53 things to eat, drink, see, hear, play, etc., while driving through Louisiana
There's no hard data supporting this statement, but more people drive from Austin to Louisiana in the next two weeks than any other time of year. New Orleans' venerated Jazz & Heritage Festival (www.nojazzfest.com) and Lafayette's equally lauded Festival International de Louisiane (www.festivalinternational.com), both beginning this weekend, are the major draws, of course, but arts, music, and cultural fairs are more plentiful in our neighboring state than bugs on a windshield after driving through the Henderson Swamp.
I-10 offers the most direct route between Texas and the 22 Southern Louisiana parishes that make up the Acadiana region, aka Cajun country, on your way to New Orleans. The drive offers myriad opportunities to experience all facets of the culture of the French Acadians, with even an hour's detour from the interstate taking you to another world or an unforgettable meal. Past the lifeblood Sabine River, the interstate burgeons with shed casinos and glittery come-hither billboards that peter out east of Lake Charles. They all want your Texas greenbacks, and from the looks of it, they get it by the busload.
Instead of the well-traveled interstate, how about driving one or both of the alternate routes? How else might you discover that Rayne on Highway 90 is the Frog Capital of the World or that those yellow warning signs of alligators mean business? Don't pass it by for the sake of arriving faster! Festivals abound year-round in Louisiana, but on the rare occasion when nothing's being celebrated, the state is overflowing with music, food, sports, literature, and history. Sound familiar?
Four Handy Web Sites
The Internet is always a good place to start planning for a trip. These four sites cover an array of places to go and things to do.
Louisiana's official tourist Web site is loaded with tourist-oriented information about the state and its numerous festivals and celebrations.
A state-funded organization, Folklife in Louisiana oversees numerous educational programs and projects.
The site of the Cajun French Music Association, dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Cajun music and culture.
Lafayette's equivalent to the Chronicle is smaller but full of information and politics, with a fine ear to local music.
Two Scenic Alternatives to I-10
I-10 will blast you through the heart of Cajun country in record time, but you'll miss the beauty and wonder of Louisiana's unique culture. These alternatives will take only a little extra time ... unless you are lured into stopping.
5) Highway 90 below I-10
Highway 90 was the old road between New Orleans and Houston, dipping through towns such as Welsh, Jennings, Mermentau, Crowley, Rayne, and down into the deep bayous of Houma. Many scenic towns and waterways, plus crawfish and rice farms along the way.
6) Highway 190 above I-10
The heart of Cajun country winds from DeRidder through Lawtell, Eunice, and Opelousas. You'll cruise by fewer swamps and marshes here and more farmland, making for a very scenic, peaceful drive. Watch for landmarks like Richard's Club in Lawtell. Pull over if there's a dance in progress.
Three Don't-Miss Radio Stations
Eject the CDs and tune in. Radio stations in Southern Louisiana fill the airwaves with the most delicious sounds this side of a steaming pot of gumbo. Low-power AM stations dapple the region with talk shows, ball games, and enticing bits of music. Keep tuning the dial when one station fades another one's right around the corner.
7) KRVS 88.7FM in Lake Charles/Lafayette
NPR in Acadiana lives up to its various names Bonjour Louisiane with Pete Bergeron, Bayou Boogie with Herman Fusilier, Dirty Rice with Bill Boelens and Karl Fontenot, and Rendez-Vous des Cajuns with Barry Ancelet, many broadcast in French. Streaming audio online at www.krvs.org.
8) KBON 101.1FM in Eunice
An offbeat mix of automated programming and local personalities, featuring longtime radio vox Paul Marx as regular host, with evening shows dedicated to local music. www.kbon.com.
9) KROF 960AM, 105.1FM in Abbeville/Lafayette
Zydeco, swamp pop, French Cajun, gospel, blues, Western swing, Fifties rock ... this is Louisiana music heaven. www.cajunfrenchmusic.org/music/radio.htm.
Seven Books on Louisiana Culture and Music
Louisiana's fertile history and culture breed books on themselves like lovebugs in summer. These titles cover a smattering of the substantial subjects from music to plantations and New Orleans lore minus the usual tourist appeal.
10) Swamp Pop: Cajun and Creole Rhythm and Blues, by Shane K. Bernard (American Made Music Series)
11) The Cajuns: Americanization of a People, by Shane K. Bernard
12) Cajun Country Guide, by Macon Fry and Julie Posner (Pelican)
13) Gumbo Ya-Ya, by Lyle Saxon, Edward Dreyer; compiled by Robert Tallant
14) Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People, Volume 1, edited by Ann Allen Savoy
15) Cajun and Creole Music Makers: Musiciens Cadiens et Créoles, by Barry Jean Ancelet (University Press of Mississippi)
16) Ghosts Along the Mississippi, by Clarence John Laughlin
Six New CDs for Your Trip
It's not all triangles and accordions in Louisiana music. Here are five recent discs from modern bands and performers who wear their roots on their sleeves.
17) C.C. Adcock, Lafayette Marquis (Yep Roc)
18) Dash Rip Rock, Recyclone (Alternative Tentacles)
19) Mary Gauthier, Mercy Now (Lost Highway)
20) Chris Thomas King, Why My Guitar Screams & Moans (21st Century Blues)
21) Bluerunners, Honey Slides (Bayou Vista)
22) Cowboy Mouth, Easy (Valley Entertainment)
Six Traditional Cajun, Swamp Pop, and Zydeco Artists to Track Down
If you see any of these bands or singers advertised, don't pass up the chance to see them.
23) Dexter Ardoin & the Creole Ramblers
24) Balfa Toujours
25) Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys
26) Rosie Ledet
27) Rod Bernard
28) Geno Delafose & French Rockin' Boogie
Five Popular Lafayette Clubs and Dance Halls
29) Grant Street Dancehall, 113 W. Grant St., Lafayette, 337/237-8513.
Local and touring acts of all genres. www.grantstreetdancehall.com.
30) Bella Notte, 340 Kaliste Saloom Rd., Lafayette, 337/291-1885.
Lil' Band O' Gold's Dave Egan performs regularly.
31) Blue Moon, 215 E. Convent St., Lafayette, 337/234-2422.
Recent acts included Austin's Elizabeth McQueen.
32) Hamilton's Place, 1808 Verot School Rd., Lafayette, 337/991-0783.
Zydeco dance hall with stars like Keith Frank and Geno Delafose.
33) El Sido's, 1523 N. St. Antoine St., Lafayette, 337/235-0647.
Buckwheat Zydeco still plays the annual Easter dance here.
Six Musical Traditions to Experience
34) Slim's Y-Ki-Ki, 8393 Hwy. 182, Opelousas, 337/942-9980.
Possibly the most famous zydeco dance hall in Louisiana; featured in John Sayles' Passion Fish.
35) Flat Town Music, 238 E. Main St., Ville Platte, 337/363-2177.
Louisiana's oldest and most famous record shop, founded by Floyd Soileau, and home to the Jin, Swallow, and Maison de Soul labels. www.flattownmusic.com.
36) Fred's Lounge, 420 Sixth St., Mamou, 337/468-5411.
Things kick off around 7:30am Saturday morning and continue until afternoon; radio broadcast and bands begin at 9am.
37) Liberty Theater, South Second and Park Avenue, Eunice, 337/457-7389.
Home to the renowned Rendezvous des Cajuns radio and TV show, Saturdays, 6-7:30pm.
38) Savoy Music Center, Highway 190, Eunice, 337/457-9563.
The Saturday Morning Jam starts at 9am, a handy stop to or from Fred's (and more authentic). www.savoymusiccenter.com.
39) Cafe Des Amis' Zydeco Breakfast, 140 E. Bridge St., Breaux Bridge, 337/332-5273.
A Saturday morning tradition since 1998, the music runs 8:30-11:30am. www.cafedesamis.com.
Three Notable Dance Halls Not in Lafayette
40) Charlie's, Highway 90 in Mermentau.
Crawfish boils and spicy music!
41) Richard's, 11154 Hwy. 190 in Lawtell, 337/543-8233.
Near Slim's Y-Ki-Ki, Richard's is the other popular dance hall.
42) Bourque's Club, Cedar Street, in Lewisburg, 337/948-9904.
Weekend dances as well as the traditional Sunday dances.
Six Yummy Places to Eat
Those used to Austin's nonsmoking eateries will find Louisiana a lot like Europe they smoke everywhere.
43) Miller's Cafe, 138 Louisiana Ave., Lake Charles, 337/494-0900.
Soul food and barbecue the way you want it.
44) Don's Seafood Hut, 4309 Johnston St., Lafayette.
This is the one the locals dine at seafood and local game like quail abound.
45) Judice Inn, 3134 Johnston St., Lafayette, 337/984-5614.
Old-fashioned hamburgers, cheeseburgers, ice cream, soft drinks, and cold beer.
46) Norbert's, Highway 90 and Avenue C, Broussard, 337/837-6704.
Hot, heaping plate lunches with Creole dishes plan to nap afterward.
47) Palace Cafe, 135 W. Landry, Opelousas, 337/942-2142.
Plenty of local color and traditional eats such as crawfish étouffée.
48) Victor's Cafeteria, 109 Main St., New Iberia, 337/369-9924.
It's gotta be good if a fictional detective keeps coming back for seconds.
A Couple of Shopping Suggestions
49) Antique Shopping in New Iberia
A chance visit to a downtown antique mall unearthed a treasure trove of 45s on local labels like Jin and Swallow plus a vintage Houston Astros trash can. Woo hoo!
50) Groceries at Market Basket or Winn Dixie
Stock up on locally packaged seasonings and seafood boil; this is a good time to buy an ice chest for boudin or one of the many trailers on the side of the road selling shrimp, crabs, and crawfish on your way home. Bon appétit!
A Trio of Worthwhile Tourist Attractions
51) McIlhenny Tabasco Factory and Jungle Gardens, LA 329 to Avery Island, 337/365-8173.
Home to the famous Tabasco sauce, the factory tour and exhibit is perfunctory, but the nearby Jungle Gardens are nature's valentine to herself. www.tabasco.com.
52) Evangeline Oak Park Bayou Teche Promenade, St. Martinville.
OK, it's touristy; it's also wonderfully romantic even if it's not true. www.cajunculture.com/Other/Evangeline.htm; www.cityofsaintmartinville.com.
53) Cajun Music Hall of Fame and Museum, 240 S. C.C. Duson Dr., Eunice, 337/457-6534.
Open since 1997, this compact exhibit honors the best of Louisiana's Cajun musicians and bands. www.eunice-la.com/depot_hof.html.
Dave Robicheaux and New Iberia
Known as the "Queen City of the Bayou Teche," New Iberia is also home to one of the shrewdest and saltiest heroes in contemporary crime fiction. Dave Robicheaux, the central character in a dozen of New Iberia native James Lee Burke's novels, is a recovering alcoholic and ex-New Orleans cop with a hair-trigger temper who relocates to New Iberia for a quieter life as a sheriff's deputy and bait shop owner. Grievous wrongs are inflicted on Robicheaux and/or his family and friends in every one of Burke's novels, which, with the help of his ex-partner and loyal podjo Clete Purcel, he always sets to rights with no small amount of bloodshed. When he's not on one case or another, Robicheaux is fond of eating at Victor's Cafeteria (109 Main St., 337/369-9924) or packing a picnic lunch to enjoy in the live oak-shaded idylls of City Park.
Authors' Note: Although South Louisiana is familiar turf, many thanks go to our tour guides and sources. Scott Jordan of Lafayette's weekly The Independent, McIlhenny Tabasco company archivist and historian Shane Bernard, and swamp rock musician C.C. Adcock gave us invaluable information and direction and, in the case of Adcock, a night to remember.