By Bob & Sandy Nesoff
Members: North American Travel Journalists Association
American Society of Journalists and Authors
In Louisiana that means “something extra.” The term might rightly be applied to Baton Rouge, the political heart of the Pelican State.
Lagniappe is generally used in restaurants throughout Louisiana when the host sends something a little extra to the table. It could be a cake, a drink, or in some cases it’s even been a whole roast chicken.
The word symbolizes the hospitality of the Cajuns toward visitors to their home town. While most people think of New Orleans immediately when Louisiana is mentioned, there is so much more to the state. And lagniappe comes naturally.
Baton Rouge, the state capital, is a modern slice of life that still respects and revels in its history from the mighty Mississippi River that flows through town to the notorious governor and senator, Huey Long.
But believing that food is such an important part of the state and city that most visitors rarely get to sample, a young lady named Kim Harper felt that she had to do something about it.
And the C’est si Bon tour was conceived.
Kim leads groups of participants-both visitors to Baton Rouge and often locals as well-on a downtown tour of selected eateries for a wide sampling of foods. They range from Poor Boy Lloyd’s old fashioned restaurant to the upscale Lobby Café. Along the way is a terrific sampling of what Louisiana has to offer in culinary delights.
You can check out Lloyd’s Po’Boy sandwiches made famous in the state. The first ones were put together back in the 1920s by brothers Bennie and Clovis Martin, two former New Orleans trolley workers. The brothers left the transportation jobs and opened a bakery before a nasty labor strike hit the trolley service.
As their former colleagues went without salary, the Martin’s decided to help out and put together free sandwiches for the strikers. Since most had no money, they were referred to as “poor boys,” and thus the name stuck to the sandwiches.
So it began as “Poor Boy,” went to “Po’ Boy” and then full circle when Lloyd opened shop and called his establishment “Poor Boy Lloyd’s.” The sandwiches at Lloyd’s are as hearty and flavorful as you might expect of Louisiana “everyman’s” cuisine. Lloyd’s itself is devoid of any pretentions and while you might not want to cater a formal wedding there, it is a comfortable place where you can feel at ease and enjoy the food.
C’est si Bon tours also visit more upscale eateries such as The Lobby with its indoor fountain and palm tree, Zolia and others where treats range from soup to desert delicacies. When you plan your Baton Rouge visit, be sure to check out Kim Harper’s C’est si Bon eat-around at www.batonrougefoodtours.com.
Let’s stick to food this time around. Some of the most notable chefs either come from Louisiana or earned there chops in the state: Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse (even though he’s from new England), and John Besh.
The Louisiana Culinary Institute aims to fill restaurants around the world with top notch chefs. While the majority of its students are regional, there are major expansion plans in the works.
LCI is a modern institute of learning from the immaculate kitchens to auditorium style classrooms. Would-be chefs are put through an intensive course that, frankly, isn’t for the faint of heart. Working in a busy restaurant’s kitchen is a continuing madhouse and if you can’t cut it in school, find another job.
Not only are they taught an unimaginable variety of dishes, but artistic ability comes into play in the design of man of the desserts the student chefs prepare. The rigors of their training are obvious in the cases of awards the students have won. www.LCI.edu.
You can’t do Cajun or Louisiana coking without an unimaginable variety of spices. That’s where the Red Stick Spice Co. comes in. Walk through the door and the scent of exotic flavors gently assaults your nose.
From the entry to the back of the establishment the walls are neatly crammed with more spices than anyone could ever imagine existed. If they don’t have it, you don’t need it. There are frequent demonstrations, instructional classes and tastings at Red Stick. Check out www.redstickspice.com.
OK, so you’re going to cook Louisiana. You need gator; you need catfish; you need shrimp; you need blue claws; you need octopus; you need boudin balls (what is a boudin? Look it up)…where are you going to get such a variety?
For an outsider walking into Tony’s Seafood Market & Deli is like entering an exotic pet fish store. Much like Red Stick Spice, if they ain’t got it, you don’t need it. The place hums throughout the day with locals doing their family shopping while visitors from afar look at sea food they’ve never had any gastronomic contact with. Many try and many become converts. www.TonySeafood.com.
Next door to Tony’s is a sister operation, Louisiana Fish Fry Products. They sell, amazingly, fried fish products. For the cook or chef who is looking to make life a bit easier, the shelves here offer a variety of batters and ready-to-cook products that could rival Red Stick. www.LouisianaFishfry.com.
Oh yeah, Red Stick. In the early days of the country when the original residents still controlled much of the territory. In 1699 French explorers wandering through the area found a tree covered with dead animals and fish. Blood stained the tree which marked the boundary of hunting grounds between the Houma and Bayougoula tribes. The French called it Baton Rouge, “Red Stick.” Now you’ve learned something.