Life on the Bayou is much simpler than this city boy experiences in his everyday life. In comparison, the slower living in Williamsburg we live every day, life in the Bayou is easygoing. The pace is very similar to Cajun cooking methods - low and slow! Speaking of cooking, aside from visiting our youngest kiddos and families, food is what I always look forward to. If you’ve never been to Louisiana, southern Louisiana specifically, I’d suggest you add it to your vacation list. When you think of Louisiana, New Orleans is likely the destination that comes to mind. This trip back home, this time New Orleans was only a conduit to get us from Williamsburg to Raceland, just south of New Orleans. I thought about writing separate pieces on each of our food experiences, but since this was more of a family trip and not really a vacation, I thought I’d just compile all of our eating experiences here - eating out and down-home eating with the family.
We arrived at the newly opened Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and caught a ride with our favorite mode of transportation - mom and dad! Since we arrived around lunchtime, mom and dad wanted to take us to one of their favorite restaurants between the airport and home - Spahr’s. This restaurant is off the main road headed to Raceland and sits right on the water, providing a great view for outdoor dining; however, this trip, amazingly it was cold and windy. If you know anything about the bayou region, crawfish is a local favorite, and guess what...it was the beginning of crawfish season, so I definitely got my fill this trip. To start, we got an order of a local favorite - crawfish bread. I’ve never had this before and was eager to try this creamy cheese sauce and crawfish, atop toasted local bread halves. I’ve heard many times that this is something to experience. I was definitely pleased with the taste, could’ve used a little more crawfish, but nonetheless, it was yummy. Mom and Joey had their catfish chips, which looked yummy, and the few bites I stole from Joey were tasty. Dad had their seafood gumbo and overstuffed po-boy half. I chose to go with their take on Crawfish Etouffee. Their version was topped with fried popcorn shrimp. This was definitely a different take on the traditional etouffee. It wasn’t the best I’ve had, but it certainly satisfied my hunger and crawfish craving. Joey’s family really doesn’t have a strong leaning toward etouffee, so I found a foolproof recipe from the Cajun Ninja that is my go to that I would recommend to anyone wanting to try it out.
There are three places that are a must when we visit home. These places satisfy my sweet, cajun and fast food cravings for sure. First, we’ll start with donuts from Mr. Ronnie’s in Houma! These donuts are truly an experience. Walking into this shop is like a step back in time, with the bar counter where you can sit and order your donuts and coffee from the friendly staff. They’ve got every kind of donut you could imagine, from their plain yeast donuts, cake donuts, filled donuts, fritters, muffins and the most important - coffee!! Community Coffee is the local favorite, freshly brewed and served at the counter. Community Coffee is also used for their cold coffee selections. When you order at the bar, your donuts are served on small oblong ceramic plates. I got my typical yeast-raised donut and a buttermilk cake donut. The quality and freshness didn’t disappoint; however, the buttermilk donut had more icing than my glucose levels or fillings could tolerate this time. So Sawyer ate the rest of that one for me! If you need a sweet pick me up first thing in the morning or anytime, Mr. Ronnie’s is definitely a place you have to check out.
For those that know me, know a trip to Louisiana isn’t complete without satisfying my fast food craving at Raising Cane's Chicken Tenders. Because of COVID-19, they have only been serving through the drive through, so we ordered our tender boxes, filled with their famous chicken tenders, their signature dipping sauce, fries, coleslaw and garlic toast. Oh and I cannot forget their sweet tea made with local cane sugar and their thirst-quenching lemonade. Since we couldn’t eat in the restaurant, we took our boxes to a local park and had a picnic with the boys since it was a nice day!
And lastly, my favorite place for down-home southern cajun cooking is Boudreau’s and Thibodeau’s in Houma. With menus in English and French and phonetically written the way Cajun’s talk, you can order your favorite Cajun dish, from Alligator Bites to Gumbo and awesome Laniappe (sides). When I say this is my favorite, Joey and his family know that a visit is not complete without eating here. In rare form for me, I try something new each time! This time we had dinner, oh I mean “supper” here with most of Joey’s family. Since the weather was cooler, we had a long table outside, under the big tent. This visit, I ordered the Crawfish Half and Half. The menu description verbatim gives you an idea of the fun place this is! “Fried crawfish served wit’ crawfish pasta or etouffee o’er rice wit’ a choice o’ one side an’ garlic French bread” I chose the crawfish pasta! You can also sign up on their web page for their joke of the day...sure to make you laugh!
When Joey lived in Houma, he worked for Houma Travel, the local tourism bureau, and became very familiar with local restaurants. One that he often talked about was a higher-end, authentic Italian restaurant called Cristiano Ristorante. They self-describe themselves as “Rustic, Unique, and Timeless”, and the only other word I could use would be authentically tasty - oh that was two words. We were able to steal away from the boys for a few hours and go out on a date one night. The setting of this restaurant is an older reclaimed home with a beautiful garden patio for outdoor dining. We chose to sit outside at a quaint little bistro table and I started off with a glass of Pinot Grigio and Joey had a fru-fru Blackberry cocktail. As an appetizer, we started with the charbroiled oysters...O.M.G.!!! These flame charbroiled oysters on the half shell were topped with a luscious smoky roasted red pepper garlic butter that was to die for! I seriously could have stopped here and been totally satisfied.
Next, we had the Di Cesare (caesar salad). Ok, maybe I lied when I said I could’ve stopped with the oysters. This was seriously the best caesar salad I’ve ever had - you can tell by the picture with the empty plate. From the crisp romaine lettuce, homemade caesar dressing, and topped with anchovies...oy vey!
Finally, for the main course, I had the Penne Rustiche. A wonderful dish with penne pasta, topped with grilled chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, and a tomato cream sauce. Joey chose the Penne al Forno. A rather large portion of red wine braised short ribs, roasted red peppers, Sambuca tomato sauce, and a three-cheese gratinee, required a take-home box! This place is a precious gem and an unexpected treasure down in the bayou!
I’ve just taken you through some really great places to eat in south Louisiana, but none really compare to Mom’s! As I mentioned, we arrived at the beginning of the crawfish season and for the Easter holiday. Traditionally mom has everyone over on Good Friday for family food time. Well, like any good Catholic, they don’t eat meat on Good Friday...so a crawfish boil was on! Dad picked up three big sacks of crawfish and I got to see how it all goes down. No fancy culinary process here. The crawfish unloaded in the back bed of his lawnmower trailer, sprayed down with a garden hose to wash all the mud off. Dad has a pretty cool setup with an outdoor gas burner, a huge pot and basket, and a large metal mixing utensil with the likes of a boat oar. Dad fills the pot with water and his secret boil seasoning mix, then dumps the crawfish in with corn, potatoes, mushrooms, onions, celery, lemons, and cauliflower. There were many other fixings, including a traditional dipping sauce of mayonnaise, ketchup, and some other secret seasonings. Now it was time to chow down. I grabbed my big round tray and loaded it up with crawfish and veggies, and a bowl of dipping sauce. Now time to sit down and chow down...and as the Cajun’s say, pinch the tail and suck the head! Yummo!
The last at-home food experience was on Easter! Everyone that came for Good Friday lunch came for Easter lunch! Dad manned the grill with grilled chicken and local green onion sausage. I think there was some deer sausage there too, but I sure didn’t eat that. I put in a request to Joey’s Uncle Ronnie for his famous Jambalaya. Uncle Ronnie set himself outside under a tent, with his big Magnalite roasting pan and began his rendition of Jambalaya. Hot smoked sausage and the trinity veggies (onions, peppers, and celery), chicken thighs, and as he said, “a little bit of this and a little bit of that”, and finally ending with some parboiled rice. I’ve drastically minimized this process, but it literally took all morning for him to create this masterpiece. It was truly awesome, and I definitely picked up some pointers for my next Jambalaya!
Now that I’ve made you completely hungry, you must add a trip to the bayou to try these traditional dishes. Or check back on our blog for some authentic recipes that have been shared with me, or I’ve recreated!