Shreveport / Bossier
Considered Louisiana’s "other side," the likes of Terry Bradshaw and Jared Leto have risen to fame in an area of the world that began with lawless men, female prostitutes and gambling. Leto was most likely smitten with celebrity after witnessing the many films made in the area. In fact, some call Shreveport-Bossier "Hollywood South." "Mad Money," "The Guardian," "True Blood" opening scene and "Ghost Hunters" were filmed here. During my visit, Charlize Theron was in town filming "Dark Places." Alas, our paths never crossed.
The home of rockabilly, Shreveport-Bossier is a simple 40-minute drive from Texas; in fact, some call the area "East Texas." It’s a place where musicians, including Robert Plant and the late Kurt Cobain, have come to visit the grave of 1930s blues legend and former chain-ganger Lead Belly (Hullie William Ledbetter), father of the 12-string guitar, and famous for his song, "Goodnight Irene," with lyrics to match his hardened heart. This is also the area where Elvis Presley got his start on the Louisiana Hayride radio program. Statues of the King and his TCB guitarist James Burton are available for selfies in front of the Municipal Auditorium on Elvis Presley Boulevard.
Outside of music and Hollywood, Shreveport-Bossier is where pecan praline candies were first introduced as a southern treat. The Bayou food scene is as unique as Northern Louisiana’s residents. Just try a taste of crawfish etouffee (French for "smothered") or the jazz musician’s staple dish of red beans and rice with cayenne — and you’ll be in southern company. And then there’s gumbo, with filè powder (from sassafras root) on top, a recipe that hails from natives of Louisiana. A stop at the local food shop, Bergeron’s, is where you can stock up on boudin balls and Cajun meats, and specialties such as seafood gumbo, crackling and stuffed turduckens.
Places to avoid: Margaritaville Casino; that is, unless you want to witness the hourly show where a pretty young girl in a bikini shoots out of a plastic volcano into a margarita glass to then perform a pseudo circque de soleil on a rope swing before provocatively dancing on a platform. Oh, and there’s gambling there, too.
Place to stay: Fairfield Place, a bed and breakfast with a secret garden and southern breakfast of champions. Visit fairfieldbandb.com.
A short drive from Shreveport, one of the most interesting aspects in a trip to Natchitoches, aside from a stop at the Antebellum historic house museum on Melrose Plantation, is in Gibsland, and for two reasons only: Bonnie & Clyde. If I were to visit again, I would be sure to go in mid-May for The Authentic Bonnie and Clyde Festival.
On that fateful May 23 morning in 1934, the two notorious bank robbers stopped in Ma Canfield’s Café to grab a few sandwiches to enjoy at their hideout in the brush on top of a hill. Bonnie would only get to eat half of that sandwich before 100-plus bullets were responsible for her death, as well as her partner in crime, Clyde’s. Over 140 curiosity seekers flocked to see the deceased celebrities.
Since that fateful day 80 years ago, Ma Canfield’s is now known as the Bonnie and Clyde Museum, which is run by the son of Ted, one of the law enforcement officer’s that shot Clyde Barrows to his death.
More stops in the Natchitoches area include a must-stop for a soulful Louisiana Creole lunch to enjoy one of the best meat pies ever, at Lasyone’s. Add some fried green beans and a glass of sweet tea and you’ve got a perfect southern meal. You can also order meat pies online, but you’d have to order 60 pies minimum, and with shipping, that’ll be $149.99. Visit explorelouisiananorth.org and louisianatravel.com.
A unique destination with streets named in French and Spanish and are lined with Creole architecture in Candy land colors, the Louis Armstrong International Airport sets the tone for the essence of New Orleans, or NOLA. At the mere mention of this city with European tradition blended with Caribbean influences, many associate New Orleans with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, or even the BP oil spill. The folks who weathered the storm will be more than happy to share their stories of how their China, passed down from two generations, doesn’t match because only certain pieces were salvaged. You can feel the history and heartbreak in the eyes of Katrina’s survivors, and you may even shed a tear or two listening to so much loss. But once you’re in the midst of Royal and Bourbon streets, you’ll no doubt forget the past and focus on the strength of this great community of people simply by witnessing first-hand the thriving music scene.
First, a stop for a jazz brunch fits the bill to begin a long weekend, and Court of Two Sisters, located in the heart of the French Quarter, offers the best culinary and jazz experience. To get the best bang for your buck, make reservations for 10 a.m. so you can enjoy an incredible array of breakfast items that include biscuits that must have been made in heaven, and a seafood Orleans omelet stuffed with crawfish and shrimp made to order — before the buffet switches to lunch items that include bread pudding and some really sweet potatoes. You’ll get to taste it all, but you’d best be hungry or you may end up in a food coma. Perhaps a seat in the largest outdoor dining courtyard in the French Quarter would be a good choice, just in case you need some fresh air. Visit courtoftwosisters.com for a recipe of the best bread pudding and whiskey sauce topping this side of Louisiana.
For dinner in a restaurant revived from the ‘70s and once frequented by the late playwright, Tennessee Williams, head to Dumaine Street, where Marti’s, namesake of the owner who died in the ‘80s, has re-opened as a hot spot to grab a few cocktails and enjoy chilled seafood and oysters. Or head to newer NOLA at Cochon for some traditional Cajun Southern dishes sourced from local meat and seafood. The open kitchen provides its own entertainment for those who enjoy watching a pig carving. If you want to taste fried boudin balls (rice and pork) or deep fried beef jerky, or better yet, ham with crispy skin and grits, make it a point to stop at Cochon. After dinner, head to one of many hotel cocktail lounges (NewOrleansHotelCollection) for live jazz and perhaps a tarot card reading for additional entertainment. Yes, you can find tarot card readers at every turn in NOLA.
You can also find beignets, but whose got the best? It’s a personal choice, but if you like ‘em large, head to Café Beignet (CafeBeignet.com) and be prepared to stand in line. Or you can follow the flock outside and wait an hour or so for a seat at the most famous spot for beignets and coffee: Café du Monde, just to say you did.
French impressionist Edward Degas’ mother and grandmother were born in New Orleans, and there’s a tour inside their split up home sure to interest history and art buffs alike. In the year 1872, Degas painted the portrait of Estelle, which now hangs in the New Orleans Museum of Art. Its better half is where the Degas House Bed and Breakfast is open for tourists, and is a place filled with NOLA character and charm, and perhaps a few lingering spirits.
New Orleans School of Cooking is a must for foodies who crave lessons on the secrets of how to make the perfect praline, crawfish etouffee or roux (getting flour to cook), and to learn how to infuse recipes with the trinity ingredients: onions, celery and green pepper. Kevin Belcher runs a comedy-infused class, beginning with his mantra: "Louisiana foods are different than home," he says. "Stomp your foot, beat your hands, lick your fingers and be quick and lick your friends fingers."
As they say all over Louisiana, "Laissez les bons temps rouler" (Let the good times roll)!
Charlene Peters is editor of special features at GateHouse Media New England. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Tasso Pork, Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo
courtesy of Carolyn Manning, Blue Southern Comfort Foods (bluesoutherncomfort.com)
2-3 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 cooked Tasso pork shoulder
2 lbs. smoked sausage
2 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. Cajun seasoning
4 cups finely diced onions
4 cups chopped okra
3 cups finely diced celery
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks butter
7 cups chicken stock
4 tsp. minced fresh garlic
Pot of cheese grits
- Sprinkle the chicken evenly with two tablespoons of the Cajun seasoning. Grill. Slice sausage into coins and brown. Pull or cube pork.
- Combine onions, okra and celery in a bowl and sauté until browned. Sauté two additional minutes with garlic.
- Combine meat, veggies and chicken broth in stockpot. Heat to medium.
- Add butter to cast iron skillet and melt, add flour and whisk. Cook until dark brown roux. Add to stockpot and stir.
- Taste and add salt if needed. Sprinkle in gumbo filè to taste.
- Serve over rice or cheese grits.
COCKTAIL: Bonnie & Clyde
courtesy Ballatore Cellars
- 4 scoops lemon or passion sorbet
- 3 oz. citrus vodka
- 1 oz. pomegranate juice
- 1 cup Ballatore Gran Spumante
- Long mint sprigs for garnish
Split two scoops of softened sorbet between two Martini glasses. Add 1-1/2 oz. citrus vodka to each glass. Add pomegranate juice to one of the glasses. Top off both glasses with Ballatore Gran Spumante and garnish with a long mint sprig. Serve with spoon and straw.
courtesy Kevin Belcher, New Orleans School of Cooking
1 cup flour
1 cup oil (other than olive)
4 cups chopped onions
2 cups celery
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 tbsp. chopped garlic
2 cups chicken stock or flavored water
2 lbs. crawfish tails
2 tsp. Joe’s Stuff seasoning blend (or paprika)
- Add flour to hot oil to make a dark, chocolate colored roux, stirring constantly. Add seasoning blend to roux, along with onions, celery, green pepper, and garlic. Do not use a non-stick pan.
- In another pot with piping hot chicken stock, stir in roux gradually until blended well. The color should be that of peanut butter. Cook for 20 minutes over medium heat.
- Add crawfish, and cook an additional 10 minutes. If desired, chopped green onions and parsley may be added 5 minutes before serving.
Makes 8 servings.
Taste of Travel: Three sides of Louisiana
Shreveport / Bossier