Allons a la Louisiane: Road Runners en Route to Festivals Acadiens et Créoles
We boned up on our French just enough to say that we are très jaloux that founding team member and intrepid correspondent Patti Lou is headed to Lafayette to take in Festivals Acadiens et Créoles 2023. The festival happens during the city’s bicentennial and just one year shy of the festival’s 50th. Here’s a lovely pre-trip preamble we’re posting just as Patti & crew head out for the festival opening: the cutting of the boudin. Look for Part 2 coming soon. – Editor
While road trips to Louisiana became a semi-regular feature of my 20s, it was not about cultural awareness so much as it was about going to party in “flagrant vice capital of the civilized world,” as Ignatius P. Reilly would refer to his hometown. We were there to drink. And eat.
And I’m not gonna lie: I was unprepared for the food.
To be clear, I don’t have a true family connection to Cajun culture, unless you count that time in the 80s when my roots-music-loving father went through a serious Cajun phase that none of us really ever got over. It featured repeated listens of Harry Choates, Jolie Blonde, and big pots of gumbo simmering on the stove. Maybe we should count it, after all, having experienced this immersion in such tender formative childhood years – despite, or maybe as a complement to my deep Texas roots.
The gumbos of Louisiana were richer and had more seafood funkiness than what Dad made back home in Austin. My first fried oyster poboy at Acme Oyster House in New Orleans was a revelation – the funkiness of the Gulf with the crunch of homemade coleslaw, the zip of the horseradish only somewhat contained in a bread roll that resembled a small baguette. It was paired perfectly with a delicious Bloody Mary that I still think of often, and not just because it was garnished with a pickled green bean instead of celery.
(Side note: Years later, when I was a lunch cook at a small-town cafe in New Mexico, I attempted to recreate this sandwich as a lunch special. I had discovered a small tub of fresh oysters in the walk-in, and I sent someone to the store for horseradish. I wrote it up on the specials board, but apparently no one in NM knew what a poboy was, so I didn’t sell a one. Which was fine, because when the Italian-trained, Mexican national chef/owner arrived, she wanted to know just what the hell I was doing with her oysters!)
This common bond of Dad’s deep Cajun phase is what later inspired my brother to establish a tradition of taking his Central Texas-based family to New Orleans each spring for New Orleans Jazz Fest. Then in 2015, he began raving about this other, free music festival and insisted we book a vacation rental in Lafayette for a lovely fall weekend. The trek from Central Texas to Lafayette is a good bit shorter, but still has plenty to do and see along the way.
Anyway there’s a lot to be excited about, so let’s start with the road trip! Turns out, you don’t even have to wait until you get all the way to Louisiana for some good food. I really want to stop at Big John’s Grill in Beaumont for some down-home Mom-&-Pop soul food, but if I do, I better not fill up, because down the road in Lake Charles, there’s Cajun seafood at Steamboat Bill’s! When we get just outside Lafayette, there’s Best Stop Supermarket in Scott, Louisiana, a grocery store specializing in all manner of Cajunized meats, including award-winning boudin. Definitely a great place to stock up on Cajun goodness when we’re heading back to Texas, but hey, let’s stop by real quick and get some provisions for the weekend rental.
Can’t wait to revisit the Old Tyme Grocery for one of their delicious meatball poboys. Or should I get a muffaletta? Oh yeah, also gotta check out the Blue Moon Saloon, cool homegrown honky-tonk that’s a short walk away from the rental, for some post-festival refreshment and local music.
I know, I’m not even at the festival yet!
Just what is it about Festivals Acadiens et Créoles that makes this Texas heart go all-aflutter? It could be the four or five stages burning up with should-be-more-famous talent all day Saturday and Sunday, or that when the music starts, the dance floor fills up with twirling, two-stepping couples that never seem to tire.
Could it be the food? My husband has been talking about the crawfish etouffee in a bread bowl for the past eight years, and I totally get it. Some of Louisiana’s finest culinary offerings are available at this fête, from boudin to poboys, to seafood gumbos. Oh, and the festival features cooking demonstrations as well, so maybe you can take a little of that magic home!
Maybe it’s that Lafayette itself is another world, where French is spoken under ancient oak trees, and the past is kept alive not just in museums, but in the way people live everyday.
Check back for Part 2!