A Larose native who lives in Texas doesn’t just sell award-winning boudin links, they’re links to his hometown.
Joel Barrios gave up his life in the oil field to pursue his passion for Cajun cooking. He worked in Texas for eight years and said he was disappointed by what was marketed as Cajun cuisine. He began taking long detours when he drove to and from work to sample several styles of boudin, slowly building a flavor profile of the Louisiana staple.
At the end of an oil contract, Barrios opened his restaurant in 2016 called Bayou Boys Po-Boys, at 13335 Hwy 36, Needville, Texas.
“When the job ended, I decided to stay here in Houston, and since I have nine years of experience in the restaurant industry, I thought I could do it,” he said. “So I cashed in the 401k and decided to go all in.”
His experience comes from working for eight years at Pepper’s Pizzeria in Thibodaux. Barrios has a problem, he wants to focus on boudin, but doesn’t know how to make it in the first place. He can make a lot of other Louisiana dishes, so he focused on those restaurants while he was learning boudin on the side.
“What I did was I cloaked the business as a po-boy shop, because I know that I can cook gumbo, etouffee, I can fry shrimp, I can fry oysters, and I can fry catfish,” he said. “After about two or three years I started thinking about it.”
Boudin is a Louisiana sausage made from ground pork, rice, seasonings, and stuffed with pork intestines. The intestines act as a casing and give boudin its sausage shape.
The plan seems to have worked. Barrios took second place in Louisiana’s largest boudin competition, the Acadiana Boudin and Bacon Cook Off in Lafayette. He received second place for “Best Boudin in Louisiana” in 2021, and first place for “Specialty Unlinked Boudin” in 2023.
Barrios said he was not exposed to tubular treats much as a child because there were only a few places that sold them in the bayou. While working for Edison Chouest, he found boudinlink.com, a website hosted by non-native Robert Carriker who used the moniker Dr. Boudin.
The website provides a gut-busting tour of 175 locations serving boudin, including locations in Pennsylvania, California and Washington. Barrios saw an educational roadmap and followed the siren call of the sausage. He works in Port Fourchon and drives back and forth to Katy, Texas, so he maps out routes for boudin stops along the way.
“I’ll go off the road, and I’ll pick up two, three, sometimes four, and I’ll pick up like a link or two of frozen boudin or cold boudin, and of course, I’m hot. pieces, links or even a boudin ball, ” he said. “Then I’ll take it back to my coworkers here in Houston, and we’ll sample it like you would wine tasting. I’ll get (Carriker’s) report, and I’ll print it all out, and then we’ll put it on the counter and we will sample it on our own grading scale and compare it to (his).”
For Barrios, the restaurant is an important expression of regional Cajun cuisine. He said South Lafourche has its own version of culture and cuisine, and he wants to share that with others. He said that almost every dish in his restaurant takes inspiration from “Down the Bayou,” a cookbook that is the pride and joy of his hometown.
His roots extend beyond the dishes on the menu. Having dealt with his share of hurricanes, Barrios has taken his restaurant to areas recovering from hurricanes to provide food. The nonprofit side focuses mostly on hurricanes, he said, but last year it flooded Kentucky.
One trip this year was the French Food Festival, although it was a mix of business and pleasure. Barrios was able to visit home — he grew up on Buchanan Street — and the trip allowed his staff to learn about the cuisine and culture of South Lafourche. His restaurant closes for the weekend and donates all proceeds to the Larose Community Center.
“I want them to experience the culture,” he said. “I want them to come and taste it and enjoy it, and then bring that knowledge back to our customers back in Needville.”