AUTHENTIC LAFAYETTE, LOUISIANA
Bons Temps Rouler (let the good times roll)
By Linda Kissam ‘Food, Wine & Shopping Diva’
From swamp boat tours to rum tasting, zydeco breakfasts and tours of the Tabasco Factory, travel writer Linda Kissam ‘Food, Wine & Shopping Diva’, Benjamin J. Berthelot – President & CEO of Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, and Captain Tucker Friedman – Owner of Atchafalaya Basin Landing & Marina, share what makes Lafayette such a unique and fun destination, on Big Blend Radio.
Ladies and Gentleman. Foodies, wine aficionados, beer lovers, shoppers, bowlers and fellow travelers. Come along with me to experience the authentic Lafayette, Louisiana and… Bons Temps Rouler (let the good times roll)!
Lafayette is considered to be the center of Acadiana, the area of Cajun and Louisiana Creole culture in the state. It developed following the relocation of Acadians after their expulsion by the British from eastern Canada in the late 18th century following France’s defeat in the Seven Years’ War. There is still a strong Louisiana Creole influence in the area, as this mixed-race population became landowners and businesspeople.
It is located on the West Gulf Coastal Plain. The site was part of the seabed during the early Quaternary Period. During this time, the Mississippi River cut a 325-foot-deep valley between what is now Lafayette and Baton Rouge. The valley was filled and is now the Atchafalaya Basin. Lafayette is located on the western rim of this valley.
During my week-long stay in Lafayette I let myself get lost in the traditions, the glam and the excitement. Not glam and excitement like Disneyland or New York, but small town American wonderful. This town is as authentic as it gets. In Lafayette, history and lore don’t merely live in books on a shelf; they’re reflected in everyday lives. The music, the bayou, the regional foods all combine to make this one of my best Diva Approved Small Town Stops, ever.
There are lots of unique things to do in Lafayette, Louisiana, but here are my top choices in lodging, day-time activities, nightlife and restaurants to get you on the road. The foods, flavors, music, and people of southern Louisiana are so infused with French and Cajun culture, it boggles the mind. This is the kind of place you visit in the spring and fall for a REALLY really good time. Just sayin’.
Doubletree by Hilton Lafayette – Look out your hotel window to see the banks of the Bayou Vermilion. Location, convenience and regional beauty is what the Doubletree offers…and it’s a few short minutes by free hotel shuttle, from the Lafayette Regional Airport. Amenities include a complimentary 24-hour business center, complimentary Wi-Fi, outdoor pool and deck overlooking the bayou, 24-hour fitness center, convention facilities, on-site restaurant and bar and gracious comfortable rooms. Located at 1521 W. Pinhook Rd. Lafayette, LA 70503, Tel: (337) 235-6111
Breakfast at The French Press – The French Press may look at first glance as a casual dining restaurant, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find it is noted as one of SAVEUR Magazine’s Top 100 Inspiring Places and Things to Eat (Jan/Feb 2013), and rated as one of Urban Spoon’s Top Breakfast Restaurants in the country (2013). James Beard nominated, Chef Justin Girouard showcases his talents through maple kissed bacon, yummy breakfast sandwiches and a home-made granola you won’t soon forget. Located at 214 E. Vermilion St. Lafayette, LA 70501
Zydeco Breakfast at Buck & Johnny’s – Every Saturday morning, Buck & Johnny’s is transformed into a Zydeco dancehall featuring breakfast with Cajun music and dancing. Twirling, foot stomping dancers take to the floor to dance to their favorite Zydeco bands. Come in solo or with a group. Everyone gets to dance. There’s even some side teaching going on to help newcomers. The most fun anyone could possibly have and the food is outstanding. You have never done anything like this before. It is a must do. Located at 100 Berard St Breaux Bridge, LA 70517
Lunch at Laura’s II – This is a huge local’s favorite, located in a strip mall. No pretense here, just great food. Come in the door, check out the menu, order/point to what you want. The crew puts it all together into a styrofoam container and you’re in for the taste of your life. If you want a taste of down-home soul food cooking, this would be the stop. Laura Williams started Laura’s II soul food restaurant in memory of her Grandma Laura, in 2000. The beloved original recipes are intact. The line to get in is often out the door, so be patient. Lots and lots of takeout going on, but comfortable seating is available inside. The main attraction is the stuffed and baked turkey wing. Think BIG, meaty, stuffed with garlic, black and cayenne pepper, with the top layer of skin, “crisped to a fine crackling from a final heat burst under the broiler.” Laura’s II was featured in an episode on the CNN original series, “Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown,” which aired June 17, 2018, which made her even better known. But seriously, this place is beloved without any help from the experts. Located at 1904 W University Ave., Lafayette, LA 70506
Tapas and Absinthe Tasting at Pamplona Tapas Bar – Pamplona Tapas Bar and Restaurant is located in downtown Lafayette, Louisiana. Lafayette is finding their way to creating a thriving culinary hub. Several restaurants can be found in the downtown district, but this one is quite unique. It’s a good place to stop in when you’re in the mood for more of a bistro-style ambiance featuring delicious small plates, or tapas. Farm-fresh seasonal products, freshly slaughtered meats and seafood are a focus that offers a Spanish attitude. I encourage you to make your dinner one of tapas plates to share with your guests. Order one of their creative cocktails or wine from an extensive list of Spanish wines. For the ultimate treat, order off the absinthe menu. This spirit, once thought to be hallucinogenic, was illegal for decades and was unavailable until recently. Try it by the glass or call ahead to reserve the full absinthe tableside treatment. Located at 631 Jefferson St. Lafayette, LA 70501
Dinner at Randol’s Cajun Restaurant – What can you say when a ‘bigger than life’ stuffed alligator greets you on the way in? This is a fun, down home kind of place. Owner “Jimmy” has done everything he can to make this place great tasting, fun, affordable, and continually evolving. Great for solos, date night families, and group gatherings. Casual dining looks over the two steppin’, toe tappin’ dance floor featuring Cajun music and dancing. I loved this place. P.S. – try the fried pickles. Divine. Located at 2320 Kaliste Saloom Rd. Lafayette, LA 70508. Tel: (337) 981-7080
Dinner and Music in the Courtyard at Café Vermilionville – This restaurant has a historical vibe while still feeling trendy. It’s an excellent place to experience a piece of South Louisiana history. Ohhhhh the (ghost) stories this place can and does tell. The owners take pride in all aspects of the business. Dining is classic Louisiana cuisine with a modern twist. Everything is delicious. We were there during a concert series. The place, the food and the music provided an experiential evening of culinary fabulousness. Café Vermilionville is owned by Ken and Andrea Veron. Before transforming into a restaurant, the building that is now Café Vermilionville had many previous lives. It served as an inn, infirmary, beauty shop, antique store, private residence and a bar before its final incarnation as a restaurant in 1981. The seasonal dishes are created with locally-sourced ingredients. Make sure you come in the fall and spring for their exquisite Courtyard Series. Located at 1304 W. Pinhook Rd. Lafayette, LA 70503
Dinner at Sainte Marie in Rock ‘n’ Bowl de Lafayette – The famous Mid-City Rock ‘n’ Bowl originally from New Orleans is now open in Lafayette as Rock ‘n’ Bowl de Lafayette. Located in downtown Lafayette, it is a curious mix of fine dining, cool bar, bowling, live music and dancing all under one roof. I would have never have guessed from the entrance that this was a grand, master-planned activity center. It’s a hard concept to get your head around unless you have been there. Somehow the parts are separate, but work together. The fine dining experience is sheltered at one end. If you didn’t know there was bowling alley attached, you would never guess. The entrance is very chic, as are the menu and dining areas. Walk down an unassuming hallway, a man asks for your ID and gives you a wrist band. Take a left at the end of the hallway and you are dazzled by another cool bar and working bowling alleys next to a large dance floor and raised platform for the many Zydeco bands that perform throughout the evening. Upstairs is yet another bar – a private one – and several small open concept “suites” guests can rent. There’s also a medium-sized party room for rent. This place has it all and you should definitely check it out. Located at 905 Jefferson St, Lafayette, LA 70501
Dinner at Blue Dog Café – Blue Dog Café is the place to end and celebrate your exploration of Lafayette. It’s a landmark establishment with rich, deep vibes. Music was of course part of the dining experience, but this time it was a soft jazz ensemble. It is very close to the hotel. I think the hotel shuttle will take you there and back. When I was there, new Executive Chef Ryan Trahan, was debuting. His menu was full of some very creative items right alongside some culinary classics. Artist George Rodrigue helped to open Blue Dog Cafe in 2000. The restaurant is known around the region for serving Cajun cuisine and celebrating the legendary artist’s depictions of Acadiana culture in his famous Blue Dog series of paintings. It is a fascinating place. The paintings are whimsical, but touching. Part of the dining experience is to get up and stroll around the restaurant to view the many Blue Dog paintings. Highly recommend. Located at 1211 W. Pinhook Rd. Lafayette, LA 70503
Sainte Marie in Rock ‘n’ Bowl de Lafayette – This is a rocking place. Locals love it and it’s perfect for tourists to get their 2-step on or enjoy racking up points in the bowling alley. Highly recommend. Located at 905 Jefferson St, Lafayette, LA 70501
Blue Moon Saloon – If you like funky and unique, you’ll like this place. It opened April 2002 on the back porch of the Blue Moon Guesthouse. So you can listen to music, have a drink and rent a room. Think rustic honky-tonk where all kinds and attitudes are welcome. As the locals say, “It has become a meeting place where world travelers, community organizations, families, artists and politicians rub elbows, dance, drink a few and thank their lucky stars they have the good fortune to spend an evening together in Lafayette, LA.” Located at 215 East Convent Street, Lafayette, LA 70501
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve-Acadian Cultural Center – The Acadian Cultural Center tells stories of the origins, migration, settlement and contemporary culture of the Acadians (Cajuns) and other area groups. Stop in to explore exhibits, displays, and a film that shares the story of the Acadians (Cajuns) who settled the bayous, swamps, and wetlands of southeastern Louisiana. Fascinating and worth the visit. Kids can earn a junior ranger badge when they visit. Located at 501 Fisher Rd. Lafayette, LA 70508
Tour Vermilionville – Vermilionville, is a living history museum and folk life park. Guests walk through a section with restored original homes and local artisans in period costumes provide demonstrations on a variety of essential crafts performed by the early settlers. The artisans are happy to talk with visitors about what they are doing. They are well versed in the cultural resources of the Acadian, Native American and Creole people from the time period 1765 to 1890. The park sits on 23-acres on the banks of the Bayou Vermilion. A fun, interactive activity for anyone of any age. Located at 300 Fisher Rd. Lafayette, LA 70508. Tel: (337) 233-4077
Rank Wildcat Spirits – South Louisiana’s One-of-a-Kind Rum Distillery Rank Wildcat Spirits is Acadiana’s first distiller of fine spirits. Owned and operated by David C. Meaux, a local landman (an individual who performs various services for oil and gas exploration companies) turned-distiller, Rank Wildcat Spirits is the second fully-licensed, up-and-running rum distillery in Louisiana since the end of Prohibition. The facility is small, but “très” interesting. David is determined, entertaining and informative… and his rum is out of this world. Refined goodness is the best description I give you. Small lot production for now. But watch out for this guy, he’s a rock star in the making. Call for directions: 337-257-3385
Tabasco Tour – Who knew a tour of the TABASCO® Pepper Sauce Factory would be so fun? Celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2018 this is quite an adventure. Wear flat shoes, there’s lots of walking and tourists everywhere. It’s a haven for bus tours. The back story on the beloved Pepper Sauce you see everywhere is fascinating. The exhibits are fresh and new. Guests can view artifacts from TABASCO® Sauce’s founding family; see the growing process of pepper plants from seedlings to full-grown; visit the mash warehouse for a peek at the aging process; view and smell the aromas of the stirring vats; and learn about the company’s bottling and shipping process around the world. Worth the $5 ticket fee. Located at Hwy. 329 Avery Island, LA 70513
Cooking School at Tabasco’s 1868 – This was a memorable activity for me. The funny, obstinate, quirky Chef Lionel Robin is a hoot to take a cooking class from. He keeps the one hour class lively as he shares secrets for recreating TABASCO® inspired Southern cuisine. I learned a lot from this class, including how to cook with Tabasco with a light hand. Each dish he prepared was tasty and not overdone. As the class explored new twists on traditional flavors we laughed our way through lunch. The recipes I received are simple and doable at home. This is a must do. See the Tabasco Ice Cream Recipe on BlendRadioandTV.com
A Taste of the Cajun Boudin Trail – Get up early and head out to the Boudin Trail for breakfast. Boudin is a combination of cooked rice, pork, onions, green peppers, and seasonings. The mixture is slightly pulverized in a meat grinder before being stuffed into a sausage casing. Each restaurant makes it differently, fiercely guarding their proprietary recipe. Since Lafayette is in the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun Country, all things boudin can be found everywhere. Stand-alone mom and pop shops like Johnson’s Boucaniere are a real treat. Order your favorite combination at the counter and eat on the patio. After you eat, ask for a tour of their facilities. It’s fascinating. Find other purveyors in grocery stores, drive-throughs, restaurants and gas stations. The town of Scott in Lafayette Parish even holds the title of “Boudin Capital of the World”.
Wine Tasting at MySomm – We can’t forget searching for the best wine place. MySomm fits the bill. Located in upscale part of town, this smallish wine shop is a blast. Owner Ben Leger began his career as a busboy at Catahoula’s Restaurant in Grand Coteau at the age of 15. At 19, he was named General Manager and put in charge of the restaurant’s wine list. This is where his passion for wine really began. At 21 Ben passed the Introductory Exam from the Court of Master Sommeliers and at 23 became Lafayette’s youngest Sommelier after passing the Court’s Certified Exam. Ben’s shop, MySomm, is all about sharing his love for food and wine with others. Go in and taste a few wines any day of the week. You can call ahead and arrange a private tasting with Ben. Maybe the best part of exploring this place was watching Ben give wine recommendations to members of the group who wanted to take wines home. Many of the wines are small lot beauties or allocated wines. The wines ran from very affordable to high-end. Good for him. Ben listens carefully to get the gist of what you’re looking for. His spot-on recommendations assured me this guy is in it for the love of all things wine. Located at 101 Settlers Trace Blvd, Lafayette, LA 70508
Downtown Alive! – Downtown Alive! is a weekly tradition and celebration in Downtown Lafayette on Friday evenings in the spring and fall. When I was there, the place was packed. People were dancing everywhere, clapping and singing along. Celebrating 35 years the 35 Alive! Extravaganza featured a long list of people and bands. Perhaps the best, to my taste, was Chubby Carrier. I had no idea who he was before, but I will never forget him. This quote might say it best. “One word to describe the swampdelic sounds of Chubby Carrier and Bayou Swamp Band? Fun. Pure Louisiana zydeco fun with a hot sauce chaser.” If you have a chance to see him perform, do it. I understand he is a regular at Zydeco Breakfast at Buck & Johnny’s. I did see him there also. He had the crowd up and moving. Memorable is a word I would use for his performances.More at www.lafayettetravel.com/events/concert-series/downtown-alive/
LA Marketshops at the 115 – Known as a, “Retail therapy headquarters, funky shops featuring local Louisiana Art, Antiques, gifts, and Louisiana products,” there were a ton of places to indulge. Unfortunately we had limited time and there was a lunchtime concert going on, BUT, I did manage to slip into the Sans Souci Gallery. It’s a wow. I purchased several glass items. Prices range from moderate to expensive. Everything is made locally. Whether you purchase something or not, it’s worth your time to explore. Located at 2942-C Grand Point Rd. Henderson, LA 70517 or call (337) 501-6022
Airboat Tour with Atchafalaya Basin Landing – Oh my gosh, this was the “it” experience of the trip for me. Sliding swiftly but gracefully across the water, our guide, Tucker Friedman, who has been making a way of life on the Bayou since he was a kid, kept us up close and personal among the ancient mossy cypress trees, majestic bodies of water, and of course, the alligators of the Atchafalaya Basin. By the end we were enchanted, informed and engaged. He’s a bit of an “alligator whisperer.” He delighted with stories of the local wildlife and we admired his innate skill (or maybe it was the bag of chicken bits) to call the alligators to him. A few pats on the head and a belly rub or two were more than what they initially looked like. Tucker was looking for signs of illness or foreign objects imbedded in his alligator’s skin. Guess Tucker could have lost a finger or two if he hit the wrong spot…but he loves those alligators… so he says it’s worth the risk. As always, it seems there is always the ecological “side” versus the political “side” of how the swamp came to be and where it is headed now. Tucker did a good job weaving a story of hope, glory and a need to watch out for this magnificent resource. Do not think of this as a Disneyland type tour. This is a gritty but wonderful celebration of a natural entity. Located at 1377 Henderson Levee Rd. Henderson, LA.
Lafayette Convention & Visitors Bureau