It took one bite of Boudin sausage for me to realize I knew nothing about the best taste of Louisiana. Sure, I’ve eaten my way through New Orleans and assumed that I’d gotten the gist of gastronomy in the state. How wrong I was. Luckily, Lafayette set me straight.
I was a guest of Lafayette, Louisiana Tourism Board but as always these opinions are my own.
Where to find the best taste of Louisiana in and around Lafayette
Set back from the main road, you first notice the building’s tall columns and stately southern style but set your assumptions aside. Cafe Vermillionville isn’t stuffy at all. The place has had more than nine lives serving as an inn, a Civil War infirmary, antique store, private residence and bar before the current owners Ken and Andrea Veron transformed it into the kind of toe-tapping tasty spot that both locals and visitors enjoy. When the weather complies the band sets up on the side patio.
I visited Verillionville on Halloween night and the costumed crowd was serenaded by a zydeco band. Ken and Andrea were dressed for the holiday as Colonial period ghosts. “We don’t talk about them too much. Things happen. Let’s say we have partners.’ It’s a spirited spot nevertheless and when you step into the bar don’t miss the illuminated bottle collection. Many of the miniatures belonged to Ken’s grandfather. The restaurant is located just outside of downtown.
The French Press
For all its accolades the French Press Chef Justin Girouard keeps his creations modest. He’s drawn the best out of the old printing press space, keeping the tall ceiling open, highlighting the textured walls and framing old letterpress boxes. The warm tones and spacious seating area complement the menu inspired by local specialties with international touches. I was knocked out by the Pecan Bacon! Other accolades include Saveur Magazines’ Top 100 Inspiring Places and Things to Eat, as one of Urban Spoon’s Top Restaurants in the country and Girouard is a James Beard nominated chef. Located in downtown Lafayette.
Avery Island, the Tabasco Capital
Even if you have an aversion for spicy food the island culture and the Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory are well worth an afternoon’s wander. The tour spares little in the process from growing the seeds to grinding and the mash warehouse is enormous. The gift shop is notable for carrying varieties of the famous sauce that are unavailable elsewhere (except for their website.) Avery Island is rich in history, not the least of which is the fact it sits on a salt dome and has been valued for that since Native Americans used the resource for trading. Today the dome continues to keep the factory there as curing the mash with salt is instrumental in the process.
Is Tabasco the best taste of Louisiana?
Next to the gift shop is the Tabasco cafe and cooking class kitchen. You can make your own Bloody Mary’s at the buffet bar and order a casual lunch. Better yet, sign up for a class with Chef Lionel Robin. He’ll let you in on quite a few secrets that will lift his selected recipes off the page and into foodie heaven when you try them at home. It’s an entertaining hour and of course, no one leaves hungry.
Step to the beat
Lafayette is a working town and one of the last stops that oil rig workers visit on their way to assignments in the Gulf. That guarantees the bars are full of local beer and the city is full of affordable eating choices. Of course, the billboards advertising jewelry and bail bondsmen speak to high times on paydays, but it’s all in good fun. You’ll discover plenty of it when the Downtown Alive concerts take over the downtown square. “Let the good times roll” is more than a motto. Lafayette loves its music and dancing. Join the crowd at most gatherings. If you don’t know the steps someone is always willing to coach. A few of the best places include:
For over thirty-five years some of Louisiana’s best musicians have taken the stage for free Friday evening performances in spring and fall.
Rock n’ Bowl
No need to get gussied up for this night out. From Karaoke to fine local bands the stage and dancefloor are busy most nights of the week. Of course, you can tap your toes in between games adjacent to both sides of the stage. A little too lively? There are private rooms upstairs for VIP’s to watch.
Zydeco Breakfast at Buck & Johnny’s
Breaux Bridge is a short drive from central Lafayette. Buck and Johnnys has settled into the space of the old Domingue’s Motor Garage. Old motor signs cover the walls and on Saturdays, the place rings to the beat of live music. Well before noon, the dance floor fills with expert to novice dancers and the food, of course, is fantastic.
Keep it real
Look for the hand-painted sign saying “Boudin Today” on St John Street and slip in to pick up the family-made special. Sausage casing is filled with plump, soft mixtures of rice, spice, and meats. Johnson’s offers some of the best in the region but you can also order stuffed grilled cheese biscuits, gumbo, smoked BBQ made on site, and wash it all down with Swamp Pop. There’s an outdoor patio for dining but plans are underway to enclose it for customer comfort year round. Check out weekly specials on their Facebook Page.
Don’t miss Billy’s in the “Boudin Capital of the World”
The town of Scott in Lafayette Parish is renowned and Billy’s makes it easy to pick up a meal or supplies for cooking your own local recipes. The Cracklin’ selection is unparalleled.
Plate Lunch at Laura’s
Foodies around the world have Laura’s on their bucket list after Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern raved about her food. The family traditions continue with generous ladles of gravy and fried chicken, delicious sides and pie too. Portions almost overflow which is one reason everyone is served in take-out containers. Today Laura’s daughter, Madonna gently keeps the line moving and the staff on their toes.
The plate lunch tradition started when rural meat markets cooked their unsold cuts and sold them in portable and affordable plates. With everything swimming in tasty gravy working class meals were nutritious and filling. How lucky we are that lunchtime menus across Lafayette offer new takes on the fare. Find a list of other establishments serving plate lunches here.
Fine dining in Lafayette
Pamplona Tapas Bar
Date nights and special occasions have many places in Lafayette. The Pamplona Tapas Bar has a full menu of delicacies utilizing local seafood, farm fresh ingredients, classic Iberian cured meats alongside locally grown fare. The Absinthe ritual must be experienced to be believed. You won’t be surprised by the old world Spanish influences if you know a bit of the region’s history. Spanish invaded the Louisiana area before the British sent soldiers north from the Caribbean. Spain invited the Acadian people, once exiled to Canada from France, to settle in the area in the hope they’d help them fight off the English. The Acadians adapted to the areas unique challenges – swamps, alligators and snakes – much better than the Spanish and melded cultures as Cajuns.
Blue Dog Cafe
With Chef Ryan Trahan, winner of the Louisiana Seafood and American crown, at the helm of the new menu, Blue Dog has been garnering raves for it’s Cajun cuisine. The spacious and invitingly dark restaurant is decorated with the art of Rodrigue, whose series of Blue Dog paintings made him an international legend. His sons run the restaurant today.
Somehow finding a gorgeous dining room and bank vault, private dining space inside the Rock n’ Bowl building seems perfect. Lafayette has such deep traditions but so much young energy. No place embodies it as well as experiencing a meal at Sainte Marie. First of all the space is gorgeous. A creative collection of vintage chandeliers hang over the dining rooms and the party room upstairs. The bank vault brass is dressed in dancing shadows from more glass fixtures. The food matches this ambitious beauty as well. The menu has elegant French entrees as well as Thai specials and of course, an emphasis on the best of Gulf seafood. Save room for dessert as the Fried Bread Pudding Po-Boy has won Best of Show Awards twice in New Orleans. Savor the graceful dining, the bowling lanes down the hall will be there when you’re done.
I hope you enjoyed this taste of Lafayette and will share the bounty. This tasty tour was made possible by Lafayette Tourism and IFWTA. All opinions and pictures are my own, of course. Bon Appetit!
Check out this video about a swamp tour in Lafayette: