I'm guilty. I had no idea that Lake Charles in Southwest Louisiana was such a foodie hotspot, not until I found myself there suddenly eating my way around the city and region. Traveling anywhere in Louisiana is all about the food, and that's particularly true in Lake Charles that enjoys a rich heritage of homey eats, along with some new and innovative twists on the classics. If I had to choose just four not-to-miss food experiences in Lake Charles though, these are my top picks.
Gaudidaun at B&O Kitchen & Grocery
A third-generation cook, Jeff Benoit is best known for his boudin and cracklins, but it's another item on the menu that's perhaps the most unique. Like most great dishes it started by accident, but almost immediately the Gaudidaun sandwich/burger became one of the most popular items on the menu. Made with pulled pork Tasso or brisket and a smashed boudin ball that is then dressed like a normal hamburger, this impressive bite may seem odd at first, but its the perfection combination of everything I love about food in Southwest Louisiana.
I've never met anyone who knows as much about donuts as the owners of the small but locally cherished bakery, Delicious Donuts. It was a Saturday morning when I squeezed through the door, the small shop doing a fierce business on one of its most popular days of the week. Immediately I could see why. The sugary smells of freshly made donuts filled the air and in the display cases were any number of donuts ranging from basic glazed to more festive, Easter versions. I have eaten a lot of donuts in my life, but after taking my first bite into the glazed donut at Delicious Donuts I knew it was something special. A proper yeast donut should have a light ring around the middle and melt in your mouth almost immediately. Spending years baking and studying donuts around the country, the owners here have done something I thought impossible. They have created the perfect donut. But that's not all they do. They are also well-known for their King Cakes, available in a variety of flavors and shipped around the country. For something on the savory side, Delicious Donuts also has a unique small bite, kalotchies. Originally from Central Europe, these fried small pastries are filled with any number of ingredients from boudin to bacon & egg and even shrimp or crawfish. It's a nice addition to what is already an impressive lineup of perfectly executed baked goods.
Dinner at Restaurant Calla
When a chef's past experiences include stints at Brennan's, Commanders Palace and the French Laundry, it's natural to expect a certain level of pretension with the food. But as soon as I walked through the doors of Restaurant Calla, one of Lake Charles newest restaurants, I knew that was far from being true. Chef David Sorrells wanted his restaurant to be simple, artistic, relaxing but also exceptional. Using the freshest local ingredients, Chef Sorrells has created a foodie retreat unlike anything else you've experienced before. Featuring a variety of locally inspired small plates, the goal of Calla is to foster communal experiences; sharing dishes, talking, laughing and enjoying the experience for just that -- as an experience. I probably ordered too much from the menu, but I was eager to see what this Louisiana version of tapas was all about and I certainly wasn't disappointed. Sweet potato chips, veal sweetbread nuggets, bone marrow, South Texas antelope and one of the best charcuterie boards I've ever enjoyed all came together to create a perfect evening of laughter, good food and a thoroughly enjoyable experience. This is smart food prepared expertly, but without pretentiousness, instead the menu and staff are inviting and welcoming, just what any great restaurant should be about.
Jack Daniel's Bar & Grill
I was dubious at first when I saw the name of the restaurant the Jack Daniels Bar & Grill at the large L'Auberge casino in Lake Charles. But in keeping with the theme of my stay at the hotel-casino, I was once again pleasantly surprised by what I discovered. Chef Lyle Broussard is a homegrown chef, and keeps his heritage in mind when creating locally inspired dishes for the restaurant. There's nothing generic about the offerings here, each dish is created by Chef Broussard and features specials almost every day. Bacon & Smoked Cheddar Tots, Gator Bites, Duck Sausage Gumbo and a Pimento Cheese Bacon Jam Jack Burger are just a few of the many locally inspired and incredibly delicious items featured at the Grill. So set your preconceptions aside and be sure to eat here at least once during your stay in town.
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