Many of the stoplights at major intersections in Louisiana are very long. But they are very fair and when it is one’s turn, the lights stay on long enough for many cars to move forward.
Day 1 - The trip began with some Texas stops. I knew that I wanted to stop in Lufkin at the Atkinson Candy Factory store and buy big bags of sugar free candies. In this month of June, I decided to bring my triglycerides down. When I crave something sweet, I default to a sugar free option. Plus, my friend Kaiser, who must watch his sugar too, well I’ll enjoy sharing some of these “sweets” with him.
And so, first day. The wonderful antique shops in Lufkin were closed and I just walked around main street. Ditto in Nacogdoches. An excellent coffee at Java Jacks and then a so-so lunch at Clear Springs Café.
Clear Springs touted their “famous onion rings” but they weren’t that big a deal, certainly not De Weese’s Tip Top Café quality. Recently, I asked around Facebook food groups and got some local recommendations that I’ll be trying in 2022. The gumbo at Clear Springs was no big deal either. Again, a fun place, but I’d go for a burger the next time I visit.
Heading out of Nacogdoches along those wonderful East Texas roads full of pine trees and curving two lanes.
Arriving in Shreveport. I play The Shreveport Stomp on my stereo to get into the mood. I had opted for a Home Wood Suites (home wood, #notaeuphemism) and with taxes, my lovely suite with a king-size bed was $150 with all the taxes. Breakfast included but, heck, I wasn’t about to eat there when I had places to explore. I went out for gas and saw lines at several stations and began to worry that there was a gas shortage, and me, with a near empty tank. But no. It was just that prices were lower in the area and people were taking advantage of that.
I went online and researched “oldest restaurants in Shreveport”. I also had read about a local specialty called “stuffed shrimp”. A flattened shrimp is wrapped with boudin or sausage dressing and spices, battered and deep fried. I chose Orlandeaux’s as my place for dinner.
Orlandeaux’s sitting at the bar, the bartender who served me was terrific. I had the gumbo and 1 stuffed shrimp. It was flavorful, but dry, almost tough, with a thick batter. I had the gumbo and 1 stuffed shrimp. It was flavorful, but dry, almost tough, with a thick batter. I guessed that it was based on a shrimp wrapped with boudin or other sausage dressing, spices, and a thick batter that toughened up when it was deep fried.
Gumbo was okay and I was to learn that most Shreveport gumbos lean toward the thicker more flour forward profile…not one I particularly like. If you’ve ever had the gumbo at Goode Company, you’ll know what I mean. And so, another one of those “historically significant” places with an unmemorable meal. Authentic, I’m sure, but not to my personal tastes.
I also came to realize that no one was putting okra in their gumbos, in my whole trip. And that the trinity was dissolved into the gumbo, no chunks in any of the gumbos I had.
Day 2: An incredibly early start in search of gas and no problem getting my tank filled. The early start was to go to an Albertson’s that local spice company Bayou Magic had said was the first place to stock their products. I’ve become a fan of their salt free spice mixes. I was to learn that the Albertson’s on Southfield didn’t carry them but a One Stop down the road did. Later in the trip I discovered Tubb’s Hardware in Bossier City, that has just about every Cajun spice on the market.
Second stop was a Ralph’s Place for the stuffed beignets. I ordered the stuffed beignet (sausage, cheese, egg) but fortunately got just regular ones, which were excellent. The local coffee roaster is Rhino Coffee, and I had my first Rhino here. Followed by a visit to their downtown location, where I shopped for Rhino souvenirs for friend Beth. Inluding a cool "Caffeinated" t shirt that would be a good ice breaker later on in the trip. You see, in Houston, I can't wear Houston themed coffee t shirts cause if I'm in one of my favorite places, I don't want to be advertising somewhere else. So I buy and wear Louisiana coffee themed shirts in Houston when I'm not wearing a cat shirt. Two blends, both excellent.
I visited two downtown casinos, Sam’s Town, and Bally’s to have a look around. At Bally’s, I put $20 in a slot machine, and 3 minutes later, I was $20 poorer. I called my cousin, Jill, who knows her way around casinos to commiserate and have a laugh. She told me she’d teach me how to gamble at a future date.
I decided to check out the Louisiana State Museum of Exhibits. Not expecting much, I was impressed. I loved this museum. History, dioramas, information of agriculture, the War of 1812, the Star-Spangled Banner. The exhibits are in a circular building. And I walked through twice.
Next stop was the Railroad Museum and the Water Works Museum, located together. As a retired mechanical engineer, specializing in pumps, that Water Works was fascinating. All these old Worthington and Allis Chalmers pumps to view. And great history.
This got me to lunch. Just driving around exploring the city. What seemed overwhelming at first turned out to be very manageable and I passed by many of the restaurants that were listed.
I went to Herby K’s. And loved it. The staff was great. I learned some history. I had a good gumbo. And their “shrimpbuster” sandwich. Good eats.
That brought me into the afternoon and a visit with fencing master Adam at his Fencing Academy and museum. I had fenced in college. I hung out and watched some of the action with the students.
I had heard about historically, culturally and aesthetically significant Strawn’s, famous for their icebox pies. I ordered the oft mentioned strawberry pie and it was okay but no big deal. Whipped cream (actually tasted like that stabilized whipped cream like House of Pies uses) and strawberries in a pie crust.
Day 3 – A day to head down south. I decided just to check out the town of Coushatta for the fun of it. A sweet little town with not much happening but en route, I came across the Ed Lester Farm with some amazing produce. Including a giant cantaloupe, shishito peppers, beautiful bell peppers, and peaches and more (which I wish I had bought).
After Coushatta, Natchitoches. The last time, I had gotten to Lasyone’s too late. Not this time. I made sure I was there in time to enjoy a crawfish pie, a meat pie, and a gumbo. I love arriving at a restaurant just as SYSCO is making their delivery, as you can see some of the kitchen’s secrets. In this case, the SYSCO frozen sweet dough! Darn fine pies, crunchy, with excellent seasoning. Though I missed out on their strawberry pie, which I had spied, and it looked delicious, but was sold before I could get a piece.
I walked around the town, along the Cane River. I love this town.
Online, I had chanced upon a reference to two Army Navy Surplus stores in Leesville. I thought I’d look for a flight suit, like in Top Gun. And I got lucky. I went to both places, was intrigued by the local accents, would have loved to just record the conversations I had.
Now, getting to Leesville had seen me accidentally take some back roads with a speed limit of 50. Sometimes the Google Maps isn’t the most optimum. And so, I made sure to ignore the route back to 49 it had mapped out for me and use my best judgement. And I am so glad that I did.
Back on 49, cruising at 80, I saw a billboard for Lea’s Lunch in LeCompte. Famous for pies. Had to go. Got there just at closing but also, they told me they had completely sold out early. Walking back to my car, and I was wearing my “Caffeinated” t shirt from Rhino, a husband and wife couple in a big Suburban complimented me on it. I learned that he was a coffee roaster himself! They hadn’t gotten there in time for pie either and were heading back to home in Arnaudville. And I remarked “That’s where I’m going next!” I told him about my notes from Tanji Patton’s show and he confirmed my choices as good ones.
I started at Bayou Teche Brewery / Cajun Saucer Stellar Pizza. I had the best hard seltzer I’ve ever had, not your White Claw stuff. A watermelon seltzer. A Cajun cover of The Levee Song by Zep was playing on the sound system, and it was awesome. Isle Derniere and Quand La Levée.
The pizzas feature local Cajun sausage, tasso, et al. There is even a gumbo pizza. So a couple of slices to taste and on to The Little Big Cup for supper. This was gumbo and their Cajun corn bread, which was a kind of cornbread dressing square, frozen, deep-fried til crunchy. It was pretty good. The menu here, well, I wanted to try everything on it and will definitely plan a return.
There wasn’t a place to stay in Arnaudville so I booked another Home Wood Suites in Lafayette for $125 a night. A drive around for orientation. Another guest tells me that Chris’s, just around the corner has great po-boys. Next time. We also chat about Old Tyme for po-boys. I’ve been there and it is great.
Day 4 – Again, an early rise, as I knew I wanted to be at Reve Coffee. Sampling several coffees, buying three different ones for home. Tempted to buy their t shirts as they are always great. I joke that sometimes, places that have great t shirts don’t have great coffee or food. Inversely proportional. But Reve hits it out of the ballpark.
Walking around downtown Lafayette. And the Acadian Museum opens early. And I discover the works of a local, eccentric artist, the late Leroy Evans and absolutely love everything about his works. The colors, the story they tell. I remark to one of the staff that in Victorian England, where one saw a rising middle to class of merchants, a new group of wealthy people, wanting to buy art. But as businessmen they wanted to “get their money’s worth” and so they went for art that told stories, Greek and Roman mythology, pretty girls doing things, etc. Author Brian Aldiss said, “often it would be a scene where something was about to happen, a kind of what happens next?” in the painting. And I felt drawing to the Leroy Evans paintings in the same way. There was a story hidden in each one, resulting in me wanting to revisit the paintings several times.
Departing Lafayette, next stop would be Abbeville. This was where I dined at Dupuy’s, yet another historically significant restaurant. Food again was good but not great. The famous crab cake that many say is “to die for” left me cold. A thick doughy center that didn’t impress. Gumbo was good and I was happy to be in Cajun country where the gumbo is thinner, a preference.
High point of Abbeville was shopping for pecan oil and having the most marvelous conversation with Tina, owner of The Depot gift shop. We talked cooking of course.
Time to head back home. Slowly. From Abbeville to Kaplan, passing sugar cane fields, rice fields, full of cranes. On to Rayne for a second lunch at Chef Roy’s Frog City Café. Closed. Next time. And now, on to I-10 with only one more stop. At Nina-P’s in Lake Charles for gumbo. Seafood gumbo and sausage gumbo. Same roux. No big deal. Though the media had rated them “Best in SWLA”. Cute place, but I don’t need to go back.
Just when you cross into Texas, there is a Tourist Center with brochures for every region. But more important, it is home to the Blue Elbow Swamp. They’ve built a walking pier that goes over the swamp so that you can get a real feel for it. Highly recommended.