Eating Our Way Through Cajun Country.
December 13, 2013
For the longest time, Americans by the millions were pampered and charmed by airlines in general. One ad urged us to “fly the friendly skies.” And we did, with pleasure.
The horrific 9-11 tragedy changed everything.
Suffice it to say that folks who formerly chose to fly when facing trips of 150 miles or more have upped the number greatly, say to a minimum of 300 miles.
Facing a 600-mile trip to New Orleans recently for the inaugural cruise of the Carnival Sunshine, we chose to drive. We “drank in” geography we’d not seen “up close” for several decades.
Instead of “pedal to metal” driving, we opted to cram “one day into four.” After all, my spouse could help greatly–driving part of the time and pointing out missed turns when I was at the wheel.
With GPS turned off and no specific route in mind, we headed east on “roads less taken.”
Averaging 150 or so miles daily—many of them barely above sea level–we smelled few roses, but aromas of Cajun food wafting from one-of-a-kind restaurants made up for it. And the stretch from Lafayette to Baton Rouge is home to a culture we mostly have heard jokes and stories about.
“Cajun Country” is the real deal, known for a work ethic to be envied and delectable menu items to be savored.
May it long include names ending in “eaux” and dialects to spice up stories from the swamps.
Who would guess that Breaux Bridge, by any measure a small town, claims a tiny eating place with the world’s best “po-boy” sandwiches and hamburgers? A local said so, and we found it to be true—for the burger, anyway.
We bragged on the burger as a dozen other diners nodded. “Do you bake your own buns?” I asked the Le Cafe owner.
“Oh, no, we get ‘em from the bakery a block over,” she answered. We made a stop at the bakery to buy pastries for the road, learning it has been operated continuously since 1888 by the Champagne family.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s “other city,” combines both old-time charm and upbeat progress to rival whatever city you’d care to name. Clearly, there’s a “downtown renaissance.”
IBM is constructing a building where 800 employees will work when it is soon completed. And Hilton recently built an inviting Hampton Inn and Suites. It overlooks the “Mighty Mississippi” and is the first new downtown hotel since the 1920s.
We mostly “poked around” the city, spending time at LSU, where they “love purple and live gold.” It’s where the sports magazine is called Tiger Rag, bumper stickers urge “Geaux Tigers” and LSU’s mascot, Mike VI, pads around in sumptuous digs. An outlay of private funds totaling $3 million provides a sprawling habitat for its lone occupant.
A “must” was a visit to George’s, a tiny eatery said to offer the world’s tastiest onion rings. We split the tiniest order available; I took the smaller portion. The rings are to be dreamed of—and ordered again one day.
It is known for thousands of autographed $1 bills adorning walls and ceilings, napkins swirled like those in fine restaurants and clever signs.
One reads: “Eat right, exercise regularly and die anyway….so enjoy!” Another says: “Save the humans.”
Most important is another visit to Boutin’s, proudly owned and operated by Lynn Boutin, a Cajun through and through. It’s a “combo deal,” housing a small grocery market and a rambling, bustling eatery. It has a small dance floor, and a few musicians playing ONLY authentic Cajun music are there most nights.
Lynn has the kind of stubborn dedication to America we all should have. He works during most waking hours, clinging to the culture of his homeland with tenacity to be admired. He pointed out proudly that his restaurant has “zero neon.” Unpretentious, it is what it is—a family place where music and sumptuous food honor a colorful culture.
We will return to Baton Rouge–sooner than later– to learn more about the nation’s “sportsman’s paradise.” A big chapter was written by late Governor Earl Long who is well remembered for his, uh, politics. And politics may be the biggest sport of all.
Please click the book cover image to read more about Don Newbury and When the Porch Light’s On.