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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Touring Lake Charles by Sight and by Stomach

The Southwest Louisiana city of Lake Charles is underrated. Living in Baton Rouge, I spend a lot of time touting the capital city as a worthwhile stop between Lafayette and New Orleans, and better yet as a true destination of its own. But in all my talk about Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and the Big Easy, often forgotten are other parts of Louisiana which possess plenty of culture of their own. On  recent press trip to Lake Charles I got to experience the city through culinary lenses. On the night of our arrival we had dinner at Ember Grille and Wine Bar at the L'Auberge Casino. The following day we got a tour of the city complete with food stops, a horse-drawn carriage historical tour, more food, and some wildlife refuges. Here's a recap of the gastronomic adventure!

Our first stop was for boudin and cracklins at Guillory's Famous Foods. The boudin pictured below is the smoked version which I very much enjoyed. They also have a regular (steamed or boiled instead of smoked) boudin. Boudin is a pork and rice mixture that typically contains liver as well. It is seasoned with all sorts of spices then stuffed into sausage casing. If you are an unfortunate soul who has never had boudin before, it is worth a trip to Louisiana on its own.

Boudin at Guillory's Famous Foods in Lake Charles
Boudin at Guillory's Famous Foods in Lake Charles

In many ways tough, I prefer the cracklin over the boudin, if ever I were in the unfortunate predicament of having to choose. The cracklin is a perfect mixture of pork skin, fat, and muscle tissue that is fried once to soften it up and cook it through then fried a second time to make it extra crispy and crunch and, well, cracklin-y. Guillory's had regular and spicy cracklins for the eating enjoyment of our group. I also learned something at Guillory's Famous Foods that I'll never forget. Especially at breakfast time, one of the best combinations in the world is to dip your cracklin in Louisiana cane syrup. Seriously... do it.

Cracklin at Guillory's Famous Foods in Lake Charles
Cracklin at Guillory's Famous Foods in Lake Charles


After a breakfast of champions, our group arrived in historic downtown Lake Charles for a historical tour of the city. Aboard a horse-drawn carriage we learned about Lake Charles architecture, lumber barons, haunted houses, and people who mess up historic properties. I hope I'm never one of those guys! Our tour ended at an old schoolhouse building that now serves as office space for a lot of different companies and public officials. Inside the building is the Lake Charles Mardi Gras Museum. I took a seat on the throne for good measure. The museum shows off a plethora of elaborate Mardi Gras costumes and includes its history outside of New Orleans. We also got to decorate our own King Cakes. While this was nothing new to me, I did enjoy having a taste of King Cake in the fall!

Lunch brought us to the unassuming but blissfully local Seafood Palace. There we were treated to a smorgasbord of seafood delights that filled our bellies and warmed our souls. The boiled crabs looked amazing as they adorned our table upon arrival. I do love a good boiled crab!

Boiled Crabs at Seafood Palace
Boiled Crabs at Seafood Palace

There were several people at the table who had never eaten alligator before so I took the liberty of ordering an appetizer of fried alligator bites for the group. They were as good as any fried alligator I've had before, which is definitely saying something. Some say alligator tastes like chicken. I say it tastes more like frog legs. Though, most people say frog legs taste like chicken, so I guess it all does to a degree!

Fried Alligator at Seafood Palace in Lake Charles
Fried Alligator at Seafood Palace in Lake Charles

I ordered the shrimp and oyster combo platter which comes with fries. Why not just fry everything, right? They were all delicious. I couldn't quite finish it all after everything else I ate, and knowing what would be in store for dinner, but it was too good to not try my hardest! 

Fried Alligator at Seafood Palace in Lake Charles
Fried Shrimp and Oyster Combo at Seafood Palace

After lunch we took off in the bus to several National Wildlife Refuges including Cameron Prairie where we spotted quite a few alligators getting some sun like this guy featured below. I would have liked him more had be been in my belly! After the sight-seeing we were back to L'Auberge to rest and get cleaned up for dinner at La Truffe Sauvage... a dinner so amazing that it'll have to wait for its own blog post in the upcoming week!

An alligator in the sun at the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge
An alligator in the sun at the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge