Bayou Bon Temps
Known for its swampy bayous, rollicking roots music, and dishes that are stuffed, smothered, and stewed, Cajun Country is a bastion of American regional culture. The history of the twenty-two-parish region dates to the mid-1700s, when French-speaking settlers exiled from present-day Canada fled southward, taking refuge in the prairies and swamps of South Louisiana. Acadiana’s decidedly rural culture is a stark contrast to that of cosmopolitan New Orleans to the east, but the two are both home to defining culinary traditions. At the region’s geographic and cultural center is Lafayette, a city where chefs and artisans honor their roots.
Your culinary checklist begins before you set foot in town. Cajun Country lays claim to a host of signature dishes, but only one quintessential road snack: boudin. If you’re approaching Lafayette from the west, brake for the rice-studded sausage at Don’s or the Best Stop, both in Scott. Driving in from the north? Try Bourqe’s in Port Barre.
A proper morning meal won’t be hard to come by. Head to Rusted Rooster for well-built breakfast plates or the French Press for twists on regional flavors—get the Sweet Baby Breesus (biscuit sliders loaded with boudin, bacon, and Steen’s cane syrup).
Family-run Johnson’s Boucanière carries on a ninety-year tradition of boudin and smoked meats. Come lunchtime, do as the locals do and order a plate lunch (two sides plus the daily special—cross your fingers for sausage and tasso sauce piquant). Or, try the namesake attraction at Pop’s Po’ Boys; choose between combos like red bean falafels with cayenne tzatziki and a Bayou State rendition of the cuban sandwich, dubbed the Cajun Castro. Right about now, you may have a nap on the brain. Stave off drowsiness with a nitro iced coffee from Rêve Coffee Roasters.
Come dinnertime, you again have some choices to make. Owned by a Cajun and a Sicilian, Bread and Circus Provisions does everything from fried chicken to wood-roasted oysters to Neapolitan-style pizza. But it’s not the only place slinging pies: Central Pizza & Bar opened earlier this year and is also crafting solid cocktails (the Acadiana Mule, made with local Swamp Pop ginger soda, is a nice antidote to the Louisiana heat).
A Lafayette legend, Blue Dog Café pays tribute to artist George Rodrigue with a private collection of his works. Born in nearby New Iberia, Rodrigue rose to international fame with his iconic Blue Dog—a cobalt-colored canine based on the Cajun werewolf legend of loup-garou. If you’re looking for Creole fare on white tablecloths, make reservations at Café Vermilionville, housed in a nineteenth-century building that’s lived many lives, from serving as Lafayette’s first inn to a Civil War infirmary.
This area is no stranger to the brew scene. A leader in Louisiana’s craft boom, Bayou Teche Brewing’s beer is made to pair with Cajun food. And though Parish Brewing sits twenty miles outside of Lafayette, its Canebreak wheat ale (made with Louisiana sugarcane) is worth the drive. When you find yourself back downtown, amble into the Wurst Biergarten for a pint. (Bonus points if it’s a Wednesday or Thursday when local boilmaster Megan Arceneaux puts on a crawfish boil.)
When in Cajun Country, music is a must. House-turned-venue Blue Moon Saloon plays host to local cajun, zydeco, and swamp pop bands. It would also be a shame to leave town without taking in the natural beauty of Acadiana. Just outside Lafayette is Lake Martin, one of the largest wading-bird rookeries in North America. Driving farther east will land you in the hauntingly beautiful Atchafalaya Basin, 800,000-plus acres that comprise the nation’s largest river swamp.
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