~Thursday, January 26, 2023~
A beautiful sunny day, but crisp and cold….very unusual for The South. There’s evidently a cold front that is blasting the region all the way down to The Florida Keys. Having not experienced much of a summer in Alaska, we’re ready for a little heat.
With it being our final day in Abbeville, we decided to explore the downtown and surrounding area. It wasn’t a complete dud, but let’s just say things didn’t quite go to plan. Our first destination was the C.S. Steen Syrup Mill. There were cars parked outside the building, but very quiet. The front door, locked. So I called the company to see if we were at the right location. We were, but they in no way shape or form, offer tours. They are strictly a production plant. I couldn’t remember where I got my 411, but it was certainly inaccurate. Well then, what’s next? Just across the street was a beautiful church, towering over the town of Abbeville. Over the years, Saint Mary Magdalen Catholic Church has had four churches on this site, where the present
church has stood since 1911. Just beyond the church is the modest town
square with a lovely, simple fountain and one of a few statues dedicated to the founder of Abbeville, Pere Antoine Desire Megret. With not much else in the way of a destination downtown, we headed back to the car and passed a cool sign listing a variety of things that Abbeville is known for…..Steen’s Pure Cane Syrup, Mahatma Rice, and Cajun Power Garlic Sauce to name a few.
On our list of things to do today was touring the Scenic Byway Hwy. 14, notably a worthwhile way to see the Vermilion Parish and local history. After driving through a few towns like Maurice, Delcambre and Gueydan, we really weren’t seeing anything that struck us. So we decided to spend the rest of our afternoon in the town of Lafayette. But first, a little sustenance. Part of the experience of getting to know the culture of where you are, is tasting the flavors of the region, especially in Louisiana. Experiencing a meal in Cajun/Creole country is, to us, just as important as sightseeing. It IS part of sightseeing. If you’re a foodie like us, there are definitely places not so noteworthy for dining out. But here, it’s the embodiment of the region; its own unique ingredients, its own iconic flavor and a world all its own. Our stop for most of the afternoon…..Bon Temps Grill. The Zydeco music immediately got us in the spirit as our waitress Brooke made our visit that much more special. What a ball of energy and fast, witty talker. The first thing she let us know about was their margarita special at $3 with only a $3 upcharge for premium tequila. Being the margarita lover that I am, I couldn’t refuse. My tequila choice….Patron. For Jeff, it was a local IPA. The drinks were delicious and refreshing. Jeff and I both agreed that Brooke reminded us a little of our niece Samantha with her energy and good looks. Brooke certainly knew the menu very well as there were a few items that we mispronounced and that were all too foreign to us. Take for example the Sausage and Boudin
which Jeff was interested in. What is boudin? If you're from the sourdough region of San Francisco, it’s usually related to bread. Not in the South. Boudin is a blend of cooked pork, rice, onions, peppers and seasoning stuffed into a sausage casing. The casing is usually made from pork intestines. Being the non meat-lover that I am, you’re lucky that I’m even writing about it. Anyway, Jeff was a happy customer. For me, it was Fried Catfish Mon Dieu.
But what is Mon Dieu? It’s a French word for surprise. The surprise happened to be the crawfish etouffee. So not only was I getting catfish, I was also getting crawfish, otherwise known as “mudbugs” in The South. Étouffée is a French word for a roux or gravy and it was deeeelicous. It also came with a side of a rich Corn Maque Choux which is basically a creamed corn. When we inquired about what alligator tastes like, she didn’t hesitate for a minute to bring out a sampling. Normally, I would have said “no”. But Brooke went out of her way to bring it to our table, so we tried it. She couldn’t wait to see our reaction. It actually reminded me of chicken, as most things do. But like chicken, it is a meat, and I don't plan on it passing my lips again any time soon. At least we can now say we’ve tried it. Our meal was absolutely delicious and an example of true southern cooking. Now, I don’t know where we had room, but we couldn’t leave without trying a slice of southern decadence….pecan pie a la mode. The crust was amazing and the pie, one of the best we’d ever tasted. What a fun way to fill an afternoon and our stomachs.
Basically waddling to the car, the restaurant was filling up quickly as it was near 5:00. Nice to have a late lunch/early dinner sort of thing which we NEVER do. At least we won’t go to bed on a full stomach. Now THAT we do way too much.
There wasn’t much daylight left with temperatures dropping. We at least had time to look at a focal point of the town of Lafayette….another Catholic church. Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church stands
as a sentinel for locals and tourists alike. Behind the
church is a very large, crowded cemetery where we noted that most of the last names were French, not surprising based on where we were. Some headstones dated back to the early 1800’s. Next to the church is what’s known as the St. John Cathedral Oak. It is one of the largest live oak trees in the United States, and is estimated to be almost 500 years old. Even in 1800, it was a large tree back then, when the property was donated to the Church. The diameter of the trunk is nine feet and the circumference is 28’-9”. It stands 126 feet high with an average spread of 138 feet. The largest limb weighs 72 tons. How is this possible?
Surprisingly, the church doors were unlocked, so we took a peek inside and met up with a very nice gentleman who happens to be a regular parishioner and who has quite a history with the church, having gone to school there. He was even married in this very building. His mother’s gravesite is behind the church as well, which he comes to visit nearly every week. And who better to broaden our understanding of the area than THIS man. He insisted on sharing what the difference was between Creole and Cajun. Geographically, Cajun country is very small in comparison to Creole, extending from St. Charles to Baton Rouge down to the Gulf. Cajun people are from French descendants and Creole people are a mixture of European and African-American descent. Most Creole people live in the New Orleans region or Acadiana. What a nice man and another example of people making all the difference in how we experience a town or a region. It was delightful. We said goodbye to the man in the church and went our separate ways. Ours was headed to a local supermarket. We had passed one earlier in the day with a name we didn’t recognize. We’re always wanting to check out new supermarkets, at least new to us. Rouses Supermarket was already in full swing in its preparations for Mardi Gras and seems to be THE place to buy King Cakes and Creole Crabcakes for the occasion. We scored on finding what we came for……a bottle of Cajun Power Garlic Sauce that we were told was a must have and a box of Zataran’s Red Beans and Rice to accompany Jeff’s leftover sausage. Rouses is a great market.
As we neared our campground, the municipal airport was busy with helicopters taking off and landing. Jeff brought up a good point that maybe this airport services many of the workers that head out to the oil rigs out in the Gulf. Hmmmm….I may just have to investigate that one as it does make sense.