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(2015 - Spring Issue)


There are many things you can say about Louisiana, but run-of-the-mill isn’t one of them.

An oft-used word in describing local food offerings is mélange. The same can be said of the cultures that rub shoulders in the sleepy, steamy sub-tropical climate, including Cajun, Creole, Spanish and sundry others.

Our itinerary showed us three very different faces of Louisiana—although there were many more to be experienced if time had allowed. While each of our destinations (Lake Charles, Lafayette and New Orleans) had its own unique flavour, there were some commonalities that make this region so special.

First, while Louisiana is often touted as a popular hunting and fishing destination, it’s also home to some of the most beautiful protected wetlands and swamps this side of the Mississippi (or the other side for that matter since Louisiana is home to the Mississippi River Delta).

It’s also a foodie’s haven. Louisiana natives were using local ingredients decades before it became de rigueur. Just about every menu you come across has some variation on alligators, turtles, crawfish and catfish, all harvested from the nearby waterways (of which there are plenty). Even the rice is grown locally.

Third, the uniqueness of the Louisiana lifestyle is something so highly prized by locals, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who has left their hometowns. The denizens love their own peculiar world of ’gators and gumbos, zydeco music and dancing, or sultry jazz and the occasional voodoo practitioner.

Lake Charles

Before bedding down in the city of Lake Charles, our first stop was an unassuming little eatery called Hackett’s Cajun Kitchen, one of 20 stops on the Southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail. Boudin (pronounced boo-dan) is a sausage-shaped goodie made with meat, rice, onions and seasonings. Each one you taste is as individual as the people who toil hours in their kitchens making it. It’s such a local point of pride, people will drive more than 160 kilometres to pick up their weekly supply of alligator, crawfish, shrimp or smoked boudin.

After eating our way through multiple samples, we took a spin through Lake Charles’Charpentier historic district. Among other notable traits, the city claims to be home to the largest collection of Mardi Gras costumes in the world. The quirky Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu is housed in a former school building, making the experience pretty much like walking into the glitziest jumble sale you could imagine.

Our favourite jaunt was the Creole Nature Trail, a National Scenic Byway that’s home to a wealth of native flora and fauna. As a migration destination, Southwest Louisiana is in fact ranked among the top 10 birding areas in the country.

The high point was a two-hour boat ride with Grosse Savanne Eco-Tours through more than 200 marshland hectares, where we had an eyeful of rookeries crammed with all species of birds, including the spectacular roseate spoonbill, pelicans and egrets. While the temperature was hot enough to drive most of the ’gators into hiding, we were told mornings and evenings were prime times to meet hundreds of them in the flesh. 


A 90-minute drive took us to Lafayette, where we were introduced to Vermilionville, a Cajun colonial village. If you arrive on Sunday, be sure to check out the afternoon Bal du Dimanche concert in the dance hall where you’ll get a good dose of Cajun and zydeco entertainment from talented locals. But don’t be surprised to get an invite to take a few turns on the dance floor.

Next day we toured the Tabasco pepper sauce factory on Avery Island and learned the story behind one of the world’s most famous and popular condiments. Then it was on to Rip Van Winkle Gardens. This botanical paradise was the perfect place for a quiet stroll through subtropical gardens, capped by a scrumptious lunch at the site’s CaféJefferson overlooking Lake Peigneur.

Our last treat for the day was a tour of the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area. From the launch point at McGee’s Landing in Henderson, we leisurely drifted through areas of the vast river and swamp ecosystem, ranked as one of America’s last wilderness areas.

Last stop: New Orleans

What can one say that hasn’t already been said about this wonderful city? While everyone is familiar with Mardi Gras and the goings-on in Bourbon Street, the French Quarter and Frenchmen Street, New Orleans is rife with countless oddities, from derelict graveyards to the most bizarre food shops you’ll find anywhere.

We had a terrific time visiting the Langlois school of cooking where we attended a Cajun and Creole brunch cooking class. When the hour was up, we had a pretty good handle on cooking gumbo and crepes.

For a bizarre shopping adventure, check out Reverend Zombie’s House of Voodoo on St. Peters Street right across from Preservation Hall. Or peruse the endless variety of hot sauces in the food stores (colourful labels include Original Death, Beyond Death and Slap Ya Mama).  My favourite spot was the Mask Gallery on Royal Street where the walls are festooned with gorgeous and grotesque masks fashioned by leading artists. For the less adventurous, New Orleans has the brand spanking new Outlet Collection at Riverwalk, which offers tax-free shopping.

No trip to New Orleans is complete without a morning trek to Cafédu Monde, the legendary beignet establishment. It was idyllic starting the morning sipping a caféau lait and dipping into the plate of these sugar-dusted confections as we listened to talented local buskers.

Heading back to the airport, it crossed my mind that we hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface of what this wonderfully diverse state has to offer. All one can say is, next time…

What You Should Try:

•           Alligator meat: It does in fact taste like chicken, but has the texture of pork.

•           Beignets: Without a doubt.

•           Boudin: Sample a few different flavours if you can; you’ll be impressed.

•           Bread pudding: Nobody does it better.

•           Cocktails: Louisiana is a veritable cocktail mecca. There are even drive-through margarita stands!

•           Crawfish: Try a platter if you can handle eating with your bare hands.

•           Po-boy sandwiches: They’re legendary in these here parts. So are gumbo and jambalaya.

In Lake Charles, check out the newly appointed L’Auberge Casino Resort, a grand-sized edifice that’s a veritable playground of activities and eateries for adults and youngsters alike.

In New Orleans, Hotel Monteleone, in the heart of the French Quarter on Royal Street, is a lovely historic property that features the renowned Carousel Bar and Lounge complete with a rotating bar.

Where to eat:

In Lake Charles, Luna Bar & Grill is a fun place with live Acadian music. If you’re lucky you might get a few ad hoc dance lessons from local members of the Cajun French Music Association. Also, Steamboat Bill’s on the Lake offers a taste of classic Louisiana cuisine (watch out, portions are huge!)

In Lafayette, try Randol’s Cajun Restaurant. The food is great, the music lively and the menu a cornucopia of deep-fried everything. CaféVermilionville is a lovely posh dining establishment in a landmark historical building that was Lafayette’s first inn. Sample some beer at the Parish Brewing Company in nearby Broussard, part of the statewide Craft Brewery Trail.

In New Orleans, Ralph’s on the Park on City Park Avenue offers lovely upscale dining in an idyllic setting as well as fabulous cocktails. Le Foret on Camp Street and Mr. B’s on Royal Street both serve up an exceptional selection of quality cuisine.

Travel Planner

For more information on Louisiana, visit louisianatravel.com.

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