn meals. And this recipe calls for plain cornmeal — this is not a commercial corn meal box mix for cornbread or muffins..
Making the Recipe
To make the hush puppies, combine the dry ingredients and green onion tops. Then whisk in the evaporated milk and egg. I needed to add a little water to get a softer batter. Let the batter “rest” on the kitchen counter for 10 minutes or more; the batter will thicken. Heat oil — such as peanut oil or canola oil about 2″ deep in a deep fat fryer, heavy pot or wok to 350 degrees. (Do not use olive oil for deep fat frying.) I used a thermometer to gage the temperature of the oil. Use spoons to scoop out small balls and fry the hush puppies in batches until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Since the hush puppies contain leavening — baking powder and baking soda — they do “puff up.” Start small — it is easier to cook the hush puppies completely in the center.
So, how do my hush puppies rate compared with the ones from Ralph and Kacoo’s restaurant? It has been several years since I ate at their restaurant so my memory has faded. Anyway, my hush puppies came out great–although they aren’t exactly round! They are very tasty — just a little sweet, a little spice with a nice cornmeal flavor. And of course, green onions add an extra effect. I say my hush puppies are just fine.
Serve the hush puppies with fish — fried or baked — and a salad or coleslaw for a traditional southern Louisiana meal. Enjoy!
I have of fond memories of eating at the iconic Ralph and Kacoo’s restaurant — from the outing and trip we took through very rural Louisiana to their restaurant on False River in the 1980s to taking my family to the Baton Rouge restaurant when they visited and consuming a huge seafood feast. And now I know how to make these little hush puppies — perhaps I will serve them with broiled or baked catfish rather than fried catfish. It was sad to drive by this iconic restaurant and realized that it had quietly closed. We will have to wait for the next chapter of Ralph and Kacoo’s restaurant.
Favorite Hush Puppies
- 2 cups fine yellow corn meal, plus 1/4 cup extra as needed
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 Tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp Tony Chechere’s Creole Seasoning
- 6 green onion tops, sliced
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup water, as needed
- 4 cups peanut or canola oil with more as needed
Method and Steps:
- In large bowl combine 2 cups yellow corn meal and flour.
- Add sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, Tony Chechere’s Creole seasoning and green onion tops and stir to combine.
- In another bowl, combine beaten egg and evaporated milk.
- Make a well in center of dry ingredients. Add in egg/milk mixture and stir well to combine. If the batter is too dry, add water — 1/4 cup a at time. If too runny, add 1/4 cup additional corn meal. Batter should hold together but not be too stiff.
- Let batter set on counter for 10 minutes.
- In deep fat fryer or heavy wok, add oil to depth to cover hush puppies — about 3 inches. Heat to 350 degrees.
- Add batter by tablespoons to oil in a single layer. Dough will expand as it cooks. Fry on first side until golden brown; turn hush puppies over and fry until golden on second side. Remove to platter covered with paper towels.
- Replenish oil, if needed, and fry remaining hush puppies in batches.
- Best when served hot.
NOTE: To scale the recipe to a smaller batch; reduce quantities of all ingredients by 1/2, except egg. Use 3 Tbsp sugar and 1/2 cup evaporated milk.
NOTE: This recipe can be reduced in size. Cut all ingredients — except the egg — in half. Use 3 Tbsp sugar. Do not add extra water unless needed.