It’s unfortunate that so many travellers to Louisiana restrict their visit to New Orleans. Sure, it’s a fabulous city not to be missed, with its live music, restaurants, and historic architecture. But just an hour away from NOLA, there’s Baton Rouge — the State capital and a foodie’s delight.
So what’s the story behind Baton Rouge? The city’s name originates from over 300 years ago – when the early French explorers stumbled across a pole stained with the blood of fish and animals. This “red stick” served as the dividing line between the Bayougoula and Houmas indigenous peoples. The French translation for red stick – Baton Rouge - has stuck every since.
Today, Baton Rouge is winning culinary awards and getting nods from the likes of Zagat. With over 400 restaurants, savvy travellers hit the culinary trail for authentic Louisiana dishes – everything from alligator sauce piquant to crawfish étouffée to some seriously spicy Cajun cuisine. Here are our Foodie’s Guide to Baton Rouge:
1. Louie’s Café
If you can get a table at Louie’s Cafe, consider yourself lucky. This greasy spoon first opened in 1941 and has rapidly expanded into a 60-seat, 24 hour diner with 1950s nostalgia. Now, it’s a hot spot for LSU students and sports fans who crave a dirty and delicious breakfast at all hours.
From my bar stool at the counter, watch the chefs scurry about in the kitchen, flipping eggs in pans and yelling orders. It feels like the stock market, only food is being traded.
For a Southern-style omelette, order the Seafood Louie ($13) – egg, shrimp and crawfish sautéed with vegetables in spiced butter and Swiss cheese, topped with an herbed crème sauce. The Cajun Hashbrowns ($4) are a must order for any Louie’s patron – a medley of potatoes fried in Louisiana spice and with grilled veggies.
While comfort food dominates the menu, healthier and equally delicious options are available at Louie’s. The Fruit Salad ($5) is a hearty portion of bananas, strawberries, pecans, and raisins, and the Veggie Omelette ($10) has a mixture of 10 different grilled vegetables.
Head downtown to peruse over 50 vendors of everything from seafood and meats to duck eggs to fresh fruits and breads to Louisiana wines. The Market is also an ideal spot to grab a bite to eat – the food stalls cook up some tasty dishes. The Red Stick Market runs every Saturday, rain or shine, from 8:00 am until 12 noon.
It’s worth the drive to the outskirts of Baton Rouge to Tony’s Seafood Market & Deli – where you’ll find some of the highest quality seafood in Louisiana.
In the late 1950s, Italian immigrant Tony Pizzolato sold shrimp with his five sons by the side of the road. After the city banned his shrimp pedalling, Tony leased a building and started selling catfish. He also hosted fish frys and bagged homemade fish seasoning — both of which drew in hoards of customers.
Fast forward to today: Tony’s Seafood is the largest seafood market in the Gulf South. It’s the #1 seller of fish seasoning in the United States and has been known to sell 50,000lbs of live and boiled crawfish in a day!
At the deli, a line of hungry customers wait for take out orders of Gumbo, Crawfish Pies, Boudin Balls, Jambalaya, Crawfish Etouffee, and fried shrimp. But for those who can wait to eat at home, there’s a tank of live blue crab and catfish ready for purchase. Either way, Tony’s Seafood is a Baton Rouge icon to be experienced.
4. Tin Roof Brewing Company
Looking for fun in Baton Rouge on a Friday night? For $5, the Tin Roof Brewing Company gives a tour of the brewery, a souvenir glass, and three beer samples. The brewery also hosts “Food Truck Friday” every third Friday of the month.
The Tin Roof Brewing Company was launched by two childhood friends who shared a love of beer and a desire to create their own Southern, handcrafted brand. The microbrewery uses only the highest quality American and European malts, freshest hops and pure parish well water. No preservatives or additives are ever used.
On the tour, sample the craft beers, learn the tricks of the trade, and naturally, start to get a little drunk.
“Never drink beer out of the can,” the Brewmaster tells us. “Y’all gotta see it and smell it.”
The Watermellon Wheat Ale is an perfect patio drink– light and fruity, tasting strongly of watermelon juice with a fizz. I’ve never tasted a craft beer so unique or refreshing. Unfortunately, it’s not available in Canada – you’ll have to visit Baton Rouge to get a taste!
5. Doe’s Eat Place
If you order at steak at Doe’s Eat Place, this is what you get: 4lbs of meat. Each sirloin can feed 3 or 4 people – although apparently it’s not uncommon for one person to eat it alone (!). Then again, Doe’s has been rated as one of the best steakhouses in the United States, so who are we to judge?
I’m not ready to consume a giant slab of beef for breakfast, so I opt for a series of tasting dishes prepared for a pop-up brunch. At 11am, my appetite is better suited to Cinnamon Beignets with amber beer sauce (below) and a Fig Crepe with coffee porter chocolate ganache (below).
I also try my first fried Cheese Grit “Arancini” (below) – it tastes like a Southern style of risotto balls and satisfies my salt craving. The Beer-Battered Quail (below) atop sweet potato pancakes gets high marks for flavour and originality.
To plan your trip, check out the Visit Baton Rouge website. Baton Rouge is located 1 hour from New Orleans. Flights to Baton Rouge and New Orleans depart from Pearson International Airport.
The writer was a guest of Visit Baton Rouge. The tourism board did not review or approve this article.