Situated between Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana, Baton Rouge is well known for LSU athletics and politics, but until recently, not so much as a culinary destination.
In 2005 Hurricane Katrina sent communities packing and many in The Big Easy and surrounding areas uprooted permanently changing the gastronomic map of Baton Rouge’s capitol city.
Chefs, artisans, farmers and other like-minded entrepreneurs settled in and have now altered the culinary landscape by creating a rapidly evolving food and drink movement that is drawing international attention.
I was invited by Visit Baton Rouge to sample foods on a gastronomic tour that began at Fete Rouge. This food and wine event sponsored by the Baton Rouge Epicurean Society since 2007, took place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Over 30 local restaurants participated with chefs preparing their top dishes to compete for best in show while proceeds collected were donated to charity and culinary scholarships. This year’s overall winning dish, and winner of the Seafood Category, was a Southern Seafood Bouillabaisse presented by the Chef Nelson Chang with the Crowne Plaza Hotel. The bouillabaisse was a twist on the traditional because it included a fresh, tender Louisiana frog leg in the bowl.
With so many fine offerings to sample, it was difficult to decide on a personal trophy dish, but Chef Chris Wadsworth from Restaurant IPO made my night with his Smoked Shrimp and Chappapeela Farms Tasso Tacos. I savored seconds, and maybe even thirds. I also ran into my friend and editor of Louisiana Cookin’ Magazine that mentioned Chef Wadsworth was just named their 12th Annual Chefs to Watch feature, and will be honored at Café Reconcile in New Orleans along with five other innovative chefs from the Bayou State on October, 21, 2013. I could taste why.
We started the morning off early in a chauffeured ride by Riverside Limousines and headed for Tiger Town to Louie’s Café. Established in 1941, the 10-stool diner sat right outside the college gates of Death Valley until moving one street away to expand in 1986, and as an LSU student I had the privilege of eating at both locations before graduating. Offering 60 seats, a 24-hour menu, and at most times a long wait; Louie’s is a beloved institution serving an eclectic yet classic diner menu. Though the sandwiches, po-boys, burgers, shakes and chicken-fried steak had me drooling, it was the Seafood Louie that had me at hello. Packed with shrimp and crawfish, sautéed vegetables, Swiss cheese and topped with an herbed crème sauce, this is an omelet you won’t want to miss. If coveting the fresh made biscuits, get there early as they are only served 6 am to 11am.
We walked off the morning’s bounty of goodness by visiting the Red Stick Farmers Market. As an advocate for buying local and getting to know your food producers, I was thrilled to see the incredible community support, and how well organized it was. Offering inside and outside space for shopping, a chef demonstration, and a plethora of produce, meats, cheeses and seafood to name a few, it was the fresh baked pies with the most beautiful crust that caught my eye. Francis Chauvin, aka “The Pie Lady,” is famous for her Blue Ribbon Pies. Francis said, “It is the fresh seasonal ingredients that make my pies a success. I learned to bake pies from my grandmother.” Blueberry, Apple, Peach, Pumpkin and Cushaw (squash) are quite popular, but her Shoe Soles (crisp round pastries) had kids clamoring for more as they lined up for purchases during our conversation. I walked away with Francis’s most popular Pecan Pie, packed with pecans in a decadent filling, and honestly the best pie I have ever eaten.
A VIP tour at Tony’s Seafood was next on our agenda. With police directing traffic in the parking lot, they are a favorite of Baton Rouge locals. Well known for their live catfish for purchase, Tony’s Seafood also produces Louisiana Fish Fry, the leading brand sold in the United States. Steve Le Blanc, a self-described coonass, did an incredible job of keeping us enamored with his quick wit and humor as we toured the market, factory, and learned about Tony’s Seafood history before stuffing ourselves on fried shrimp, fish and the prized boudin balls.
To quench our thirst we headed to Tin Roof Brewing Company founded by two childhood friends who had a passion for beer, and the desire to create their own Southern handcrafted brand. The duo (former banker and lawyer) Caldwell and McGehee, along with brew master (and tour guide) Tom Daigrepont have several outstanding labels. Some are seasonally inspired like my favorite, Not Too Sweet Watermelon Wheat, incorporating local fruit picked just down the road.
Chillin & Grillin with world-renowned Executive Chef John Folse topped off the evening on the beautiful grounds of White Oak Plantation, a catering and events facility he owns 20 minutes from Downtown Baton Rouge. Fete Rouge partner, The Sister Dolce Foundation, Inc. sponsored the buffet-style dinner featuring many Louisiana favorites like Creole Jambalaya, Corn Maque Choux, Fire Roasted Snapper and Stuffed Porchetta, but it was the Portobello and Chanterelle Bisque that won rave reviews from our table.
DOE’S Eat Place was on the agenda for our final destination and a six-course Tin Roof paired pop-up brunch with Chef Jay Ducote of BiteandBooze.com, and Chef Chris Wadsworth of Restaurant IPO. The meal was innovative and made use of top quality local ingredients, with a favorite course being the Tiger Deaux-nut with Voodoo Bengal Braised Pork Belly, topped with Duck Egg, Duck Egg Hollandaise, and served with Aged Tin Roof Coffee Porter. The Cheese Grit Arancini with Tin Roof Blonde Welsh Rarebit was also sinfully delicious.
DOE’S Eat Place hosting the pop-up did not participate in cooking, but the chalkboard menu looked impressive. Known for their 21-day aged hand cut premium steaks and Delta hot tamales made the same way since 1941, it is worth a return visit to tackle the 3-pound porterhouse in the eatery’s “Welcome To Crown Town” bar room while catching an LSU football game on the big screen.
With easy Interstate travel from the Florida and Alabama Panhandle, Baton Rouge should definitely be on your radar for a food lover’s weekend getaway.
Crowne Plaza Hotel
Eat & Do:
Fete Rouge 2014
See 2013 Winners
Red Stick Farmers Market
Tin Roof Brewing Company
White Oak Plantation
DOE’S Eat Place
Louisiana Cookin’ Magazine
Chef Chris Wadsworth: Pickled Shrimp & Tasso Taco’s
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