Zydeco’s Louisiana Kitchen in Arizona serves Creole and Cajun dishes
Welcome to roll call! In this series, we shine a light on the food trucks and trailers that mark the bustling food scene in Metro Phoenix.
Zydeco’s Louisiana Kitchen serves soul food
Homesickness and craving for good food for the soul Lyn and Top Thomas have launched a food truck serving gumbo, Creole and po’boys.
Cheryl Evans, Arizona Republic
Just west of Phoenix, at her Goodyear food truck, Lyn Thomas showed how to make the ultimate muffaletta. Lyn, a native of southern Louisiana, explained her technique by layering slices of cold cuts and cheeses on top of a baseball glove-sized slice of bread.
“It’s important to take care of the sides, so you don’t just have a pittance,” Lyn said. Once she’s done, she’ll wrap the sandwich and put it in the fridge with something heavy piled on top — which will help her handmade olive relish seep into the bread.
A fragrant pot of dirty rice simmered on the stove in Zydeco’s Louisiana kitchen, while the swaying notes of the soprano saxophone, performed by New Orleans jazz musician Sidney Bechet, danced from a quiet speaker .
Lyn’s husband, Top Thomas, enjoys playing a Pandora radio mix of southern soul, 40s and 50s jazz and, of course, zydeco – a rhythmic mix of blues, R&B and other genres with Louisiana Creole music.
Zydeco is more than music, it’s a lifestyle, Top said. That’s why they named their food truck after him, so anyone from Louisiana knows there’s food to match that name.
Different Styles of Louisiana Home Cooking
Louisiana has regional cuisines. People can expect variations in ingredients up north, in cities like Shreveport and Monroe, where the climate and vegetation differ from the south.
Lyn grew up one of nine siblings in Hammond, a town in southern Louisiana, 45 miles east of Baton Rouge and 45 miles north of New Orleans. She learned to cook from her grandmother and mother, and there was usually a “little bit of this and that” in the kitchen – soul food, Creole, Cajun.
Lyn described Creole and Cajun cuisine as “sophistication over earthly food.”
Creole cuisine originated in New Orleans, a port city where people had access to a wide variety of ingredients including butter and tomatoes, blending European, African, Native American and Caribbean influences.
Cajun food originated in rural southwest Louisiana, where the Acadians, settlers of French-Canadian descent, lived off the land and tended to use fewer ingredients to feed a lot.
The dishes are similar, but a Creole person might decide to put tomatoes in okra and a Cajun person might make a base brown roux, Lyn explained.
Living in Hammond, Lyn learned to cook both styles.
Some of her family recipes date back to the 1800s, Lyn said. It’s unclear exactly when his family started writing them down, but the recipes have been passed down from generation to generation on the back of food-stained envelopes, postcards, calendars and bills. Today, her sisters shared them and Lyn keeps hers protected in a filing cabinet.
The oldest recipe Lyn has incorporated into Zydeco’s Louisiana Kitchen is chicken fricassee, a creamy French stew that has appeared as a menu specialty.
Lyn remembers hovering in the kitchen as a child, watching her grandmother and mother make roux, a flour and fat-based sauce that is fundamental to so many Louisiana dishes, from jambalaya to coubion de catfish to turtle stew.
She remembers going to the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival to pet alligators and playing in mud ditches with her twin brother, catching crayfish. Top affectionately calls her the Alligator Lady, a nod to her life around the swamps of Tangipahoa Parish.
“Louisiana is like its own world,” Lyn said. “I didn’t realize it until I moved here to Arizona. Our culture, our way of life, is so different from any other space.”
Recipe: This Phoenix-area chef celebrates her Louisiana roots with vegan jambalaya
After surviving Hurricane Katrina, the Thomas family moved west
Lyn had been through hurricanes all her life. So in August 2005, when they heard about the approach of Hurricane Katrina, her family saw no reason to leave.
“We’ve always had hurricanes,” Lyn said. “It’s just a part of life. You dodge and dive and life goes on. But the way the governor went on the news, saying to write your social security on your arm with a black permanent marker, to have a hammer to go out the window, the conversation was more intense than what I have lived in the past.
Top, who was driving a truck on the West Coast, called her and told her to head to Georgia. But she failed to convince her parents to evacuate. Their deep ties to their home country, coupled with a life spent closing windows and dodging hurricanes, have kept them rooted in Hammond.
Lyn decided to leave at the last minute with her three young daughters, in one of the most difficult decisions of her life.
Highways were blocked and Lyn only reached an emergency shelter in Mississippi. For two months she lived in a chaotic environment among other evacuees and tried to put on a good face for her daughters.
This was before social media became mainstream, and Top couldn’t find her because Lyn didn’t know she had to tag her location with the Red Cross. Top said he didn’t know if his wife was dead or alive.
Cell service was spotty at best and not working most of the time. His bank cards weren’t working. With the phone lines down, she also couldn’t check on her parents until two to three weeks later, when an AT&T service worker confirmed that the Army Reserve had found them alive. Lyn felt like she didn’t exist.
“I think about it all the time,” Lyn said. “It’s a part of me. I can never forget it. It was like I was living in a nightmare and I couldn’t wake up from it. I still have nightmares about Hurricane Katrina to this day.
Top was finally able to locate Lyn two months after her evacuation, when her first text message was sent to her. Texting was still relatively new to them, and the unfamiliar flash of an SMS notification felt like a godsend to Lyn.
Her husband immediately left to pick up the family. Reunited, he asked Lyn how she felt about living in Arizona. He had driven across the state and thought it might be a good place to give his family a fresh start.
Her parents and siblings all survived Hurricane Katrina, and Lyn remains the only one of her family to have left Louisiana. After moving to the West Valley, she went back and forth to care for her mother before putting down roots in Arizona permanently.
After her mother died in 2007, cooking their family recipes felt like a hug from her, Lyn said.
“Cooking alone makes me feel good,” she said. “It’s like I have a blank canvas and I paint it and make a beautiful picture… I can escape to be home, to be in the kitchen with my mom, with my sisters. “
Phone book: Where to find Metro Phoenix’s black-owned restaurants, bakeries, and food trucks
What’s on the menu at Zydeco’s Louisiana Kitchen?
Arielle Thomas, Lyn’s eldest daughter who works alongside her parents, said her mother taught her the importance of cooking in layers, like an artist would with a paint. You can’t throw all the seasonings and ingredients into the pan at once, Arielle said.
The holy trinity of onions, peppers and celery features prominently in their dishes. While salt is available to guests, Lyn avoids it in her own kitchen, preferring other spices.
After years of cooking for Super Bowl parties and bringing okra to her hairdresser, Top suggested starting a food business. Lyn waited until her daughters were older before taking the plunge.
“It’s not that I wanted to do this my whole life, open a restaurant,” Lyn said. “But moving here after Katrina, we felt it was necessary.”
In September 2020, they opened Zydeco’s Louisiana Kitchen in Surprise, a suburb northwest of Phoenix.
“I’ve been to a lot of so-called Louisiana places and I don’t understand their food,” Top said. “I don’t understand. … If any of these places went to Louisiana, they wouldn’t survive.”
They have since moved their main location to Goodyear, where their food truck sits parked near a Golden Corral buffet Tuesday through Saturday.
When service begins at 11:30 a.m., long-time customers and newcomers alike begin to line up for generous helpings of catfish, shrimp po’boys, and seafood gumbo with crab claws and andouille.
Fried frog legs are on the regular menu, a light white meat with a chicken-like texture. Customers can add sides such as spiced Cajun fries, a thick slice of honey butter cornbread, and crab and cheddar hushpuppies.
Lyn also serves rotating specialties, such as peach cobbler and bâclé po’boy boudreux, a Louisiana version of a sloppy joe with seasoned ground beef cooked in a tomato-based sauce and served on French bread à la Orléans style covered with remoulade.
Other specialties have included creamy white beans and rice with smoked sausage, as well as catfish atchafalaya, a dish of fried catfish covered in etoufée, a shellfish stew.
For the food truck’s biggest week, Mardi Gras, Lyn adds muffalettas, donuts, praline candies and colorful king cakes. Kingscakes sold out in less than 24 hours before Fat Tuesday.
“It’s as real as it gets,” Arielle said. “We make the same food as at home.”
More in this series: Just west of Phoenix, a taco truck serves up tender carnitas and a taste of Michoacán
Zydeco Louisiana Kitchen
Or: Usually parked at 430 N. Dysart Road, Goodyear. The truck also appears in Surprise, Laveen, and at events around the valley. Follow the truck’s Facebook for current location.
When: At Goodyear, Tuesday to Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. or while supplies last.
Details: To confirm times and location, tick facebook.com/zydecoslakitchen.
Subscribe at azcentral.com today support local journalism.