Archives for posts with tag: Cajun

I’m not a food editor, but it’s hard to come back from driving through the southern states of our country without acknowledging the food. I’m trying to think of another trip I’ve taken where what I ate played such an important place in the travel. Most of the time, I don’t think about it and am happy to have a good meal here and there while I take my pictures and read up on the history. In the South, the food is so tied to the history and the geography that you can’t ignore it. Besides, it’s so yummy!

Bear in mind that my friend and I weren’t looking for anything in particular, but did try to sample each place’s best. We started with our first meal on the road, looking for a catfish restaurant that had been a wow on another trip, a place off the beaten path. We looked it up on my iPad while we traveled and found that it wasn’t open for lunch, so we settled for another one that was mentioned. Nick’s was right beside the interstate, which made us a little doubtful, but there were cars and trucks and locals, which is always a good sign. Best catfish ever! And our first taste of the hushpuppies and cole slaw that were the staples of the menus from then on…

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That night in Memphis, we cruised Beale Street, looking for some of the famous barbecue. I’d asked friends, but we were so tired, we just wanted to stop. We peeked into King’s Palace Cafe, loved the music, liked the menu and tried it out. We were early and it was quiet…nice after a day of driving.

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The music was great, not so loud as to drown us out, and we visited with the singer. The fried green tomatoes were divine, the pork was melt in your mouth and the sauce was great. I forget what else was there, but it was all good. I had asked the policemen on duty which was their favorite and they diplomatically didn’t pick a favorite.

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We drove to Kentucky the next day and stopped at this little gem in Silver Point, Tennessee along the way. I’m not kidding when I say this meal was scrumptious. Absolutely perfect. I love the columns in front. Once again, there were workmen parked all over the place. I should have bought the t-shirt.

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On Sunday, we were in Owensboro, Kentucky, having slipped off the highway to find breakfast. Again, there was a group of policemen talking in the downtown and we stopped to ask them. It was Sunday morning and the whole town looked shut down, so we were very grateful to them. They sent us to Ole South Barbecue, which was stuck in the middle of a bunch of chains and near the highway and across from a mall…nothing that would have caught our eye. When we got in there, we knew it was the right place…a buffet with everything and lots of old people and large families, all local. I can’t even tell you how good the ham was, but it WAS Kentucky. The fried chicken was great because it is the South after all. And I can’t begin to tell you how many biscuits I ate on this trip. They also had Burgoo on their deli menu and I’m intrigued by Kentucky Burgoo, a soup made of whatever meats all the guests throw in. Here was my breakfast, which ended up filling me up for the whole day!

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Before I go any further, let me tell you that I don’t eat like this at home, not every day, not even very often. But I felt a deep obligation to taste every biscuit I saw…my duty to my blog readers, I’m sure. I also don’t think there is anything the people of the South can’t do with a pig…bacon, ham, pork. All delicious. Maybe it’s my Kentucky roots speaking to me. I also didn’t gain any weight on the trip because I was walking all the time.

When we got to Nashville, we couldn’t find a local restaurant in the Broadway area. Everything was some kind of chain and they charged a cover if there was music. We were just passing through and finally settled for some great homemade ice cream! There was one barbeque place that would have been perfect, but they closed at 6 on Sunday. Too bad. Oh! We did get Goo Goo Clusters, which are from Tennessee. So are Moon Pies. Junk cuisine.

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The next day we drove to Gatlinsburg, Tennessee, doorway to Great Smokey Mountain National Park. We ended up walking the main street and having corn dogs. Did I ever claim to be a gourmet? It seemed right at the time.

The next day, we left the interstate in North Carolina and traveled a back road that took us through Saluda, a tiny town that actually has a thriving artist community. One of their local festivals is Coon Dog Day. We stopped at this place and had terrific barbecue because we were still in that mode and delicious Vidalia onion slaw. I think I could make that – marinated Vidalia onions with a slaw dressing.

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In Columbia, South Carolina, we ate at the only chain on our trip, and it’s local. The country breakfast was great and the southern drawls of the friendly waitresses started our morning nicely. I guess local chains aren’t too much of a compromise, really. The name was intriguing.

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By the time we got to Charleston, it was time to start looking for seafood. Our first meal was actually in a French restaurant on Broad Street that had been recommended by a friend. I bet it’s a local favorite with familiar atmosphere and a tasty Croque Monsieur, everything at reasonable prices.

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Later, after walking around the beautiful city, we stopped for seafood at Hyman’s, a few doors from our hotel. The hype was deserved. I imagine that the lines of people were tourists, but that’s ok. I think any restaurant or business that is 5th generation family owned must have something to offer.

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After the complimentary boiled peanuts, a Southern favorite that I was tasting for the first time, I ordered one of their signature dishes, Carolina Delight, which is fried grit cakes topped with crab cakes (there were other options) and covered in sauce.

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My friend had soft shell blue crabs. Along with the ever present hush puppies were some sides to die for. I even bought their little cookbook to get the recipes. There was the red rice, a special cole slaw, and a sweet potato soufflĂ© that made us both stop and go YUM! I’ve already made it since I got home. It involves walnuts, raisins, butter, cinnamon… Suffice it to say we had a very rich meal.

Oddly, the next day, I was walking around town alone and stopped at a hot dog vendor on the street. Very friendly owners who asked where I was from. When I said Oklahoma, they immediately said, “Oklahoma State football,” which warmed this OSU grad’s heart. They were fun to talk to on the street. Very cool guys. Nothing fancy this day other than some more homemade ice cream along the way.

Oh, I didn’t mention the homemade popsicles that I saw in a couple of places. King of Pops. Look at the flavors…

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The last day in Charleston we ate breakfast at Toast. Don’t you love that name for a restaurant? It can be used so many ways. I had the special French toast that had been written up in the New York Times and it was unlike any French toast I’ve ever had – in a good way. I also snuck a bite of biscuit because, well, it was a biscuit. Delicious food and very friendly staff. Reminded me of one of my favorite places at home. I went by later and there was a line outside.

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By the time we got to Savannah, I had to eat something that wasn’t fried, even though there are hush puppies with every meal. We were invited to dinner on the river front at a place that was just casual and fun. I had very delicious and huge boiled shrimp, fresh from the sea. Of course, they were good! I’m sure all the places along there were similar, unless they were fancier.

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My next stop is just for atmosphere. This is where the local boaters from the islands around Savannah come to hang out. There was a band setting up for later. I guess there was a way to get there by car – we just boated in.

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Before we left Savannah, we grabbed just a bite at The Pirate’s House. Great place to take kids because they have a shop with every pirate thing you can imagine and there are pirates walking around to tell you the history of the place. Who doesn’t love a pirate every once in awhile?

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Turning west, we headed towards home. Driving along the Gulf coast was heartbreaking from Biloxi to Gulfport where Katrina devastated the area and I don’t know if it will ever recover. We wanted someplace by the water to eat and, after driving miles along empty beach with only driveways where homes used to be, we found this oasis in Pass Christian, Mississippi. Perfect in every way. We ate just before sunset, overlooking the boats, with a great seafood dinner. The blackened redfish was yummy, one of the night’s specials. Of course, there were the staples of hush puppies and slaw. Grits, hush puppies and slaw. You find them everywhere with lots of variations. Very, very southern.

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A walk on the beach followed dinner so I could sink my feet in the warm Gulf waters at last! The next night we had dinner on the causeway across Mobile Bay and the special was fried mullet. I hadn’t tried mullet yet, so of course…it deserved to be the all you can eat for Monday night.

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I’m starting to think I really did just eat my way across the South, but there were complimentary breakfasts in motels and snacks instead of meals and one or two meals a day sometimes. I just can’t believe how much good food we DID eat. And, just wait…

The next stop was New Orleans and what else do you need to say? We started the day at Cafe DuMonde with beignets and coffee and moved along from there. I’m familiar with New Orleans, but didn’t go to all my favorite places this time. How can you? There are so many.

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For lunch I had what may have been my favorite meal of the trip. We stopped at Pere Antoine Restaurant on Royal and had Barbeque shrimp with a special sauce and seafood gumbo. I usually go to the Gumbo Shop, but this was just incredible. The shrimp were…I’m running out of adjectives for all this food…look at them!

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We finished the day taking Muffelatas from Cafe Maspero with us. This was my father-in-law’s favorite place when he lived here and it became one of my husband’s favorites also. An Italian New Orleans sandwich, created at Central Grocery, is a true sign of the jambalaya of cultures in this city!

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After New Orleans, we were in Cajun country and ended up for breakfast at this unlikely place, recommended by our swamp guide.

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It was clean, homey, and the food was delicious. Drop biscuits instead of rolled, served by the cook herself. It was a combination gas station, convenience store, cafe near Gibson, Louisiana. The ladies were so sweet.

We still hadn’t tasted alligator. My son used to go to a place in the French Quarter, but I’m not sure if it was still there and I hadn’t looked for it. What do you do when you pass this sign outside of Lafayette, Louisiana?

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You turn in the drive and see this…

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You head further and go through these doors…

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and enjoy a delicious dinner of fried and blackened alligator and awesome boiled shrimp. I’m sure there were hushpuppies and slaw involved, but we got other vegetables and homemade rolls, too. Since it was the last night, we had key lime cheesecake that was beyond good.

So, we headed home after two weeks of eating the food of the south…ham, biscuits and more biscuits, corn bread, fried chicken, fried catfish, all styles of barbeque, hushpuppies out our ears, all kinds of slaw, shrimp every way we could, crab, grits, cheese grits, grits, okra in all forms, tomatoes fried green or fresh, barbecue, sweet potatoes, boiled peanuts, mullet, gumbo, beignets, muffalettas, alligator and homemade peach ice cream, homemade popcicles, bread pudding, and I forgot to mention that I tried boudin, a Cajun sausage, at a stand at the Tabasco store on Avery Island, Louisiana. And there was more homemade ice cream and the Goo Goo Clusters and Moon Pies. You can’t imagine how much more there was to try.

See what I mean? The South is rich in rich foods, plain foods, and plain good foods. My trip diary wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t take you on this tour. And I pay homage to the original cooks, many of them slaves, who brought these recipes with them and perfected them through the years until the food is part of the culture, part of the history, part of this beautiful region of our country. I can’t think of the South without thinking of something yummy to eat. It’s one of the unique things that keeps us coming back.

What was the first thing I ate when I got home? A hamburger! A famous Goldie’s hamburger from right here in Tulsa. Because this is definitely beef country! Try it when you pass this way…

OK – I can’t be the only person who brings home a carload of souvenirs from a road trip…can I? It’s not like I can’t remember the place or person, but I do tend to forget after a time and the things I pick up along the trails of my life make me smile as I walk by them or dust them and shake up a memory from a wonderful experience. My home is packed with such memories and I’m old enough to know I’ll never be a minimalist in any way. So, here’s what I brought home from my travels through the South this past two weeks…think what you will.

First are the general, sometimes tacky, souvenirs: hats, t-shirts, magnets, lapel/hat pins and a few books, including a Cajun Little Red Riding Hood, “Petite Rouge,” because I have other Cajun children’s stories and love to read them out loud. You can’t help but sound a little Cajun…DSC_1059

 

I’ve collected the pins since I was in Vienna way back in the 1970s and saw a man with pins on his hat in European fashion. I used to be somewhat casual about it, but ended up with quite a few and now always look for them. I have them on a little bulletin board in my laundry room that I pass by every day.DSC_0001

 

The refrigerator magnets are a new deal and I have to promise to stop…DSC_0002

 

I just bought a hat and t-shirt in the town where my father was born because that’s all they had. I bought a ball cap in Savannah to wear out on the water and a cute painted t-shirt in Charleston because I liked the artist.

Then there’s the food category, which really can get out of hand in the South…

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After all, I can’t get boiled peanuts and okra chips at home and who could pass up the Peach or Cherry cider and the Sweet Potato anything? And I wanted to see what was in red rice, so I bought a package, and then we went to Avery Island where they make Tabasco sauce and had to buy some of the new flavors. This is nothing compared to the souvenirs that didn’t make it home because they were eaten along the way…another blog. I did buy a cookbook from one restaurant to get the recipe for the best sweet potato soufflĂ© I’ve ever eaten.

And we had to have things from the nature part of the trip, so I have seashells from the Katrina-wrecked beaches of the Gulf and puppets of animals from the National Parks we visited, Mammoth Cave and the Great Smokey Mountains.DSC_1067

 

Finally, there were the antiques and art I had to have. I’ve always liked to support local artists, especially when they have pieces that represent what I’ve come to love in their home. So that is why I came home with a ceramic mug and platter from potters in Fairhope, Alabama, a painting from the streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans, and antique tobacco basket from Thomasville, Georgia (what am I going to do with this huge piece even though I love it and got quite a deal on it) and an antique framed book plate by a well known artist of the Charleston Renaissance period (I learned about that). Each piece of art came with a story to make it even more special.DSC_1068

 

Maybe because I’ve owned a gift shop and know what it’s like to have people wander in and not buy anything, maybe because I’ve worked with artists for years and want them to be appreciated, maybe it’s the things my mother taught me, but I never, NEVER come home empty handed. The end result is that my home is a warehouse for some pretty exciting travels that I love to remember. I can only hope my children will smile and laugh a bit when they have to clean this stuff out when I’m gone! I can feel their eyes rolling…

Some of my fondest memories of my trip through the southern states will always be the people. I loved to sit still to hear their sweet southern drawls, which varied from region to region. Here are a few of my favorites…DSC_0304

 

Bonita was our first guide at The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home outside of Nashville. All the guides dressed in period costume and this was her appropriate garb. I wondered how she felt about having to be the slave, but she was a gracious and wonderful guide, even posing when she saw me lift my camera. One of our other guides was asked if Jackson was a good slave owner and she answered that there was no such thing as a good slave owner. Bonita was a tribute to new attitudes in the south.GalleryToys

 

In Charleston, I saw an interesting antique shop while walking one evening and returned the next day on a whim. The sign said not to ring unless you were a serious buyer, which I always am. What a treat! The owner was Fred Le Clercq, who turned out to be a true southern gentleman. He is a retired law professor who has collected art and antiques for many, many years. The shop was actually his home, on the third floor at least, and it was filled from floor to ceiling with beautiful objects. I walked around taking it all in for awhile, tempted by so many things, and then started asking questions. He told me about many of the artists of the area and graciously took me around. He has another gallery at his lake home and I regretted not meeting his wife, who is the daughter of the famous Mrs. Whaley and has written garden books and other books. I decided on a small book plate by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, one of the Charleston Renaissance artists of the early 20th century. I realized I had no checks with me, but Fred told me to just send a check when I got home. After he wrapped my purchase, he took me to their living quarters and showed me the original painting they own by this artist, as well as others. I glanced around their home, which was furnished in beautiful antiques and art. When I left, Fred took my hand, leaned down and blew gently across it, speaking in French. He asked me if I knew what that meant. I was so charmed that all my French lessons left me. He translated it as “until your return” or something close to that. Who wouldn’t love that? A lovely hour that reflected all you would dream of in Charleston.DSC_0656

 

In Savannah, we met Captain Dan and Penny. Dan was the old friend of an old friend of my friend, which is how we were introduced. They met us for dinner on the riverfront in Savannah soon after we arrived. It’s always such a treat when you have no idea what to expect, kind of like a blind date, and then it turns out to be something special. Dan is a musician and actor and had lived in Hollywood and Nashville before returning to his hometown near Scarboro, Georgia. Penny is a true Georgia girl with the best drawl in the world and loving, open arms for all. They live in Dan’s family home, a house built in the 1700s on 5,000 acres along the Ogeechee River. Penny works in Statesboro and they spend their weekends at their apartment on Middleton Island, close to Savannah and their boats docked at Thunderbolt Marina. On the weekends, Cap’n Dan takes charters for visitors from Tybee Island to fish or tour the islands. I told them at dinner that I was very interested in the islands and they invited us to join them the next day. They picked us up and drove us to Fort Pulanski for a great historical tour, complete with a cannon demonstration, out to Tybee Island, where I could have kicked back all day at the beach, back for a boat ride around the islands and to lunch at their favorite place on the water, a yacht club with a Jimmy Buffett atmosphere (Cap’n Dan’s description), and then for a tour of Bonaventure Cemetery. It was one of those days where you feel like you’ve been with friends you’ve known all your life and you know you will remain friends because the more you know about them, the more you like them.DSC_0794 - Version 2

 

In Fairhope, Alabama, across the bay from Mobile, we stayed with my traveling buddy’s friend, Graham. Fairhope is a beautiful town, full of artists and creative people of all sorts with an interesting and unique history. Graham attended the local Organic School as a child and his wife, Maggi, is now the director of the school’s museum. I knew Graham, but it was my first time to meet Maggi and she was a delight. We met for breakfast in the oldest cafe in the county, which didn’t disappoint. We walked over to her museum for a tour and she gifted us with books about the school’s founder, a book about Fairhope, and a novel, the last two written by Graham’s sister. We toured the very impressive museum of Fairhope History and met the director, another graduate of the Organic School. Maggi and I took a driving tour of the town and went to two pottery artists’ studios, since I expressed interest, especially since there is much history of pottery in the area. Again, I have a new friend, a lovely woman, I hope to see again very soon.DSC_0981

 

My last person I’ll tell you about is L’il John, our guide on a tour of the swamps in southern Louisiana, near Gibson, which is near Houma. I picked this tour because it was on private property and there would be no other boats. It turned out that the property had not been hunted or fished in 30 years, so the swamp was pretty pure. L’il John was Cajun and I loved listening to him talk about dem and dat, dropping any hard consonants at the end of words. I love listening to Cajuns talking anytime, but it was very appropriate while cruising through a swamp. L’il John has traveled a lot, but he was born in the area and told us he’s done everything legal and illegal back in those swamps. I believe him. There were only the two of us with him on the boat, so he didn’t have to fill the time with stories for the tourists. He said that most people don’t understand the lifestyle down there, haven’t had to live off the land. This was a man at home in this environment, which is so beautiful and so threatening. He tried to get us close to a 13′ and 16′ alligator, wanting them to come to the boat, but they swam off into their dens and hid under the water. I was fine with all the smaller ones that did get close. Alligators are not to be messed with, in my opinion. I held out meat for a smaller one, who jumped up to get it, making the pole I was holding snap. That’s close enough. He obviously knows every inch of the tour area and every critter living there. He told us that he usually shoots an alligator, showing us the hook that is used on the popular television shows. He said that using a hook to bring them in causes great pain to the alligators as it twists inside them, deeming it a stunt for the cameras. In a conversation a few states back, someone had told us that only the tail of the alligator was used for food. I asked L’il John about that and he said that the whole gator was good. I knew he’d tell me that. People who depend upon hunting for food don’t usually waste any of it. We had a good morning in the swamps and I’d like to think he was as sorry to see it end as we were.

Those are some of the people I met in the southern states that I bring back as special memories and special friends. You can tour and read and take pictures, but you can’t really understand an area until you meet the people who love it as much as you love your own place on earth. One of the joys of travel…