Beyond Cajun: Baton Rouge’s New Food Scene
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has a food ethos all its own. Its culinary scene has simmered slowly over time from a mélange of cultures that pepper the landscape with a surprising variety of cuisines. You can always find the classically fried shrimp po’boy and Creole dishes, but these, by no means, define this city. Today’s Baton Rouge includes food seasoned with unique spice and herb combinations, flavorful meats, innovative pop-ups, delectable desserts, and fantastic food festivals.
Nestled alongside the Mississippi, the 450-foot-tall state capitol building is the tallest such structure in the United States and can be seen from many parts of the city. Huey Long, Louisiana’s famous (many say infamous) 40th governor, was known for his powerful and shady political influence. He was not only responsible for the construction of the building but was also assassinated there in 1935.
Good local food, however, transcends politics. Talking to anyone who grew up here, they will proudly tell you about learning how to make their family’s gumbo, jambalaya, roux, and étouffée. In fact, many locals have two identities: their day jobs and then their culinary alter egos. This includes lawyer-turned-foodie-blogger Franz N. Borghardt (BRbrunches.com) and government employee Jay Ducote, who became a radio talk show host and was a runner up on Season 11 of Food Network Star. His blog, BiteandBooze, is wildly popular with locals.
One of the reasons, in fact, to follow blogs like these is to find out the locations for last minute pop-ups throughout the city. One popular example is Ducote’s Government Taco (so named for his future brick-and-mortar establishment that will be part of the larger food hall White Star Market on Government Street opening in January 2018). The Boullia Babes Catering Company also does pop-ups, making incredible sandwiches like its Sammich of smoked turkey, capicola ham, Calabrese salami, muenster cheese, house pickles, onion, and lemon rosemary aioli on pressed French bread.
If you are visiting for the first time and only have a few days, here is a thumbnail sketch for the ultimate tasting tour of Baton Rouge.
Start at Red Stick Spice Company, where Anne Milneck has created an oasis of spices, herbs, and artisanal foods from Southern Louisiana. If there is a cooking class during your visit, sign up as Milneck is an amazing cook and storyteller. You will want to make her childhood Tart au la Bouille creamy pie recipe as soon as you return home.
For a progressive dinner, make a reservation at Cocha, one of the hottest downtown spots. Owned by a married couple, this eatery serves globally inspired and locally sourced cuisine that is inspired by their respective Venezuelan and Dutch backgrounds. Start with fried yucca root with avocado salsa ($5), then the lavender lamb chops with grilled squash and honey herb sauce ($14). These are but a sample of the palate-pleasing items on the menu.
Next, head to Magpie Café, a community café that libations and dishes prepared from seasonal ingredients. The shrimp stuffed avocado paired with the Soul of Tijuana cocktail is delicious ($9). Magpie is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
For breakfast, Stephanie Phares’ Zeeland Street Market is a neighborhood eatery whose motto is come in as a customer, leave as a friend. Her Hash Brown O’Brien with sautéed bell pepper and onions, mozzarella, and cheddar cheese is a local favorite ($5.99).