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?
TheDays Inn and Suitesin Eunice isn't exactly full of character, but we don't mind; we're in town for a purpose.Rendez-Vous des Cajuns, a gathering of local bands, has been taking place every Saturday night at the town's Liberty Theater for 22 years. We hear two Cajun ensembles, each consisting of a fiddle, an accordion, drums, a guitar, and a bass. The best part of the night is watching couples dance in front of the stage. Some are beginners, but most are graceful older pairs who circle in perfect time. From what I can tell, they're doing a fast waltz; too bad Jenny and I don't have the moves.
Horace Trahan, the lead singer of one of the bands, talked to us before the show and mentioned he'd be performing later atNick's on 2nd, down the block, so we make it our dinner destination. We sit outside in a lovely courtyard with fountains and greenery and decide to start with the fried alligator bites. Jenny isn't too keen on eating the reptiles she was just photographing, but she's a trouper and gives them a shot. Thumbs-up: They have a great kicky batter. My entrée, red snapper with seafood au gratin, is huge and rich. We're stuffed, but we cap off the meal with a phenomenal multilayered chocolate cake. As we head out, some guys in a zydeco group try to convince us to stay. These Southern men have a whole different charm than what we're used to.
Days Inn and Suites Eunice
1251 E. Laurel Ave., Hwy. 190E, Eunice, 337/457-3040, daysinn.com, from $83
Nick's on 2nd
123 S. Second St., Eunice, 337/457-4921, nickson2nd.com, entrées from $13
12501 Hwy. 10, St. Francisville, 225/635-3332, $10
Rendez-Vous des Cajuns
Liberty Theater, 200 Park Ave., Eunice, 337/457-7389, $5
9814 Royal St., St. Francisville, 800/580-6941, grandmothersbuttons.com
After staying up in bed talking in the dark—the best part about any girls' trip—we get a late start. In Kaplan, we spotComeaux's French Market, where we redeem ourselves nutritionally from all that fried food with some plums that turn out to be perfect.
Our destination is Avery Island, home to my husband's favorite condiment: Tabasco sauce. At theMcIlhenny Company Tabasco Factory, we learn that mashed-up red peppers age for three years in whiskey barrels from Jack Daniel's. I've been to the Jack Daniel's Distillery in Tennessee, and this bit of trivia strikes me as recycling at its best.
The 20-minute tour leaves us wondering what to do with the rest of our day. We decide to check outAcadian Village, a re-creation that depicts the life of early French settlers. The settlement is a bit worse for the wear (to be honest, it reminds me of deserted houses in horror movies). The only thing of real interest is the Doctor's Museum, with medicines and tools from the turn of the 20th century—which make us very grateful to be living in the 21st century.
Driving intoRip Van Winkle Gardenslifts our spirits. Formerly the private residence of stage actor Joseph Jefferson, famous for playing Rip Van Winkle, the 25-acre estate now has a B&B with such extraordinary semitropical plantings that people come for day tours. Our room is in Cook's Cottage, and we're the only guests tonight; we feel like lords—or rather ladies—of the manor.
For our last meal, we decide it's time to start curing our Cajun seafood addiction.Alesi Pizza House, according to the menu, has been in business for more than 50 years, and our waiter seems very proud of that fact. We go for the house specialty: cheese, bacon, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers on a thin crust. It's some of the best pizza either of us has ever had.
Our cottage back at the B&B comes with a smorgasbord of goodies—wine, cheese, and crackers, plus muffins and cereal for breakfast—and only one channel on the television. Anywhere else this might be annoying, but here it feels perfect. We settle into bed, munching on microwave popcorn, watching the lone channel, and savoring the last night of our trip. With a baby coming soon, I won't be able to travel again for a while. Still, on the way to the airport the next morning, I hear myself pressuring Jenny to commit to our next adventure.
Rip Van Winkle Gardens
5505 Rip Van Winkle Rd., New Iberia, 337/359-8525, ripvanwinklegardens.com, $150
Comeaux's French Market 301 W. Veteran's Memorial Dr., Kaplan, 337/643-6759
Alesi Pizza House
4110 Johnston St., Lafayette, 337/984-1823, pizza from $9
McIlhenny Company Tabasco Factory
Hwy. 329, Avery Island, 337/365-8173, tabasco.com, free
200 Greenleaf Dr., Lafayette, 337/981-2364, acadianvillage.org, $8
FINDING THE WAY
The airport in Baton Rouge is about eight miles from the launch point for this trip, but you'll probably have better luck finding cheap flights into New Orleans. From there, jump on Interstate 10, which leads northwest to Baton Rouge. The drive takes about an hour and a half.