It was a misty cool night as we walked along the streets of Baton Rouge Louisiana, the powerful current of the mighty Mississippi River held at bay by a simple dirt levee. The colorful ghosts of Huey Long and his notoriously corrupt counterparts surely walked the streets with us, but this was no ghost tour of Louisiana's capital city.
Instead, we were in search of a place called Poor Boy Lloyd's to learn the history of this Louisiana-inspired sandwich better known as a Po' Boy. It was the first stop on a Louisiana food tour through the capital city that would expose us to fried green tomatoes, turtle soup, grits and gumbo and of course, for dessert, Bananas Foster.
Kim Harper is a Baton Rouge native who loves Louisiana food and almost starved when she went out of state to college. Her degree is in special education, but now a couple of nights a week, her company - Baton Rouge Food Tours - leads groups of food-loving folks around her hometown, checking out some of the hot spots and little known areas.
Poor Boy Lloyd's is the first stop on her tour because the folks here have been serving up authentic Cajun goodness since the 1950's. The sandwich known as the po' boy originated in New Orleans during a 1929 streetcar drivers strike. A sympathetic restaurant operator wanted to feed the striking transit workers, so came up with an inexpensive roast beef sandwich on a baguette. Today, if you asked for your sandwich dressed, that means it comes with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and pickle. The best part of a po' boy for many is the debris that's the gravy and stuff that falls off the sandwich on your plate. Just rip off a piece of bread and sop it up.
The next stop that features some mighty fine fried green tomatoes and other southern comfort food is the Capital City Grill. It's a low-key, but very hip location that is great for celebrity watching. Lady Gaga spent quite a bit of time here when she was last in town.
A slightly more upscale establishment, Stroubes still features down south dishes like turtle soup and gumbo. Gumbo, we learned, is an African word for okra, and everything else in gumbo is just for show. A couple of generations ago, Stroubes (pronounced stroo-bees) was a pharmacy that served a very popular egg salad sandwich. That 1940's-era egg salad sandwich is still on the menu.
No southern meal is complete without grits and at Blend, which carries more than 70 wines from around the world, the grits are ground on stone by hand by a local company known as Papa Toms. I had my grits topped with a lamb chop, because, unfortunately, I have a shellfish allergy, but most people come to Blend for the shrimp and grits.
We also learned about New Orleans barbecue sauce here, which is basically Worcestershire Sauce and lots of butter. Add anything else you like, such as garlic or onions, but the primary ingredient is butter.
Another very trendy place to eat in downtown Baton Rouge is I.P.O., which stands for Initial Public Offering. It's a tapas bar with great tables made from reclaimed cypress wood. The most popular of the beers on tap is the local, Tin Roof Brewery, but Kim Harper includes I.P.O. on the foodie tour because so many dishes are seasoned with the special Tasso ham, a true sign a southern Louisiana cooking. Tasso ham is not your basic ham cut from a pigs hindquarter. Instead, it is cut from the front shoulder and is basically just fat, thus great for seasoning southern dishes.
Finally, Kim took us to the King Bar & Bistro at the Hotel Indigo. She likes this place for its history. The legendary Huey Long was known as the King, but more importantly, it was a fairly well known fact that the governor's mistresses stayed at this hotel.
But Kim also likes it because the King Bar employs what she considers the best pastry chef in the city. And in Louisiana, any great pastry chef must be able to make a fantastic Bananas Foster. This now iconic dish came about decades ago because of all of the bananas that arrived into the port of New Orleans every day. Back in the 1950's, the chef at Brennan's, one of New Orleans most renowned restaurants, challenged his staff to come up with a new way to serve bananas. The flaming dish served on vanilla ice cream with dark rum and other goodies is the result, and the end to a wonderful evening walking the streets of Baton Rouge.
What are your favorite Louisiana dishes?
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A Midwest farm girl at heart, Diana Lambdin Meyer caught the roaming bug early in life. Diana married well - to a photographer who also has the travel bug and whose work in still and video complements her words. Now based in the Kansas City area, Diana is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers who makes a full-time living on the road and at the keyboard. Read about Diana's adventures on her blog, Mojotraveler or follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.
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