Just upriver from New Orleans on the banks of the Mississippi sits Louisiana’s capital city, come explore all the meaty delights of Baton Rouge.
My good friend Jay Ducote (y’all might have seen him on Next Food Network Star!) is a specialist in three areas – appreciating and creating amazing food, giving incredible hugs and having mad love for his hometown of Baton Rouge.
When he invited me to come eat my way on a guided tour around the city (with a little help from Visit Baton Rouge), saying no would have been a foolish response. In terms of Louisiana cuisine, New Orleans is the hub of Creole, and Lafayette is the place to be for Cajun, but Baton Rouge is often overlooked. “The city sometimes seems like it lacks an identity and doesn’t have its own culture”, says Jay “but I like to think that the culture is just a combination of all the Louisiana cultures, which means we get the best of all worlds”.
Though, it does appear that this culinary rebirth of Louisiana’s capital city is relatively recent. “You could see a shift from right after Hurricane Katrina” explains Jay. “We had a massive population influx and we saw staples such as Galatoire’s and Acme Oyster House open locations in Baton Rouge. Since then we’ve seen a lot of other culinary talent open their own restaurants. Chefs have chosen to stay in Baton Rouge”. It would seem that, from great tragedy, new seeds were sown and now the bountiful benefits are being reaped.
So now you know how it came to be, now let’s get to where you need to be eating:
Beausoleil Restaurant & Bar
At Beausoleil, chef Nathan Gresham is pairing classic French cooking techniques with incredible local produce to create a haute dining experience, punctuated by Louisiana classics like dirty rice, grits & grillades, turtle soup and gumbo. It sounds standard, but it’s anything but. Cheese fries with gravy and brisket debris are found on the same menu as miso steamed mussels. Crispy pork cheeks to start, bacon-wrapped lamb tenderloin to follow. And foie gras? Yeah, that have that too. A meat-mecca indeed.
Olive Or Twist
Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Tucked away in an unassuming strip mall is one of the hottest cocktail spots in BR, Olive Or Twist. It’s unusual that a serious liquor bar would have any sort of food program, but why shouldn’t you be able to snack while drinking, even if you are being a little fancy? The bar menu here is extensive, and while the cocktails might be dainty and delicate, the food recognizes that tipsy people want to eat something substantial. Think crawfish beignets, duck quesadillas and cochon de lait fries. They also have one heck of an impressive bourbon list – I sampled more than one label I’d never tried before.
Mansurs on the Boulevard
Just as it’s a must to visit one traditional formal restaurant in NOLA, so one must in BR, too. Mansurs churns out haute Louisiana cuisine and is one of those places that can be relied on for tradition. To put it another way, it’s a classic steakhouse with incredibly indulgent menu additions, and a heavy seafood theme. It’s the kind of place where you can bet on a superbly cold martini, resplendent with blue cheese olives. And the service is impeccable, too. If you’re up for a more casual experience without sacrificing on the food quality, grab a seat in the bar area.
Technically, there are three different City Pork locations, but only one does breakfast, and City Pork Kitchen & Pie is worth seeking out. Chef Eusebio Gongora oversees all the operations of this meat-centric mini-chain. Let me be clear – if this place were in Nashville, Austin, NOLA or Charleston, you’d have heard of it by now, and it would probably be the darling of the insta-food-porn scene. The food is epic – each dish a potential death-by-indulgency, crafted to induce a food coma and necessitate a nap. Naturally, they also make their own charcuterie, including duck pastrami, andouille and some most-excellent bacon.
In Louisiana, seafood is meat. Particularly around I-10, they don’t exactly have rolling hills of pasture to raise cattle, but they do have some of the best marine-meats available. Tony’s has been in the same location since 1972, a staple of the BR food scene. It’s not a restaurant so much as a market and takeout joint, where you can hand pick live catfish from a huge tank, pick up sacks of live crawfish, or choose from a disturbingly large selection of various fried goodies (their boudin balls are amazing).
Did I throw you with that one?! If you thought Texans were serious about football, you need to get acquainted with Louisiana State University. Obviously, this eating recommendation is only valid during college football season, but if you get a chance to head to “Death Valley” and get fed, do so. For several Saturdays in the Fall, Tiger Stadium swells in population to become the fifth largest city in the state, and they are serious about the size and culinary quality of their tailgate. The best part is, the unwritten law of Southern Hospitality means you can walk around taste what everyone is cooking, and they will probably not be satisfied until they have overfed you and made sure you hvae a drink in each hand.
As a visitor, it’s physically impossible in just a few short days to sample as many dishes as it takes to write a completely comprehensive list, so I turned to Jay to share his other must-eats when in the Red Stick. For steak, he recommends Doe’s Eat Place on Government, and suggests their 2.5lb porterhouse if you’re feeling particularly ambitious. Other not-to-be-missed meaty items are the fried chicken skins at The Overpass Merchant, Wild Boar Flautas at City Pork Brasserie & Bar and the distinctly “you’re in LA now” dish of Blackened Alligator at The Chimes.
If you’re the type of person who can go from meal to meal without taking a break, then I salute you. However, you may want to consider a few sightseeing and foodie-adjacent locations between gorge-fests while in town. May I suggest:
- Daytrip the famed River Road to the Antebellum plantations the area, including The Myrtles – reportedly one of the most haunted homes in the country.
- Drop by the all-whiskey bar Lock & Key who boast over 240 different bottles of bourbon and whiskey. If you’re really lucky, you’ll track down owner Arthur Lauck who is an encylopedia of this particular brown spirit and will regale you with some amazing facts and stories.
- Visit Mike the tiger (yes, the LSU mascot is a very large, very live tiger) in his very luxurious habitat on campus.
- Pick up some unique ingredients at Red Stick Spice Co. This gorgeous spice emporium will be heaven for any grilling enthusiast, with a huge range of salts, peppers, rubs and incredible flavored oils and vinegars, too.
- Set your sites on the State Capitol building, built in 1932 , which is the tallest of any of the US state capitols (I guess not everything is bigger in Texas…).
- Nap. You’ll need a restorative break between all the delicious.