Beyond Cajun: Baton Rouge attracting authentic food connoisseurs
September, 3, 2017, Baton Rouge, Louisiana- Baton Rouge, Louisiana has a food ethos all its own. Its culinary scene has simmered slowly over time from a mélange of cultures that pepper the landscape with a surprising variety of cuisines. While you can always find the classically fried shrimp po’boy and Creole dishes, these, by no means, define this city.
Today’s Baton Rouge includes food seasoned with unique spice and herb combinations, flavorful meats, innovative pop-ups, delectable desserts, and food festivals galore.
Nestled alongside the Mississippi, the 450-foot tall state capital is the tallest such structure in the United States and can be seen from many parts of the city. Huey Long, Louisiana’s famous (many say infamous) 40th governor was known for his powerful and shady political influence. He was not only responsible for the construction of the building but was also assassinated there in 1935.
Good local food, however, transcends structures and politics and is ingrained in its people. Ask just about anyone who grew up here and they will proudly tell you about learning how to make their family’s version of gumbo, jambalaya, roux, and étouffée. In fact, many locals have two identities: their day jobs and then their culinary alter egos.
This includes brunch passionate lawyer turned foodie blogger Franz N. Borghardt (BRbrunches.com) and government employee Jay Ducote, who transformed himself into a radio talk show host and was a runner up on Season 11 of Food Network Star. His blog, BiteandBooze, is wildly popular with locals.
One of the reasons, in fact, to follow blogs like these is to find out the locations for last minute pop-ups (temporary restaurants) throughout the city. For example, Ducote’s Government Taco (so named for his future brick and mortar establishment being constructed as part of the larger food hall White Star Market on Government Street opening in January 2018) is sometimes featured in a pop-up. The Boullia Babes Catering Company also does pop-up installations, making incredible sandwiches like their Sammich of smoked turkey, capicola ham, Calabrese salami, muenster cheese, house pickles, onion, and lemon rosemary aioli on pressed French bread.
If you are visiting for the first time and only have a few days, here is a thumbnail sketch for the ultimate tasting tour of Baton Rouge.
Start at Red Stick Spice Company where Anne Milneck has created an oasis of spices, herbs, and artisanal foods from Southern Louisiana. If they are offering cooking classes during your visit, then do avail yourself of these as Anne is an amazing cook and storyteller.
Her Tart au la Bouille creamy pie recipe from her childhood will be one you will want to make as soon as you return home.
For a progressive dinner, make a reservation at Cocha, one of the hottest downtown spots. Owned by a married couple, this eatery serves globally inspired and locally-sourced cuisine that is inspired by their native Venezuelan and Dutch backgrounds.
Start with fried yucca root with avocado salsa ($5), then the lavender lamb chops with grilled squash and honey herb sauce ($14). These are but a sample of the palate-pleasing items on the menu.
Next, head to Magpie Café, a community café that serves breakfast and lunch as well as libations and dishes prepared from seasonal ingredients. Their shrimp stuffed avocado paired with the Soul of Tijuana cocktail is delicious ($9). Magpie is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
For breakfast, Zeeland Street Market is a neighborhood eatery owned by Stephanie Phares, whose motto is come in as a customer, leave as a friend. Her Hash Brown O’Brien with sautéed bell pepper and onions, mozzarella, and cheddar cheese is a local favorite ($5.99).
Located in Mid City, Tiger Deaux-nuts creates gourmet donuts like strawberry cream cheese and honey glazed vanilla. But for the authentic Baton Rouge experience, sample their breakfast sandwich made with boudin (pork and rice combination), sharp cheddar cheese, and maple sauce on a grilled donut bun ($5.50).
At Brew Ha-Ha!, Gabby Loubiere-Higgins bakes a delectable little confection called cake balls. These bite-sized circles of joy contain sweet, moist cake and come in a variety of flavors such as pumpkin spice, red velvet, white chocolate macadamia nut, strawberry, lemon, blueberry lemon, carrot, and an icing-covered Oreo.
If you’ve never had a Muffaletta, you simply must visit Anthony’s, the oldest Italian deli in Baton Rouge (37 years). This Italian-inspired sandwich is a layered combination of mortadella, ham, Genoa salami, capicola, and provolone cheese with their own famous olive dressing.
What makes this so special is the delightfully crunchy bread that falls somewhere between a focaccia and ciabatta.
Stop off for a cool frozen cocktail at Zippy’s Burritos, Tacos and More in the popular under the overpass area. They have an entire row of dispensing machines but try their Redneck made with Jim Beam and Coke and served like a slushy.
Knuckle Suckin’ Good is the slogan for Delpit’s Chicken Shack. The lines out front prove the love that locals have for this chicken with batter based on an old family recipe. They also have sides like mustard greens and red beans and rice. There are six locations in town.
Located on busy Government Street, Twine Market and Deli is a specialty meat market that serves up seasonal fare including complete meals, side dishes, and hand-carved meats. Owner Stephen Diehl has cooked in many locales, including the U.S. Virgin Islands, and brings his multifaceted talents to Louisiana.
Some of his offerings include a filet bacon jam burger on brioche, lamb meatballs, and sushi pizza on flatbread. Sign up for his online newsletter to find out what’s currently on the menu.
By now you will realize that the places you have visited are really just the tip of the iceberg. Here are a few more:
On Saturdays, there is a farmers market where locals offer their fresh fruits, vegetables, and homemade items. The Main Street Market is also situated here, complete with a food hall and specialty products. Featured on Cooking Channel’s Eat St., Go Ya Yas makes their version of a Muffaletta, which features all of the classic ingredients sandwiched between two crepes.
You might also opt to join a food tour courtesy of C’est Si Bon Food Tour. Your local guide, Kim Harper, will take you on a walking tour of downtown, and you’ll discover some local hotspots including:
Poor Boy Lloyd’s is the oldest restaurant in downtown serving locals since the late 1960s. You can enjoy seafood, daily specials, and plate lunches. But, they are perhaps best known for their mega-juicy roast beef po’boy. The gravy must be the secret because you will go through at least five napkins as the gravy drips down your chin.
Actually, that’s how the owner, Fred, tells that the gravy is just right.
You can enjoy a rum punch or other cool drink at Capital City Grill while watching the world go by from their large glass windows. They also make a wonderful fried green tomato topped with lump crab meat and hollandaise sauce ($9).
You can meet the self-appointed Mayor of Third Street (Bill Facey) known as Wild Bill at The Watermark Baton Rouge Hotel. This building was formerly the Louisiana Trust & Savings Bank, and Bill loves to share some of the histories of this property with his own brand of wit and wisdom.
Part of this includes the amazing murals that surround the Gregory Restaurant. These were created by sculptor Angela Gregory from New Orleans, who was commissioned in the late 40s to create these lovely works of art. Don’t forget to ask to see their secret vault on the lower level.
Part of the food tour includes a stop at Strands Café, a European style patisserie where you can sip coffee or tea while biting into one of their light and fluffy blueberry or plum scones. The owner also makes her own custom confections like a chocolate truffle with a hint of cayenne.
Following the food tour, make your way to Tony’s Seafood Market and Deli. Started in 1959, Tony’s has the largest selection of fresh seafood in the Gulf South.
Here you can pick your own catfish out of their bubbling water tank or find crawfish and blue crab (in season). Since you probably don’t have a grill at your hotel, go for their prepared foods such as gumbo, étouffée, boudin, and locally made sausages. They also ship overnight anywhere in the U.S.
Afterwards, try local handcrafted brews at Tin Roof Brewing Company or visit one of the newest distilleries in Baton Rouge— the Cane Land Distilling Company. They make their rum and spirits from the family’s estate-owned sugar cane mill and offer drinks from farm to highball.
For your final meal, City Pork Brasserie and Bar puts its own spin on Louisiana dishes. Chef Ryan Andre, featured as one of the best known chefs in Louisiana by Louisiana Travel, uses his skills to create dishes such as Wagyu Chili Beef Spring Rolls (sweet potato noodles, Thai basil, fresh cilantro, pickled radish, and Asian slaw) and Red Curry Coconut Braised Short Ribs prepared with sautéed napa cabbage and steamed Louisiana purple rice.
Current dishes and prices can be found on their website.
Baton Rouge is always in the mood for a party. In fact, any excuse can be cause for a festival, party, or parade. One of their most iconic, however, is Fête Rouge, which celebrated their 11th annual food and wine event this year. Forty of the area’s best chefs compete for the gold medal, people’s choice award, or best in show award at this event hosted by the Baton Rouge Epicurean Society. Attendees can sample the best food that this city has to offer, that is, of course, if they still have any room.
While creative and tasty food is the hallmark of Baton Rouge, there is another element that you will experience—the famed Southern hospitality. Not only are these folks among the friendliest you will likely encounter but also some of the most polite. Everyone, it seems, from the wait staff to the Uber driver, addresses people as sir and ma’am. So come on down y’all for some authentic food and southern hospitality in this capital city.
Where to stay:
With sweeping views of the Mississippi, this is the perfect place from which to explore the city. Beautiful, comfortable rooms with all the amenities as well as a first rate casino are all part of the upscale experience here.
FTC Disclosure: This was a sponsored visit; however, all opinions herein are the authors.