Grand Coteau and neighbors cook up
Grand Coteau in St. Landry Parish is a quiet provincial village where cultural diversity and Cajun charm thrive with Southern hospitality. Grand Coteaualong with the nearby towns of Opelousas and Euniceoffer music, history and fabulous food to create what locals call gumbo for the soul.
Miraculous Grand Coteau
Geographically central for 19th-century travelers, Grand Coteau became the favored choice of St. Philippine Duchesne, who established the Academy of the Sacred Heartthe second-oldest continuously operating school west of the Mississippiin 1821. Follow Church Street in Grand Coteau to the academy, located at 1821 Academy Road, to tour the expansive grounds, museum exhibits and the Shrine of St. John Berchmanssite of a certified miracle.
Sacred encounters continue with a stroll through the oak-lined alley running from the academy to the St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church (174 Church St.), renowned for its Empire-style wooden architecture. St. Charles also houses a unique collection of stained glass and 36 original paintings.
“We collect items from around the world, as well as many things that are exclusively Louisiana,” said Patrice Melnick of Casa Azul Gifts (232 Martin Luther King Drive).
A few doors down the street is The Kitchen Shop and Tea Room (296 Martin Luther King Drive). While waiting for lunch, browse the inventory of cookware, cookbooks and local crawfish jam.
Chances are you’ll also catch the aromas of buttery pastries wafting from the kitchen.
“That’s the Gateau NaNa you’re smelling, our house specialty,” said owner and pastry chef Nancy Brewer, who explained how the NaNa, a rich pecan-stuffed pastry, pairs perfectly with her café-au-lait.
Overflowing plates to savory lagniappe snacks are easily found in St. Landry Parish. Famous for its contemporary Cajun gourmet cuisine, Grand Coteau’s Catahoula’s (234 Martin Luther King Drive) is a AAA two Diamond restaurant, and it consistently receives rave reviews. Chef Jude Tauzin’s use of traditional Louisiana ingredientssuch as crawfish, blue crab and yamscreates sophisticated dishes, like his signature Seafood Napoleon, a layered tower of seafood laced with a Tabasco cream. His Sweet Potato Jolivette is a fried sweet potato grit cake crowned with crawfish in a bacon meunière.
From Grand Coteau, travel 15 minutes north on Interstate 49 to Opelousas, hometown of Paul Prudhomme, Tony Chachere’s Creole Spice Company and the city’s latest culinary find, Le Zinc Main Street Bar & Restaurant (204 North Main).
“We took our name from the metal that covers the bar,” said Le Zinc manager Johnathon Frost, who explained how in the late 19th-century French bars were pewter or zinc-clad.
“Folks began saying they were going to the zinc instead of the bar,” he said.
Go to Le Zinc for either lunch or dinner where full bar service and an extensive wine list are available. Its menu sports seasonal seafood, steaks, sandwiches and saladsall artfully executed and plated with Louisiana style.
Head west on U.S. Highway 190 towards Eunice and keep a look out for gumbo joints and cracklin stands. Cracklins, considered a regional delicacy, are deep-fried pork rinds often seasoned with a healthy shake of Cajun spice. For a true Cajun treat, stop at a local meat market for boudin, a spiced pork and rice sausage.
In addition to boudin, gumbo rules in Louisiana. Oversized bowls of homemade gumbo are offered everyday but Monday at Mathilda’s Country Kitchen (611 South St. Mary Road) in Eunice.
“The secret to making a good gumbo is in the seasonings,” said Mathilda Johnwell, who’s been refining the art of gumbo and barbecue for customers since 1983.
Music and Mardi Gras
If food is the soul of a Cajun, then music is his heart. Listen to a Cajun-style jam session any Saturday morning from 9noon at the Savoy Music Center, 4413 Highway190 East, in Eunice. Here, local musicians bring their musical talents along with boxes of boudin to share.
Follow the music down the road to the Jean Lafitte National Park Prairie Acadian Cultural Center, 250 W. Ave. Cajun music is demonstrated free each Saturday at 3 p.m., with a cooking demonstration following at 4 p.m. Next door is the restored 1924 Liberty Theater, now the Liberty Center for the Performing Arts, home of the “Rendez-Vous des Cajuns,” a live radio show presented in Cajun French, aired each Saturday night. Take in the show and some Cajun two-stepping on the Liberty’s vintage dance floor.
Opelousas, the “Zydeco Capital of the World,” has a long history of celebrating its Creole culture. Learn about the area’s heritage at the Opelousas Museum and Interpretive Center (315 North Main St.).
One of the region’s most colorful events is the Cajun Mardi Gras, held each year on Fat Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday).
“Everyone turns out for the Courir de Mardi Gras run (parade),” said St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission Director Celeste Gomez. “Unlike the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Cajun Mardi Gras is family friendly and is a community celebration. The music is non-stop and the gumbo flows.”
Where to stay
St. Landry Parish offers a wide variety of accommodations, from historic bed-and-breakfast inns to moderately priced motel chains. During my stay, I visited the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites (5696 I-49 North Service Road) in Opelousas and La Caboose Bed-and-Breakfast (145 South Budd St.) in Sunset.
After a stay in St. Landry Parish, your soul will certainly be satisfied from all the memories of food, music and flavorful fun.
Suzanne Corbett is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.
|Jan/ Feb 2008 Issue
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