Destination restaurant offers up the true Cajun experience

The Shrimp Lover (top) and Larry Judice

When a Texas-born butcher named Larry Judice planted his Louisiana roots in Groves and bought his father’s French market in 1978, Larry’s French Market was just a Cajun grocery store with a Cajun deli. Then one day in 1993, Judice decided to clear a little space for a dance floor – and weekends in Groves were never the same.

“We got bigger bands, and more and more people kept coming, so we got a bigger dance floor,” Judice said. The dance floor kept growing and the food kept cooking, and eventually Larry’s French Market just plum ran out of room for a market.

Larry’s French Market and Cajun Restaurant has been the “Cajun honky tonk” of Southeast Texas ever since, and it ain’t going anywhere anytime soon. On any given Saturday, diehard seafood lovers are camped outside the restaurant waiting for the doors to open at 5 p.m., hoping to be first in line to hit Larry’s legendary all-you-can-eat seafood buffet – a Cajun feast fit for a king.

The buffet line itself is a feast for the eyes: fried shrimp, broiled shrimp, shrimp etouffee, shrimp and crab gumbo, barbecue crabs, broiled crabs, crawfish fettuccine, crawfish etouffee, fried alligator, boudain balls, frog legs, dirty rice – and that’s not including the salad bar.

Or the dessert table.

“I think variety is the spice of life,” said Judice. The Cajun king himself is certainly proud of his heritage, but boy is he ever proud of that seafood buffet.

“I really am,” he admitted. “It just gives you the colorful flare of the whole Cajun experience.” 

Most buffets can keep fresh food coming out to a hungry crowd, but at Larry’s, it’s unlikely you’ll ever see the bottom of a pan.

“We keep it really pretty,” Judice said.

The man’s right – even the frog legs and fried alligator look pretty.

“Everybody likes to experience alligator,” he said of the scary reptile that according to Judice, tastes like a combination of chicken and fish … sort of.

“Everybody wants to try a little bit of everything, and we have that on the buffet,” he said. “You really get a taste of everything.”

Beaumont native Demetric Dotson and his mother Pearlie decided to try Larry’s for the first time one Saturday night in August – and after one trip through the buffet line, they were hooked.

“It’s awesome. You can’t ask for more,” said Dotson, adding that they would both be coming back, though Pearlie clarified that on her next visit to Larry’s, she would be returning with girlfriends for a girls’ night.

Larry’s seafood dinner buffet is $29.95 and is served every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. But for those who just aren’t into the all-you-can-eat buffet, the menu also offers plenty of variety to spice things up: steaks, chicken and more fresh seafood including salmon, red snapper, catfish and yellowfin tuna.

Judice recommended we try the Shrimp Lover, we must recommend it as well. The dish features stuffed shrimp, grilled shrimp, shrimp brochette and shrimp etouffee, and true shrimp lovers will notice the distinct quality and flavor of good Gulf shrimp.

When it comes to shrimp, Judice has a special preference for brown shrimp, a deep-water shrimp straight from the Gulf of Mexico.

“It’s unmistakable when you taste a brown shrimp; it just has a much better taste,” he explained. “It’s got a rich, lobstery taste, and it’s been a good season for good Gulf shrimp.”

And of course, every dinner comes with “Cajun aerobics” classes out on the dance floor led by a live band from 5-9 p.m. on Thursday and 6-10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

When Monday morning arrives, Larry’s seafood buffet transforms back into the “Cajun Cafeteria,” where plate lunches served cafeteria-style include different entrees like fried fish, fried shrimp, fried pork chops, spicy pork roast, both gumbos, etouffees and other specialty items featured daily from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

For Judice, it was important that his destination restaurant provide folks with a true Cajun experience — fantastic food, friends, family and fun. Larry’s French Market and Cajun Restaurant is the most Cajun experience you’ll find this side of the Louisiana line.

“We have a lot of people come down here from all over the country, and we got a lotta different things to make people happy.”