Drive Through Cajun Country
Reader Eliana Osborn and her friend were psyched for the zydeco music and plantations of Cajun country. But who knew they'd soon be eating alligator?
When Jenny and I were roommates in London 10 years ago, we vagabonded around Europe and laughed our way through sketchy hotels, impossible-to-follow directions, and more than one visit to a foreign hospital. Since then, we've both married and had kids, and we now live 700 miles apart—she's an English teacher in Utah, I'm a stay-at-home mom in Yuma, Ariz. We were due for another grand adventure. We'd been longing to see the old South, so we set our sights on sultry southern Louisiana.
We kick off the trip at Baton Rouge's Capitol Park, a cluster of green spaces and government buildings in the heart of downtown. Sandra at the Welcome Center gives us our first big hit of Southern hospitality, sending us on our way with maps, a local's perspective on politics (Governor Bobby Jindal is "young and good-looking"), and food recommendations. The self-guided tour of the area—about a mile square—seems just our speed: I'm four months pregnant and not moving quickly.
The 34-storyLouisiana State Capitolbuilding is famous for being the tallest state capitol in the U.S. It was here that senator and presidential hopeful Huey Long was assassinated in 1935—one of the bullet holes is still visible in a marble pillar. At the observation deck on the 27th floor, Jenny and I stare out at a lot of riverboat casinos. But what's impressive to us desert Westerners is the size of the Mississippi River. I live in a place that gets just a few inches of rain a year, so this looks like an awful lot of water.
Across the capitol grounds is the newLouisiana State Museum, its mirrored-glass façade a nice contrast to the capitol building's art deco design. Jenny and I are particularly intrigued by the full-size shrimp boat, à la Forrest Gump, and the collection of memorabilia that details how native son Louis Armstrong went from juvenile delinquent to U.S. jazz ambassador. Our next stop, a few blocks away, is theOld Louisiana State Capitol, where we marvel at the stained-glass dome until we're dizzy. Back outside, we're blanketed by the humidity; it's time to head to Sandra's top recommendation.
Poor Boy Lloyd'sis the real thing: People are spilling in from the surrounding office buildings. We order boiled-shrimp po'boys at the counter, snag the last table, and savor the air-conditioning. When our sandwiches arrive, they're overflowing with fresh, juicy shrimp, and we're happy campers; if only we'd ordered the plate-size onion rings.
It takes us about an hour to drive toPointe Coupee Bed & Breakfast, in New Roads, where we're spending the night. After we check in, husband-and-wife owners
Jim and Sam McVea shoo us out the door so we can get to their favorite restaurant,Ma Mama's Kitchen, before it closes. The food is worth the rush: seafood gumbo, softshell crabs, and something magical called seafood boulettes, crab and shrimp cakes served over a spicy risotto. Back at the B&B, we feel like we're staying in grandma's spare room, with straw hats, framed lace, and more floral patterns than I can count.
Pointe Coupee Bed & Breakfast
405 Richey St., New Roads, 800/832-7412, manornetworks.com, $145
Poor Boy Lloyd's
201 Florida St., Baton Rouge, 225/387-2271, po'boy $6
Ma Mama's Kitchen
124 W. Main St., New Roads, 225/618-2424, entrées from $12
Louisiana State Capitol
State Capitol Dr., Baton Rouge, 225/342-7317, free
Louisiana State Museum–Baton Rouge
660 N. Fourth St., Baton Rouge, 225/342-5428, lsm.crt.state.la.us, $6
Old Louisiana State Capitol
100 North Blvd., Baton Rouge, 800/488-2968, free
Sam serves us a great breakfast of buttery biscuits and Creole grits made with bacon, tomatoes, red peppers, and onions. The house is overstuffed with knickknacks, but that same hoarding instinct is fun and eclectic in the gardens, with their wide-leafed Asian paper trees, wind chimes, and pretty pieces of ironwork. There's even a tiny pool, and Jenny and I are tempted to jump in despite the fact that a downpour has coincided with our tour.
We're planning to check out the plantations in St. Francisville, across the Mississippi River, and are thrilled to learn that the ferry costs only $1 round trip. When we get off the boat, we can't resist doing a little shopping at a boutique calledGrandmother's Buttons. The shop mixes random gag gifts—denture ice-cube trays—with jewelry made from antique buttons. Jenny splurges on a pair of silver-button earrings, and I covet them for the rest of our trip.
Rosedown Plantation, a couple of miles outside of town, is one of the largest plantations in the state and the one all the locals have told us not to miss. It covers nearly 400 acres and offers a stunning look into the world of the upper classes. We skip the guided tour and walk the grounds on our own. I can't get over the 200-year-old oaks with Spanish moss dripping from their branches—a far cry from my backyard cacti.