Easy Eats in Lake Charles

Eric Anderson, MD

,
Nancy Anderson, RN

Lake Charles, La., has charms beyond Mardi Gras: its culinary attractions for example. Sure, since the city is in Southwest Louisiana you'd expect southern kitchen and Creole and Cajun renderings - but there's more.

Lake Charles, La., has charms beyond Mardi Gras: its culinary attractions for example. Sure, since the city is in Southwest Louisiana you’d expect southern kitchen and Creole and Cajun renderings — but there’s more.

Southern Kitchens obviously do not specialize in simple lettuce salads!

Fancy a special sausage? Try the Boudin Trail.

Perhaps you don’t know what Boudin is. You are not alone. It turns out it is a type of sausage or, more correctly, a “staple snack in the southern regions of the Bayou State.” It is a soul-food sometimes called “Southwest Louisiana’s favorite finger food melding the best from Cajun, German and Creole culinary traditions with an additional history that traces back to Canada by way of France.” That’s quite a mouthful! And so are the boudins being made by Jeff Benoit at B & O Kitchen & Grocery in Sulphur, La., yet another example of Small Town America.

The B & O Kitchen opened in 1983 and that’s Coritta Oliver, Benoit’s grandmother and original owner, holding up another form of boudin. And what does it taste like? To locals? Heaven. To effete Southern Californians, many of whom are vegans without knowing it, it’s an acquired taste.

Visitors looking for something different, say, French or Continental cuisine should search out Harlequin Steaks & Seafood. As well as a delightful menu, the restaurant has interesting art on its walls and countertops from the famous painting of Napoleon to a Newsweek cover of Louisiana’s colorful ex-governor, U.S. Sen Huey Long.

The cover is dated Aug. 25, 1934, and the top right has been stamped WITHDRAWN. We wonder if this was because he was assassinated before the cover could be printed in bulk, but an internet search shows he was shot a year later on Sept. 10, 1935. We are curious, because how many rogue politicians have been shot by a physician? Dr. Carl Weiss, aged 29, was killed by Huey’s bodyguards.

Huey collapsed aged 42 and as he died reputedly said, “God, don’t let me die. I have so much to do” — a sentiment many people must have, we suspect.

Anyway, we ask a waiter, “Why does the cover have WITHDRAWN stamped on it?” The reply is anticlimactic: “I ‘borrowed’ the cover from the town library and never returned it.”

Harlequin gives visitors an experience worth enjoying. Another restaurant, but one without much to notice on the walls, is 121 Artisan Bistro on 121 Dr. Michael deBakey Drive. Funny, it’s on such a respectfully-named street, but two of its favorite blogging fans who review local dining establishments call themselves “a really hungry guy and a kinda hungry chick.” Elegant not, but buried amongst their verbiage is their consensus: the food is great and locals love ’em.

Like any city, Lake Charles has lots of dining choices, from the most elegant in town — the modern and marvelous American steakhouse, the Ember Grille and Wine Bar in L’Augerge Casino Resort for a classy dinner — to Steamboat Bill’s on the Lake for lunch where we ask a local if we may photograph her plate/bucket of crawfish, her hands almost plucking too fast for still photography.

Want more seafood? Seafood Palace, a “down-home Cajun restaurant” is a local’s choice for seafood-filled pistolettes (French rolls) and shrimp gumbo.

Maybe you’re finally ready for desert. Your choice is clear. You came for Mardi Gras, so why not go for the famous Mardi Gras dessert: King Cake? We chat to Paul Fontenot whose parents started Delicious Donuts on Country Club Road (center figure in top image of following photograph).

The Fontenots put a modern twist to a tradition that goes back to 12th century France. Then the cake was baked on the Twelfth Night of Christmas to commemorate the three kings’ visit to the baby Jesus. The French settlers brought the concept to Louisiana in the 18th century where the Twelfth Night grand balls launched the carnival season.

The cake has to be round “like a crown and bejeweled with carnival-colored sugars.” As it became a tradition amongst friends and families a small plastic baby was hidden in the cake and whoever got the slice with the baby was the host for the following year’s event.

The Fontenot twist was to create a bakery where Mardi Gras visitors can sign up to prepare the cake themselves for Mardi Gras. They are given the ingredients: icing, sprinkles, plastic baby, carnival mask and Tricolor flag. An empty box for mailing and a blank label to be self-addressed is also provided — and the box will arrive in good shape and full of calories within a few days.

What a great high-fun way to remember the low-key events of Mardi Gras of Southwest Louisiana.

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the NH Academy of Family Practice, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.