There is a big, joyous neighborhood energy flowing through a dining room in South Sacramento: It’s relaxing and hard to describe – but absolutely up-lifting. The vibe comes from stirring local sensibilities with the laidback feeling of Jennings, Louisiana, a small town in Jefferson Parish between Lafayette and Lake Charles. Like most times when a cultural firefly is caught in a jar, this bright aura burns around the experience of sharing food.
That, and some really good cooking.
Louisiana Heaven was founded by Lashunda Cormier, a Jennings girl who grew up with one foot in Sacramento. Over time, Cormier and her family wouldn’t miss the scorching, muggy Louisiana summers but they would miss the scrumptious effect of the state’s culinary customs.
“I was like, ‘I can’t find this kind of food,’” Cormier recalls of the Capital City. “I thought, ‘Well, I might as well just go ahead give back to Sacramento what I always loved to have.’ That’s how the restaurant was created.”
Cormier began catering and food-trucking. The reaction was spot on and she eventually stepped up her vision by opening Louisiana Heaven at 6623 Valley Hi Drive. Since then, her modest-sized restaurant has a steady flow of foot traffic on most evenings, Sacramentans rolling in with appetites and anticipation that build around the aromas wafting from the back.
Cormier attributes this hungry loyalty to her backstory.
“It starts, of course, in your kitchen with your parents and grandparents, just cooking for your family,” she explains. “It’s just a whole lot of generational family members coming together and eating together – celebrating Mardi Gras or different peoples’ birthdays. With that right there, I learned, as a little girl, all the different family recipes.”
And fans of Louisiana Heaven love the results. The place is known for its chicken and pork gumbo, which brings tender chicken chunks into a scintillating soak of herb-laden broth, the overall effect gorgeously textured against its slight touch of briny perfection.
Another big hit is the order of smoked Cajun ribs. These ribs are barbecued to an insane tenderness, their meat’s juicy moisture almost dripping from the bone – each smoky bite highlighted by the savory layers of sweetness in the sauce. The Cajun ribs pair especially well with the house’s fried okra and jambalaya. Anyone from Sacramento who has eaten at New Orleans neighborhood joint will agree that Cormier’s take on fried okra comes straight from the streets there.
Other staples at Louisiana Heaven are the Cajun Red Snapper, the Cajun fried chicken, Louisiana hot links, and fried catfish and shrimp baskets. Cormier’s menu is such a genuine representation of the Gulf Coast that “Louisiana Sue” Ramon is making her a featured cook at the upcoming Sacramento Mardi Gras.
“When it comes to Louisiana Heaven, that’s just like the places we have back home!” Ramon stresses.
Mardi Gras happens Feb. 18 & 19 in Old Sacramento. Details are in this week’s SN&R feature, “Currents of history swirl around the Delta King as Old Sac readies for ‘the biggest Mardi Gras in the West”
Cormier thinks Sacramento Mardi Gras is good place to showcase what she does.
“It’s a place to let people know that our food is really authentic,” Cormier notes. “Everything is made from our hands. It’s our own creative recipes that’s been handed down for generations.”
One person who’s helping share that linage is Cormier’s daughter, Jakayla Lewis. She’s an important part of the atmosphere and hospitality at Louisiana Heaven.
“I’ve always liked cooking,” Lewis explains, “but what this place brings to the community is a different environment where everyone comes to. We’ve got music, good food, and even though it’s a hole in the wall, I feel like when everyone comes here, we get to know our customers like they’re family. That means they feel like it’s their restaurant, too.”
Lewis adds that there are more folks from Louisiana living in Sacramento than people realize – and many seem grateful for what she and her mother have put together in the south city.
“You’ll hear them say, ‘Oh, we’ve been out here, but now we finally have something that taste close to home,’” Lewis says. “We still go back to Louisiana to see our family out there, and we’ve learned so much – it’s just cool to bring those recipes back here for people to enjoy.”
Scott Thomas Anderson is also the host of the ‘Drinkers with Writing Problems’ podcast, Episode 3 of which was written and recorded in the city of New Orleans.