Tag Archives: Eclipse Trip

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Magnificent oak trees. Melancholic cypresses dressed in Spanish moss. Alligators peeking out from swampy waters. Magnificent, decaying plantations. Quaint accents. Humidity. Iced tea.

Those are just some of the images that dotted my brain about the South, a region of America I only know from books and movies – and culinary adventures. I’d never specially wanted to go to the South, with the exception of New Orleans and Savannah, which were inscribed on my imaginary bucket list decades ago, and left to grow cobwebs there.

Now, when I think about our so-very-brief trip to Louisiana, I actually thirst for more. Sights. Experiences. I want to drink a sweet lemonade (I don’t like iced tea) while sitting on a rocking chair, on the front porch of some achingly quaint Southern home, in a close-to-scorching summer. I want to succumb to the romance of all those books and movies brought together. I just want to go back to those swamps.

This trip to Louisiana came out of nowhere. Well, it came out of the Eclipse and our friends Eddie and Arthur, who suddenly reached out to Mike a few weeks before the sun was scheduled to be covered by the moon for all of four minutes and asked us to join them in watching the spectacle. Mike wanted to go. He had wanted to go for years. I had looked at the hotel prices a year before and written it off. Witnessing a total eclipse is a one-in-a-lifetime experience – we’d had ours a few years before in Oregon (sitting on the rocks in a quiet stream, commuting with nature, perfection). I didn’t need another one. But Mike insisted. We could stay with Eddie and Arthur in Dallas. He’d go by himself if I refused.

Air tickets to Dallas – and any surrounding airports – were ridiculously expensive. Surge pricing. What you’d expect. I’m cheap. Thrifty. I’d seen an eclipse. He insisted. So I looked further in the map, looking for airports where we could drive for a reasonable amount. New Orleans popped out. An eight hour drive from Dallas, but New Orleans was in my bucket list. From that perspective, it’d be shooting two birds with one stone. And Mike was insisting.

So we went. We spent two glorious days in New Orleans, another driving to Texas, a day and a play in Dallas, another seeing the eclipse, and then got a glimpse of a portion of Southern Louisiana. It felt like enough, even if now I want more.

The trip, of course, was a culinary experience. I already wrote about our culinary adventures in New Orleans. There isn’t much to tell about the Texas part of our trip – I wrote about a chicken restaurant, Eddie and Arthur took us to, but I was too busy enjoying seeing our old friends to take enough mental notes of our other meals there. What’s left is the rest of the food we enjoyed (or not) in Louisiana. Here it is:

Louisiana Eats: Restaurant 1868!

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

If you had asked me before we went to Louisiana where the Tabasco sauce company was located, I might have made a couple of wild guesses but never, in a million years, would I have guessed in a beautiful “island” in southern Louisiana. Not that I ever paid much attention to Tabasco sauce myself, not being a fan of spicy food.

Still, I’d read that 1868! was actually a pretty good Cajun food restaurant, so after touring the amazingly beautiful Avery island, seeing nesting egrets by the hundreds, and even trying some Tabasco flavored ice cream at the gift shop, we headed to 1868! for some lunch.

The restaurant’s menu is very seafood heavy and reflects the Cajun and Creole influences of the area. There are also a couple of specialties of the day. You order and pay at the counter and then find a table. The room is pretty informal, but I liked the old fashioned look with wooden tables and chairs. It’s quite popular with visitors, as the food is solid and not overly expensive for being a tourist attraction.

I had the fish po’boy ($17), which was a breaded fish filet with lettuce on a bun. The fish was really good, it was lightly breaded and nicely spiced. Alas, I didn’t see the point of eating this as a sandwich, so I mostly just ate the fish. It was large enough that the bun or even the accompanied fries weren’t needed.

Mike had me order for him while he went to park or something, and I decided on one of the specials of the day which was crawfish etouffee topped with friend crawfish. Mike liked the fried crawfish, but once again he was disappointed on the rice-heavy etouffee. He really much preferred it at Prejean’s, where the etouffee was served with the rice on the side. Still, he enjoyed it well enough.

For dessert I had an unremarkable bread pudding ($6.25).

In all, 1868! is a convenient restaurant to stop at if you’re visiting Avery island around lunch time, though I wouldn’t make a special trip to eat there.

Avery Island, LA
M-Su: 10:30 AM-2:30 PM

Louisiana Eats: Bon Temps Grill

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

If only the food could have matched the service at this Lafayette restaurant.

Lafayette is supposed to be the capital of Cajun country, and yet there are surprisingly few Cajun restaurants in town. Bon Temps Grill is one of them. It offers a menu of sandwiches, pastas, seafood and grilled meats at relatively moderate prices.

The restaurant is pretty casual, and has a homey atmosphere. It’s clearly patronized by regulars. They have live music at some times. Service was great, our waiter went over the dishes and was very attentive.

I wanted an entree that wasn’t steak or seafood, so I went with the Paneed Chicken Meuniere ($18). It came with servings of mashed sweet potatoes and mashed hot red potatoes. The breaded chicken was fine, the breading could have used some spicing of its own, though I understand not doing so when it’s served with a sauce. However, the sauce was a disappointment. A Meuniere sauce is basically made with brown butter, lemon and parsley, though it can be modified with other ingredients. Here it felt like the butter had burnt too much and they had added too much lemon juice to compensate. Though, of course, it may have been other ingredients which made it both a tad bitter and way too acidic. It had whatever the opposite of an umami flavor is. The sides were as good as mashed sweet potatoes could be, though I should say I have been drifting away from linking potatoes in all of their manifestations.

Mike had the Crawfish Etouffee Pot Pie ($20) at my suggestion, and it was a mistake. Mike usually loves pot pie, and he absolutely adored the crawfish etouffee that he’d had at Prejean’s the day before, but the one here came mixed with rice. That meant that there was more rice than etouffee, and that the rice absorbed most of what might have been a delicious etouffee, so that what was left didn’t have enough flavor. It also meant that there was no sauce to soak the pastry in. I still love the idea of a crawfish etouffee pot pie, and I might make my own version (albeit with shrimp, as we don’t get crawfish in California) when I go back to cooking.

For dessert, I wanted to get the Banana Fosters Bread Pudding ($9) to go – as I was too full to eat dessert right then – but they were out of it. Instead, the waiter brought me a Creme Brulee Cheesecake ($9) to take home with me, and did not charge me. That was very nice of him, but the cheesecake ended up being a disappointment. It basically tasted of “fridge”. Oh well.

I don’t know that I’d go back to Bon Temps Grill if I returned to Lafayette. Given how much we liked Prejeans, I’d probably head there instead.

Bon Temps Grill
1211 W. Pinhook Rd.
Lafayette, LA
(337) 706-8850
Monday-Friday: 11am-10pm
Saturday-Sunday: 10:30am-10pm

Louisiana Eats: Olde Tyme Grocery

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Are these really the best po’boys in Lafayette?

Olde Tyme Grocery was said to have the best po’boy sandwiches in Lafayette, so we headed there for lunch after a morning of exploring the city. Despite its name, Olde Tyme Grocery is actually a sandwich shop with a small grocery area – mostly consisting of drinks and snacks – in it. They have a good variety of po’boys available, which you can get by the half or full.

You make your selection and order at the counter, and you can see the sandwich makers doing their magic behind.

There are several areas to sit, both indoor and outdoors. The area around the garden was quainter, but in full sun, so we sat in this covered patio area. The place is quite informal, as you’d expect for a sandwich joint, and it was a pleasant place to have lunch that April week day.

I ordered a full size meatball po’boy ($12) and I enjoyed it very much. The meatballs were very tasty, had a good proportion of meat to breading and a soft consistency. The sandwich wasn’t overwhelmed by sauce. Half a sandwich was enough for lunch, but our hotel had a fridge and microwave, so I took the other half home for later. All in all, I was very happy with my lunch.

Eating the sandwich was a little bit hard when served, as the heat from the meatballs made the bread pretty soggy and soft, but it actually did better when reheated, as the bread had hardened and I only heated the meatballs until they were warm and not hot.

Mike had half a shrimp po’boy ($9.25) and he was very disappointed. Indeed, this was the first disappointing meal he had in our trip. He thought the shrimp had too much breading, and the breading itself lacked flavor. I don’t think he even finished it.

In all, if we were back in town we might return, but just avoid the breaded seafood sandwiches.

Olde Tyme Grocery
218 West Saint Mary Boulevard
Lafayette, LA
Monday-Friday 8am-10pm
Saturday 9am-7pm

Louisiana Eats: Maison Mouton Bed & Breakfast

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Amazing breakfast at this lovely Lafayette B&B

I didn’t take any photos of breakfast at the Maison Mouton Bed & Breakfast. We stayed there two nights, and thus had two breakfasts, but I didn’t think I’d write about them as such. But hey, why not? I’m writing about almost everything else we ate while in Louisiana.

Maison Mouton is a former plantation house that was remodeled some years ago and turned into a B&B. Slowly, they’ve been remodeling the rooms in other buildings in the property, and they are now in the process of buying adjacent homes and turning them into rooms as well. It’s a very nice property, with some incredibly old and beautiful live oak trees – they also had a water oak tree, but it fell down during a storm while we were there. Our room was beautiful and very comfortable.

Breakfast is served family style on one or two long tables inside the main house – depending on how many guests they have that day -, promptly at 8:30 AM every day. A housekeeper brings you orange juice (bottled) and coffee or tea. Their coffee was actually quite good. This part of Louisiana attracts lots of French tourists, and half of our table was French speaking both mornings we were there.

The table is beautifully set, with flesh flowers, crystal glasses, and nice plates. Our first morning, we were lucky to get Pain Perdu (lost bread), a bread pudding/French toast hybrid, which consists of a home made biscuit, dunk into a sweetened egg-milk-cream mixture and then baked. I can’t tell you how absolutely delicious it is, how silky the consistency was and just how tasty it is. Chef Kimball, the cook, has a video showing how he makes it. I forget what else there was on the plate, I’m sure eggs and some meat, whatever it was, it was clearly overshadowed by the pain perdu.

The second day we had Eggs Mouton, which consisted of potatoes topped with fried eggs and a shrimp sauce. They were served with a biscuit on the side. I’m not an egg eater, but Mike was quite happy with the eggs – his and mine – and loved the shrimp sauce. I loved the biscuits (yes, I took his). It was delicious, and it made me want biscuits. Unfortunately, I don’t want to make biscuits, which means I’ll stay deprived.

I have to give it to Maison Mouton, both the stay and the food were just amazing.

Maison Mouton Bed & Breakfast
338 North Sterling Road
Lafayette, LA

Louisiana Eats: Prejean’s

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Damn that Crawfish Etouffee!

Prejean’s has done for us (or really, for Mike) what few restaurants can ever do: set a standard for a dish. Their crawfish etouffee was so good that even I, who doesn’t like seafood, loved it. But I’m getting ahead of myself. My reviews are stories, so let’s start there.

We had left Natchitoches after trying their meat pies and took the slow way to Lafayette. We stopped at a roadside store advertising pecans (but it was closed), saw a couple of plantations from the road, stopped at the Kent Plantation House (from where we got kicked out, you can only tour the grounds with a tour, and there were none happening when we arrived) and the super quaint Louisiana History Museum, where we got a volunteer tour of every single item displayed in their collection. By the time we were approaching Lafayette, we were hungry – and also, sort of in a hurry because we had scheduled a swamp tour for 4 PM. Prejean’s showed up on Google maps as having well rated Cajun food and being close to the road. Just what we wanted!

As I was to find out later, as I raved about the abovementioned crawfish etouffee to whoever I met, Prejean’s has a very good local reputation. It’s a rather large restaurant, with a prominent bar, an unusual and yet very interesting decore (look at those trees!), a casual vibe and great service. If I were in town again, that’s where I’d head. And really, we should have just eaten there and nowhere else. We went to the Carencro location, north of Lafayette, but they have another in Broussard, right south of the city.

Prejean’s menu is full of Cajun and Southern specialties, as well as all-around American food. They offer several types of gumbos, burgers and po’boys in addition to entrees.

We started with the Gator Bites ($13.6). We’ve seen these in many menus, and we knew we had to try them, but we had been somewhat reluctant. We’d had alligator before – albeit quite a few years ago -, and we’d found it to be unwelcomely chewy. This presentation, on very small bites (almost popcorn alligator) mostly solved that problem, but I still prefer the little resistance that chicken gives you. The bites, served with ranch and “Thai pepper jelly” (aka as Thai sweet chili sauce), were very tasty, though I felt the abundant breading made them a little dry.

As repeatedly foreshadowed, Mike ordered a cup of the Crawfish Etouffee ($12.5). This came from the soups part of the menu, and perhaps for this reason it was served as a soupy dish with the rice by the side – similar to how my jambalaya dish had been served in New Orleans. He was to order crawfish etouffee twice again later, and both times it had been cooked (or perhaps just mixed) with the rice. Having it by itself, was much better. But it was the flavor that really made this dish special. As Mike would describe it, it was as close to perfection as a dish could come. The flavors were intense – but not too intense – and balanced. The broth itself was not too fishy, with notes of crawfish rather than having it be the lead element. But there were abundant pieces of crawfish to do that. In all, order it. Just to to Prejean to order it. Even if like me (or is it I?), you don’t like crawfish.

I decided on the “Da Cou-yon” Burger ($15.6), an 8 oz burger with pepperjack cheese, boudin, grilled onions & peppers, and Avery Island dressing on a buttered burger bun. Needless to say it was a huge burger. It was also difficult to eat as one, as it was too large to fit into my mouth. So basically, it was a fork and knife burger, but a delicious one at that. Boudin – a sausage made with pork, rice, onions and seasonings – has a weird consistency, too soft to be a sausage (think like liver, but less chalky), but the flavor was great. The burger was juicy enough and the combination of flavors worked well. Obviously, Mike had to help me finish it, even leaving aside the top bun and the fries.

I had ordered the White Chocolate Bread Pudding ($8.4), served with whiskey butter sauce, at the start of the meal, but we were too full – and in too much of a hurry to get to our swamp tour – to have it at the restaurant, so we had it to go. Fortunately, our hotel had a fridge and microwave, so I was able to heat up and had it as a snack later. It was just OK. The flavor was god enough, but the pudding as a whole was too dry and hard. I prefer my bread pudding when the bread almost melts in your mouth. The sauce was not very complex, and while it added the sweetness that the bread pudding lacked by itself, I did find it too sweet.

As I mentioned, service was great and our whole experience there was top notch. It’s the place to go if you are ever around Lafayette, Louisiana – and make sure you get some crawfish ettouffee.

3480 NE Evangeline Thruway
Lafayette, LA 70507
(337) 896-3247
Mon-Thu: 10:30am-9:00pm
Fri & Sat: 10:30am-10:00pm
Sun: 10:30am-4:00pm

Louisiana Eats: Lasyone’s Meat Pie Restaurant

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Natchitoches’ version of empanadas could use a better shell

Natchitoches (pronounced “Knock-a-dish”) is famous for two things: its myriad of B&B’s and its meat pies. These oversized empanadas were likely introduced by the Spaniards and were cooked in family kitchens exclusively until 1967 when James Lasyone, a former butcher, opened Lasyone’s Meat Pie Restaurant and slowly gained regional fame. Today, many restaurants in Natchitoches and southern Louisiana serve Natchitoches meat pies, and there is an annual festival celebrating them. Though we weren’t hungry after breakfast, we had to stop by Lasyone’s on our way out of Natchitoches to give them a try.

As mentioned, Natchitoches meat pies are just oversized empanadas – perhaps 50% larger than Argentine ones -, fried on peanut oil, rather than baked. I usually prefer fried empanadas, though I bake them at home to avoid deep frying. Lasyone’s offers only two kinds of empanadas: a meat pie made with 4 parts beef to 1 part pork and a crawfish one.

We liked both. The meat pie ($7) had a very flavorful, tasty filling. The meat had the texture of knife chopped beef rather than ground, and it didn’t have noticeable chunks of fat. Mike particularly liked the crawfish pie ($9), which he found rich and flavorful.

The shell, however, while somewhat flaky, was not chewy enough. It lacked he flexibility of a good fried empanada dough. Though obviously, as an Argentine, I’m really nitpicking here. The point is that both were very good empanadas.

I felt, however, that they were too expensive for what they were. I’m glad we tried them, but I wouldn’t rush to get them again at those prices.

Lasyone’s Meat Pie Restaurant also serves a full menu of Southern breakfast and lunch dishes. Service was fine, though the waitress expressed surprise we were only ordering the meat pies. You order at the table and pay on your way out. The restaurant is very casual, very much like what you’d expect of a little, no-frills breakfast place anywhere in the country.

Lasyone's Meat Pie Restaurant
622 Second St.
Natchitoches, LA
(318) 352.3353
M - W: 7am-2pm
Th - Sa: 7am-3pm

Louisiana Eats: Judge Porter House B&B

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Great breakfast at a darling B&B in Natchitoches

On our way back from Texas, we stopped in Natchitoches (pronounced like “knock a dish”) for the night. Established in 1714, Natchitoches is Louisiana’s oldest settlement. Located by the Red River, it was a prosperous city in the early 19th century, was almost burnt during the Civil War and saw significant decline during the 20th century. But in the 1970’s, a visionary mayor saw its potential as a tourist destination, both as a base for water related activities and for touring nearby plantations. This led to a massive renovation of old buildings which were turned into bed and breakfasts. Today, Natchitoches has about 18,000 citizens and 50 B&Bs!

Natchitoches appeals to local tourism, so its buzzing from Thursdays to Sundays and sleepy from Mondays to Wednesdays. We got there on a Monday night, and thus we had our choice of B&Bs. I chose the Judge Porter House because I liked the looks of the building with its second floor veranda.

The house and the room were beautiful, and I hope to write a review of them, but this is a review of the breakfast we had there – a two course affair served at the dining room.

Breakfast was at individual tables for two. That day we were one of two parties staying in the house. It’s at 8:00 AM sharp. The housekeeper/cook brings the food to you.

The tables were beautifully laid out, and the juice was some non-alcoholic cocktail which I found pleasant, but not compelling. The coffee was quite good.

The first course was a delicious raspberry croissant bread pudding. I love the idea of making bread pudding with croissants, and I might try it myself once I go back to cooking. It was served warm and was a great start to breakfast.

The second course consisted of eggs benedict with cheesy grits. Mike enjoyed the eggs very much, both his and mine and I don’t eat eggs. I thought the grits were fine, but while I like grits more than Mike does, I am not that big a fan of them.

The housekeeper/cook/waitress, whose name I can’t remember, a Boston transplant, was delightful. She was very personable, friendly and just amenable, in addition to a great cook. She made our brief stay and breakfast even better.

Judge Porter House
321 2nd St
Natchitoches, LA
(318) 352-9206

Chain Restaurant Reviews:: Whataburger

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Some of the best fast food burgers we’ve had.

Before our trip to Louisiana, I’d never heard of Whataburger. That just shows my ignorance. Founded in Texas in 1950, Whataburger is a regional chain with over 1,000-restaurants, mostly located in Texas but slowly expanding into surrounding states. It doesn’t have any restaurants in California, however. They have twenty five locations in Louisiana, including two in Natchitoches.

We had arrived rather late at Natchitoches, after driving back from Dallas after the eclipse and encountering some foul weather in the way, and our choices of places to dine were limited. That was a blessing in disguise, as it gave us the opportunity to try this burger chain, which we probably wouldn’t have otherwise. And I’m glad we did. As far as fast food burgers go, these are as good as they come.

The fast food set up is similar to most fast food restaurants, and the ambiance – which I didn’t photograph – looked like a fast food joint. It was very clean and, at least at that late hour, seemed well staffed – they brought our food to the table.

They ask you if you want spicy ketchup with your meal – it’s not that much spicier and not that remarkable. I was happy to see that you can substitute fries with onions rings.

Their menu actually had a lot of yummy-sounding choices, but I went with the Avocado Bacon Burger meal ($13.4). It consists of a beef patty served in Texas toast with American cheese, bacon, avocado, diced onions and creamy pepper. It was very good for a fast food burger and the sandwich was huge. It came with onion rings and a large drink. The avocado was actual avocado, and not guacamole. It’s not cheap, but you get what you pay for. I’d definitely have it again. The onion rings were fine, pretty generic.

Mike had the Sweet & Spicy Bacon Burger meal ($12.7), which consisted of a patty in a burger bun with American and Monterey Jack cheese, bacon, grilled onions, sweet & spicy sauce and mustard. He also liked his burger. The fries were fine, but frankly, the burgers were so large that we couldn’t really bother with the fries.

I did get an apple pie ($1.75) for dessert just to try them. It was very similar to the old McDonalds’ apple pies when they were fried. I’d say that the pastry was thicker than McDonald’s, and overall it was less yummy, but it’s definitely better than their current baked apple pies.

5123 University Pkwy
Natchitoches, LA
(318) 581-4591
Open 24 hours

Dining in Texas: Babe’s Chicken Dinner House

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

Great fried chicken in fun surroundings

We had two goals for our trip to Dallas: seeing the eclipse and visiting with our old friends Eddie and Arthur. They had selfishly moved back to Texas when our kids were little. I’m still really sad, and we miss them terribly.

Our first night together, Eddie and Arthur took us to one of their favorite restaurants: Babe’s Chicken Dinner House. Babe’s is a small chain of ten restaurants all in and around the Dallas-Fort Worth area; we went to the Burleson location. They are beautifully decorated with cottage-style houses and chickens everywhere. I can imagine this would be a favorite family restaurant – little girls, in particular, are likely to swoon over the decorations.

Babe’s menu is limied to fried chicken, fried chicken tenders, chicken fried steak and hickory smoked chicken (all $19), fried catfish ($20) and a vegetable plate ($11). Even in Texas they figured families often have a vegetarian they need to bring along to dinner. All meals come with sides which are served family style: house salad, green beans, corn, mashed potatoes, buttermilk biscuits and cream gravy.

Texas may not be the South per se, but coming from Louisiana I was still thinking in those terms, so I was excited to get some southern fried chicken. I’m not sure that it would differ from any other fried chicken – it seems like all our fried chicken chains originate in the South anyway, and it’s not like I make it myself (though I did try my hand at Delaware fried chicken some time back). Still, like most others at the table, I ordered the fried chicken and it was very good. The chicken was very moist, the breading was super crisp and the pieces were a nice size. The only minus is that you can only order a mixed portion or drumsticks, not just dark meat. It wasn’t a big deal, however. Alas, I didn’t try any of the other entrees. I know that Eddie got fried catfish and Arthur got the smoked chicken; they must be good given they keep ordering them when they visit.

There was so much chicken to be eaten, that we really didn’t try all the sides. The exception was the buttermilk biscuits which were excellent. They bring both honey and sorghum syrup to the table, and they were both good – the latter has a rich flavor, similar to molasses. I learned here – from Eddie – that in the south you biscuits in half and butter the whole half.

We also liked the mashed potatoes, and someone was fond of the salad as it didn’t last long, but we didn’t try the other sides.

Service was great, the waiters were very accommodating and efficient. They did not rush us out even when we stayed well over closing time. Alas, Babe’s is one of those places that likes to humiliate waiters by making them perform – apparently they force them to perform the hokey pokey for waiters. Patrons love it but waiters hate it (I asked).

Of course, the company was even better than the food but I was very happy to try this place. And boy, do we miss Eddie and Arthur.

Babe's Chicken Dinner House
120 South Main St
Burleson, TX
(817) 447-3400
M-F: 11 AM - 2 PM & 5 PM - 9 PM
Sa & Su: 11 AM - 9 PM