Everybody Has a Story to Tell in Louisiana
By Paul Shoul
GoNOMAD Senior Writer
In gas stations, bars, dinner tables, street festivals, an atmosphere of magical reality descends like a mysterious mist, inducing conversation, laughter, and sometimes, tears, people share their stories.
People look each other straight in the eye, more than at their cell phones. Hugging strangers is commonplace.
New Orleans, in particular, is like one long episode of Taxicab Confessions.
Take one of my Uber drivers, for example, Thomas H Leggett. He had a bit-part in the movie The Butler “Oprah Winfrey loved me.”
His self-published book. A God-Saving Miracle recounts when, at two years old, he drank a can of Drano his father had left out while fixing the kitchen sink resulting in years of surgeries.
“I am the only one who has survived Drano!” he declared while effortlessly weaving through traffic at incredible speeds.
Protected by the almighty.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Why visit Louisiana? Well, it is beautiful. You feel and see living history everywhere; But, most of all, it’s the people you will meet.
Try a beignet and cover yourself with powdered sugar. Eat some alligator. Sit down at a bar, have a few drinks, and talk to a stranger.
You never know who you will meet or the stories you will hear.
Here are a few tips on where to go, what to do, and where to eat.
The Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport feels crisp and new, but the signage could be better. Be aware that all car rentals are at the separate MSY Rental Car Center, a 20-30 minute ride from the airport. The shuttle can be found on the ground floor across the street from the baggage claim. A major pain when you arrive, but at the end of your trip, returning the car is a breeze. No fighting traffic; drive in, drop the keys, and you are out of there.
Louisiana Cajun Boudin Sausage
About an hour from New Orleans on USA 90 West, I stopped at Bourgeois Meat Market in Thibodaux. If nothing else, this trip was a quest to try their Cajun Boudin sausage. On the front of an unassuming low brick building, an old sign reads “Miracles in Meats since 1891.” That, my friends, is the holy truth.
Bourgeois is an old neighborhood Cajun meat market. No chairs or tables. They offer a few hot items: Whitle boudin, blood boudin, and a boudin burrito. All the locals who came in ordered larger cuts of cold or cured meats, smoked sausage, and turkey or hog head cheese.
Out back, a few guys were splitting wood to stoke an old blackened, van-sized smoker.
The head butcher, Terrell Barrow, tells me to step back when he opens the door, unleashing a cloud of wood smoke infused with a mesmerizing, delicious roast pork smell from the boudin hanging inside. I wondered for a moment if it was possible to die from too much umami.
Boudin has a French lineage made with eggs and cream: the Cajun version kicks it up a notch, adding rice, vegetables, spices, and organ meats. It is soft and eaten whole or by pinching it out of the natural casing like a hot pork squeeze pop.
When I asked him, “What is the secret of your boudin? Terrell laughs and says, “Good meat, less rice, and our secret blend, which I have sworn under punishment of death not to tell you.”
Boudin hits every flavor trigger. Rich, savory, a hint of salty/sweet, a little spicy, herbaceous, complex, coat-your-mouth comfort food. Deep sausage. Truly amazing.
The Rougarou Festival in Houma, Louisiana
On the Narrative stage of the Rougarou Festival, master storyteller, screenwriter, and filmmaker Glen Pitre weaved tales of the Rougarou and the Cajun oral traditions he grew up with. “The Rougarou is fast, “He looks like a werewolf or a man with a dog’s head.” A tortured, haunted soul that has assisted many a Cajun mother in motivating their children to come home before dark.
“We grew up with storytelling; that was our entertainment. Our heroes were not the marvel superheroes of today; they were the tricksters. Passing on these oral traditions is so important. But, if the stories are boring, you are under no obligation to listen. So make it a good one!”
What started as a fundraising effort by director Jonathan Foret of the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center, The Rougarou Festival has blossomed into a three-day celebration of Cajun culture with over 15,000 people attending.
Family Friendly and Spooky
It’s family-friendly, with plenty of spooky stuff and cool carnival rides for the kids. For us adults, excellent live music and a very active beer tent to wash down all the amazing food you have to try.
This, after all, is Cajun food heaven. Oyster, shrimp, and catfish
po boys. Crawfish fettuccine and alligator piquant. All made by local folks, it doesn’t get much better.
The Krew Ga Rou Parade was the highlight of the festival. Hundreds of elaborate giant puppets, floats, zombies, hip hop dancers, Rougarou’s, and witches throwing candy to the crowds lining the mile-long route.
It takes about an hour of music, sirens, screams, and laughter for all the presenters to circle back to the festival. Such a cool slice of Cajun life.
Road trip to the Grand Isle Louisiana
From Houma, Louisiana, I set off for the 70-mile drive to the Grand Isle with 3 goals for the day: To walk on a beach along the gulf coast, witness the aftermath of Hurricane Ida and devour the best shrimp po boy I could find.
Highway 1 is incredibly scenic, leading you through small towns and miles of sugar cane fields. The road is raised just above the salt marshes separating the Grand Isle from the mainland in a spectacular finish.
I’ve been through big storms before and covered the aftermath of tornadoes, but I never fully understood how fierce a hurricane could be until I saw the level of destruction along the road. Boats tossed like children’s toys. Metal beams twisted like pretzels. The whole structures is completely leveled. Most houses along the Grand Isle are raised up high on stilts. That saved some from the water but not the wind.
Those who have the resources are rebuilding at a furious pace. But for those who did not, their shattered homes remain a stark reminder of nature’s force.
Why rebuild when it probably happens again? Just take a walk on the endless beach. As one waitress at Tommy’s Restaurant & Bar in the center of Grand Isle said. This is home; things are getting better, people are returning”.
Tommy’s did, in fact, make a killer po boy overflowing with local fried shrimp. Mission accomplished.
Eating New Orleans
Rabbit Hole Supperclub
When Covid hit New Orleans and many restaurants closed their doors, private supper clubs popped up to fill in the gap. Aaron and his partner Eden started The Rabbit Hole Supperclub.
They serve a prix-fixe menu of shared plates paired with glorious cocktails and wine included in the $55 price. Aaron’s day job is at a local taco restaurant. “At night, I get to spread my creative wings,” he said.
Here is the menu for the night:
Charred sweet potato on toast with green chile sauce, cotija, and cilantro
Cabbage and delicata squash salad with sunflower seeds, chili oil, and holy basil.
Fresh caught jumbo shrimp grilled and brushed with a blend of garlic, parsley, lemon, and olive oil.
Spicy grilled chicken with pink-eyed peas and marinated cherry tomatoes.
Spiced chocolate budino pudding with pecan brittle.
That evening, it was held in the backyard of their home, a 15-minute drive from the warehouse district.
“Look for a white fence and a Winnebago parked in the driveway” were the only directions except for the address. Walking down the driveway to the back of their home revealed a very cool layout of tables, a makeshift bar, two chefs at a flaming wood-fired brick grill, and Christmas lights hung everywhere, creating a warm, inviting atmosphere.
The Rabbit Hole Supper Club happens once a month, somewhere. You must go to their Instagram account to make reservations and see the menu. Great food, great people, highly recommended.
Happy hour and the one-dollar oyster
At Superior Seafood and Oyster Bar in the historic Uptown section, I arrived early as two dueling bartenders were speedily shucking oysters and laying them out on huge platters of ice.
Wonderful big plump $1 oysters with a little cocktail sauce washed down by the spicy house bloody mary. Perfect.
For more information to plan your trip, go to Louisiana Travel.com.
Mr. Shoul’s trip was sponsored by Louisiana Tourism, but the opinions are his alone