Louisiana is a state known for its food culture. Cajun, Creole, southern, and more all mingle to create some of the most indulgent regional dishes in the United States. Though most of the focus on Louisiana food culture resides in New Orleans, it would be a mistake to overlook Baton Rouge as a food destination in its own right.
When I found out I’d be working in Baton Rouge, I was excited because I’d be near New Orleans – which meant great food was only an hour away. But now that my time in Baton Rouge is coming to an end, I have realized that there is no need to drive all the way to the Big Easy for great Louisiana cooking; it abounds in Lousiana’s capital city.
I’m sharing four of my favorite restaurants and some of their signature dishes that have not only enhanced my Baton Rouge experiences, but also my waistline.
Boudin Balls – Parrains
Boudin is a type of sausage that is eaten world-wide, but in Louisiana there is a delicious, deep fried version of it that takes the concept to another level. The pork sausage meat is combined with a dirty rice mixture and then instead of being stuffed into typical sausage casings, it is rolled into a ball shape, battered, and deep fried.
It’s safe to say that before I went to Baton Rouge, I had never eaten a sausage like this before. In fact, when it came out, I didn’t even realize it was a sausage – it looked more like a hush puppy.
Upon biting into one of the boudin balls, it was kind of like opening up a fried ball of jambalaya. Rice, pork, and Cajun spices spilled over the fried outside creating a unique food sensation.
I have now made boudin balls part of my weekly diet in Baton Rouge, but out of all the different kinds I’ve tried, I’ve found that Parrain’s serves up some of the tastiest in the city.
The boudin balls aren’t the only reason to stop into Parrain’s – the restaurant’s décor alone is reason enough to visit this Baton Rouge institution. Looking like an old wooden shack right out of the bayou, Parrain’s delivers on atmosphere.
Add to this a menu full of regional seafood specialties, and it’s not hard to see why Parrain’s is a favorite of Baton Rouge locals and visitors alike.
Po’Boys – George’s
The Po’Boy is a Louisiana institution. A soft french roll split in two and stuffed with any number of delicious meats, cheeses, and vegetables. Fried shrimp, roast beef, sausage and cheese are just a few of the more popular Po’Boy flavors, and in Baton Rouge, George’s is the place to get them.
George’s is quite literally under the freeway, with the I-10 overpass running directly above the restaurant. When I parked and got out of my car, the ‘thump thump’ of the cars racing over my head at 70 mph drowned out any other sounds. Upon stepping into George’s, I quickly forgot about the chaos outside and instead found myself in one of the diviest dives I’ve ever been in.
A dingy bar overlooked the dark, dank interior of George’s. Dollar bills with notes scrawled on them were hung all over the walls, and I’m sure many of these were older than me. The bathroom was essentially a toilet embedded in a solid concrete slab, and not much else.
We sat down at a table expecting a waiter, but we soon realized that George’s doesn’t pay waiters, so you take your own food order, write it on a check with your name, and leave it at the bar.
The menu (scrawled out on a chalkboard) contained all the typical foods I expected to see at a dive bar, but also had many Cajun favorites to go along with the standard burgers and fries. I gravitated to the Po’Boy on a recommendation.
A few minutes later, my name was barked out from behind the bar. I picked up my Po’Boy, took it back to the table, and settled into the mouth watering sandwich which was as good as any I’ve had in New Orleans.
George’s may not be the prettiest place in Baton Rouge, but this little dive under the bridge has great food and the unique sort of character that makes a visit worthwhile.
Blackened Alligator – Boutin’s
Of all the strange ‘game’ foods, alligator seems to be one of the more approachable; it is one of the classic ‘tastes like chicken’ meats. While it’s available in other parts of the country, it is extremely prevalent on local menus in southern Louisiana.
On my first night in Baton Rouge, I found the perfect restaurant serving gator to welcome me into the city. Boutin’s is a typical Cajun restaurant, and looks as if it would be more at home on stilts in the Bayou than in suburban Baton Rouge.
Upon entering, I heard the distinctive hum of a fiddle accompanied by an accordion; there were live musicians playing Cajun music right in the restaurant. The menu held many traditional Cajun favorites: jambalaya, gumbo, et toufee, crawfish tails, etc. But I was only interested in one particularly scaly menu item – the gator.
Boutin’s serves the gator a few different ways, but I went for the blackened style. Blackening is a cooking technique wherein the food is coated in melted butter then covered in various spices before cooking, creating a light and crispy black crust around the meat.
The gator was delicious, and the blackening was a great complement. And you know what? It did taste a bit like chicken.
Barbecue Shrimp – The Chimes
During my time in Baton Rouge, I got the impression that The Chimes is one of the best loved restaurants in town. I received my first recommendation to visit the restaurant from a server I met in Santa Barbara who went to school at LSU.
After hearing her initial recommendation, I began to hear about it from everyone else in Baton Rouge as well.
“Have you been to Chimes yet?”
I heard this question on more than one occasion from my local Baton Rouge clients. Finally, one night after work I gave in and convinced a couple coworkers to join me for a dinner at the institution.
The Chimes sits right next to the LSU campus, and the university’s influence is evident. It looked as though the entire restaurant was staffed with students, and most of the clientele fit the same demographic. Walking into that atmosphere, I pined ever so slightly for my own college days.
I asked my server what The Chimes was known for, and he pointed me towards the barbecue shrimp, served either on a Po’Boy or on top of a fried grits cake. The server clearly knew I wasn’t a southerner when he asked me if I knew what grits were (was it the way I was dressed? My western accent? My general lack of southern gentleman-lyness?)
Having already had my po’boy at George’s, I went for the shrimp served on the fried grits cake. The entire dish came out smothered in a spicy butter sauce that was so good I could have ordered it alone as my beverage.
While the atmosphere was great, it was the food that will bring me back to The Chimes should I find myself in Baton Rouge again.
Have you ever eaten any of these foods? What is your favorite Cajun/Creole meal?
blackened alligator photo courtesy of CarolineJHingory.com
the chimes photo courtesy of thechimes.com