A Little Overnight Trip to Lafayette, Louisiana
With nearly a week-long stay planned for New Orleans, I recently searched out an overnight escape to the “countryside.” For a food-oriented trip, Oxford (MS) was at the top of my list, but I didn’t want to spend so much time driving, so I targeted towns within a three-hour drive of the Crescent City.
I’d heard good things about Lafayette, and with desire to explore a bit of Cajun country, this small city made the most sense for a visit. It’s got a budding food reputation, the music scene is fine, and there are enough activities and attractions to easily fill a weekend. Actually, it’s a destination that deserves more time, which would allow a chance to get out to the real countryside and experience what Cajun country offers, like boudin at gas stations, morning music jams, and small town charm. Still, Lafayette was an ideal overnight getaway with some good food and fun to be had.
To make the most of your time, you’ll want to leave New Orleans after a morning coffee and get to Lafayette in time for lunch. In my case, this meant a two-part lunch to sample a couple of different po-boys. First up was Olde Tyme Grocery, a bustling little shop where you order at the counter, and they’ll find you waiting at a table in the adjoining dining room or outside. My choice here was the half and half po-boy, with the sandwich split between fried oysters and fried shrimp. Both halves were good, though I preferred the side with the snappy shrimp. As with many po-boy shops, you can get your ubiquitous Zapp’s potato chips (try the Spicy Cajun Crawtators) and Barq’s root beer to go with your sandwich. (Beware: Old Tyme is old-time indeed, imposing religious imagery in the dining room and evangelical messaging on your receipt—like it or not.)
Next up was the relatively new Pop’s Poboys (yes, there are several possible spellings of po-boy), which is bit more contemporary in feel. That extends to the food, with more “sophisticated” po-boys. Again, you order at the counter and then wait for your food at a table of your choice. Here I tried the Boudreaux, with buttermilk fried catfish, pickled okra tartar sauce, and blue cheese coleslaw. Another fine po-boy!
A short stroll from Pop’s is Johnson’s Boucaniere. If you happen to leave New Orleans extremely early, a bonus is that Johnson’s is open for breakfast at 7am. Stuffed from the sandwiches, I stopped in for a small nibble, specifically a sampling of the brisket and boudin. Very impressive. The brisket was moist and flavorful, while the boudin had a welcoming amount of spice to it. With more stomach space, I could foresee eating a brisket po-boy or sandwich, perhaps topped with some of their housemade sausage. And more of that boudin, please.
Following all of this food, it was time to walk. Downtown Lafayette is on the small side, so your exploration won’t take long. You can also walk to Borden’s Ice Cream Shoppe, the last remaining Borden’s in the world. It’s full of history. Plus, ice cream slides into the empty spaces of the stomach, right?
After all the driving and eating, a nap and some rest was in order. My stay (with appreciation for hosting) was at the Homewood Suites by Hilton Lafayette-Airport, LA. The suite was quite comfortable and spacious, as well as convenient for running around town.
Dinner that evening would be down the street at Randol’s Seafood Restaurant. I had initially hoped to drive out to a rural restaurant for a crawfish boil, but places like Hawk’s in Rayne had yet to start service for the season. Thankfully, Randol’s providing a small taste of such an experience. I honestly can’t remember the last time I ate at a family restaurant; it was kind of refreshing to see multi-generation families sitting at large tables devouring crawfish and more. Children were running around like crazy, typically charging to the dance floor (strangely glassed in) where a band played toe-tapping Cajun music. The “crawfish boil” was fun to try, providing proof for me that eating them boiled and seasoned is better than getting them fried or sauced up.
To end the night, I recommend checking out the Blue Moon Saloon. This unique venue is at once a bar, a guesthouse, and a venue for live music. I stopped by for a small peek. It’s a friendly scene where locals (and out-of-towners) flock for evening entertainment.
Sunday morning meant an early start to get first seating for brunch at The French Press. The name is not a reference to coffee, but instead the restaurant’s setting in the historic Tribune Printing Plant, with some interesting effects in the primary dining room. (I especially liked the hanging typeface drawers and the use of a large cabinet of typeface shelves to serve as the host station.) I passed on praline bacon (one time, at Elizabeth’s in New Orleans, would be enough) but pounced on a boudin slider, quickly realizing why many people ate multiple numbers of them. Delicious, as was my order of grits and grillades with a topping of fried shrimp. This is a pleasant and popular place for brunch, and a great way to start the morning.
From there it was on to Vermilionville, a living history museum and folk-life park. As a history major, I’m sometimes skeptical of these attempts to put people in period costume to tell stories, but this place does it well. The workers were enthusiastic in practicing their crafts and conveying the Acadiana lifestyle. The buildings were also interesting, and I was glad to see one plantation building, as I regretted not having enough time to do a plantation tour closer to New Orleans.
With an activity planned to the east that afternoon, I made my way to Henderson for a quick snack at Crawfish Town USA. Situated in a big ol’ barn, it was a good place to warm up with some gumbo (and catch part of the second half of the Seahawks’ playoff game).
And then it was on to McGee’s Landing for an Atchafalaya Basin swamp tour. While waiting for the start of the tour, I enjoyed listening to a Cajun band playing in the restaurant (while watching the shockingly missed field goal that gave the Seahawks the playoff win—yes, I timed my stops well). I knew that it wasn’t really the right season to see alligators or any real wildlife on the tour, but figured it would be fun just to be out on the water. The scenery was worth seeing, but perhaps more interesting was “Pops'” narration, filled less with information about the area and more with jokes about fictional Cajun characters Thibodeaux and Fontaineaux. It was a good glimpse into the local humor (you have to listen hard to understand the accent); just know that you’re getting into a bit of a comedic boat ride.
With a rental car on the road to New Orleans, it was the perfect opportunity to eat at one “outside the city” restaurant. That might have been Mosca’s for their chicken a la grande, but since they’re closed on Sundays, it made the choice to go to Middendorf’s an easy one. This family restaurant in Akers looks like it must be buzzing during busy seasons, but it was a little slow in early January, so seating was quick and easy. They’re famous for their special fried thin catfish, served with hush puppies, coleslaw, and French fries. The thinness of the catfish is quite impressive (it’s partially frozen), with good breading and overall flavor—sure to be a hit with catfish lovers.
Thanks to the Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission for setting up dinner at Randol’s and brunch at The French Press, as well as assisting with accommodations and attractions.