Thursday, January 29, 2015

All Your Favorite Balls [Ranked by a Boudin Ball Expert]

Boudin Balls on Boudin Balls.
On a mission to find the best boudin balls in Baton Rouge
by Sydney "Brown Nose" Blanchard, intern

It may not seem obvious, but here at Bite and Booze, we work hard. 

Day in and day out, we shovel mountains of food into our face holes, forcing down bite after agonizing bite, analyzing and articulating flavor, texture and taste. 

Eating and drinking Louisiana's best food and beverages is not for those of weak constitutions. Just ask me. I can't hang.

"In the three weeks I have interned at Bite and Booze, I have overeaten to the point of vomiting twice." 
 We make it look easy, but it's grueling. And someone's gotta do it.

That's why we decided to get to the bottom of one of Baton Rouge's most pressing matters. Not higher education budget cuts, not our quickly-deteriorating ecosystem, not the salt-water intrusion threatening to cause the collapse of the city as we know it.

We decided to investigate Baton Rouge's Best Boudin Balls.

Baton Rouge has a number of delectable balls in an astonishing range of shapes, textures and sizes.
And they're all beautiful, each and every one. And that's says a lot coming from me.

We rounded up seven of our favorite balls from across the city, and left the deciding up to one man.

Mr. Loup (progenitor of Blair Loup, Bite and Booze's Chief Confusion Coordinator) is a mustachioed, Opelous-born, Sulphur-raised Southern gentleman. Having grown up in "Boudin Country" and being accustomed to eating the best boudin the world has to offer, we felt Mr. Loup would be the perfect person to rank Baton Rouge ball scene. As an extra qualifier, he had never once eaten a Baton Rouge boudin ball before, so his opinion ethically lacked any preconceived notions.

Jay, Blair and I spent an afternoon venturing across the city to the restaurants listed below, acquiring an order of boudin balls at each location. At Blair's apartment, we incubated our boudin babies under a heat lamp to keep them warm, and had Mr. Loup do a blind taste test. Perfectly scientific.

Here's what he came up with. Now go out and eat!

7. Dempsey's, 13580 Coursey Blvd.

Dempsey's is one of our favorite eateries, but Mr. Loup wasn't too keen on their boudin balls. He observed that these were some of the smallest balls. They were light in color, tinged maybe yellow or orange, and had a fair amount of rice inside. Overall, according to Mr. Loup, "There's not really much to say."

Ranking: *

6. Beausoleil Restaurant and Bar, 7731 Jefferson Hwy.

Beausoleil is newer to the game, and they bring a certain style to boudin balls. These balls were more cylindrical than round. Mr. Loup noted they were finely ground on the inside, but bland for his taste. In fact, he said in comparison, "There's no taste to them." However, after the taste test, we all tried them with the red bean puree which accompanies the balls at the restaurant, and Mr. Loup agreed that the puree added something unique to these balls.

Ranking: **

5. Ronnie's Boudin & Cracklins, 9830 Florida Blvd.

Ronnie's is a Baton Rouge institution. Mr. Loup first commented on the fullness of these balls. He pointed out they were more brown than gold and were more finely ground. These balls are huge, and Mr. Loup picked up on the heavier pork flavor of these balls. But Mr. Loup didn't like how finely ground they were as they were lacking the internal texture of the whole grain rice.

Ranking: **

4. Bergeron's, 790 Highway 415 in Port Allen

Outside the Baton Rouge city limits, actually, across the Mighty Mississippi, lies Bergeron's. Mr. Loup instantly became a fan of Bergeron's boudin ball crust. He again wasn't in love with how finely ground the boudin was, and he felt it needed more green onion. Overall he felt this one was somewhat bland compared to the others. 

Ranking: ***

3. The Chimes East, 10870 Coursey Blvd.

Chimes is a local staple, and they're known for the boudin balls on their appetizer menu. The liver flavor was predominant in these balls, according to Mr. Loup. He liked that he could see the grains of rice in the ball, just like real boudin. The pepper flavor was there, but not overwhelming. He also felt, aesthetically, this was one of the best looking balls. 

Ranking: ****

2. Tony's Seafood, 5215 Plank Road

Much to Jay and Blair's glee, Mr. Loup ranked Tony's balls second in the lineup. It has been well-documented that Tony's boudin balls are the only thing Blair lives for. Mr. Loup said these smaller boudin balls resembled marshmallows, and said the taste was better than the previous balls. He liked that they were crunchy and peppery, and they were easy to eat for on-the-go consumption. 

Ranking: ****

1. Days Smokehouse & Specialty Meats, 35770 Old La Highway 16 in Denham Springs

Days Smokehouse out in Denham/Watson came out on top. Mr. Loup ranked it No. 1 mainly because of the smoky flavor. They are darker in color than some of the other balls, and again, he noted their fullness and robust size. He thought the flavors were great, and that they were just spicy enough for him.

Ranking: *****

Baton Rouge's Best Boudin Balls
Baton Rouge's Best Boudin Balls

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Come to Lock & Key Tonight: Whisk(e)y Wednesday presented by Lock & Key

Evan Williams Single Barrel

I'll be at the Lock & Key Whiskey Bar  tonight for a little in-person Whisk(e)y Wednesday! The bar will be offering a special Louisville-Bardstown-Frankfurt flight with Willett 2 year Rye, EH Taylor Single Barrel, and Evan Williams Single Barrel for $18. You can of course also try anything else from their vast collection any of the happy hour cocktails (until 7). Go ahead and plan to join us for Whisk(e)y Wednesday Flight Night tonight, Wednesday, January 28th, from 6-8 PM. 

Myrna from Roux Wine Tours and I will be there to drink some bourbon, tell you about a fantastic trip we're planning for July, and just have a good time! Speaking of the trip, we are going to tour Bourbon Country from July 9-13, 2015! We'll be staying in Louisville and taking day trips to Bardstown and Frankfurt. We're going to be doing the trip in true Bite and Booze style with VIP tours, excellent meals, and nobody has to drive! You can get more information tonight at Lock & Key or you can enter your email address at the link above.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cultivar Wine Club: The kind of cult you want to join

Pouring the Cultivar Wines 2012 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
Pouring the Cultivar Wines
2012 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

Recently, team Bite and Booze joined the Cultivar Wine Club. This winery out of Napa Valley will send their club shipment to your doorstep quarterly. This month I received two of Cultivar's new releases: the 2012 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and 2013 Oak Knoll Chardonnay. Use code CultivarWineBiteAndBooze for 10% off your purchase on

Sous Vide Duck Legs over Sweet Potato,  Roasted Brussels Sprout, and Andouille Hash
Sous Vide Duck Legs over Sweet Potato,
Roasted Brussels Sprout, and Andouille Hash

The Howell Mountain Cabernet was overwhelmingly delectable. I could drink this wine on a regular basis. With a dark fruit nose, the flavor profile touches earthy and smoky notes. The Howell Mountain paired perfectly the sous vide duck legs over sweet potato, roasted Brussels sprouts, and Andouille hash I prepared for a private dinner recently.

Cultivar Wines 2013 Oak Knoll Chardonnay
Cultivar Wines 2013 Oak Knoll Chardonnay

Blackened Catfish over Smoked Gouda Grits topped with Pickled Jalapeño Relish
Blackened Catfish over Smoked Gouda Grits topped with
Pickled Jalapeño Relis

The Oak Knoll Chardonnay, while aged in French oak barrels, turned out to be less oaky than I anticipated. It hits notes that I would usually look for in a Sauvignon Blanc: pear, citrus, and grass. I’d pair this wine with something the blackened catfish dish I prepared the other night. The catfish blackened in butter and laid on a bed of smoked gouda grits brought out the oaky notes of the Chardonnay. To kick the acid profile of the wine back up, I topped the fish with a pickled jalapeño relish.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Dori Murvin: Sorceress of Service

Almost everyone has a connection to the service industry. Whether you're a frequent restaurant diner or a former (or current for that matter) service industry employee, you are surely aware that there are some people who dedicate their lives to making each of your restaurant experiences memorable. We see general managers doing table visits and celebrated chefs with write ups in magazines, but there are others that pump blood through the restaurant industry.

After being laid off during a large corporate buyout with Maison Blanche, accountant Dori Murvin began waiting tables at the old Colonel's Club where Chelsea's Café currently sits in Baton Rouge. Six months into the game, Murvin moved up to bartending. A year in, she was managing. Dori moved to Mansur's to fill in for a couple of months and ended up working there for 5 years where she fell in love with wine and began handling their wine program. After that, she helped whip the Camelot Club's wine program in to shape and worked with Chef Peter Sclafani at Ruffino's with their new wine dinner program at the time. Further along in her career she worked at Fleming's as their wine director.

Dori Murvin
Dori Murvin Enjoys a Glass of Wine

Over the years, the bond Dori formed with players throughout the industry began to turn into something more. She and some of her friends started talking about creating a wine round-table to better the dining experiences offered in Baton Rouge. They wanted to help gain buying power for the market to bring in wines not typically seen in the city. Talks turned to action thus producing the Baton Rouge Epicurean Society. The organization is known for their glorious events, such as Fête Rouge, that raise money to be poured directly back into the community. Each fête is a competition, and with Dori Murvin as one of the founders, there is most definitely a Fête du Vin. She is in charge of getting the wine flights prepared for tasting, contacting teams to taste each wine, and more recently has expanded the the event to include local sommeliers to help further educate the tasters and enhance their experience. 

She worked at a few more restaurants along the way until one fateful evening when she attended a friends and family night at the newly opened Beausoleil Restaurant and Bar. It was love at first sip. "Jeff (the general manager) went and grabbed some of [chef] Nathan's gnocchi and I tried it with the pinot and said, 'I have to work here.'" At the time Conaway couldn't offer her a management position, but Murvin believed in the food so much she offered to return to a server position for the opportunity to work at the new, inspired eatery. She showed up for work the following Tuesday in 2010 and the rest is history. "I love working here. The food's good, the wine's good, it's just a good place. I don't have a poker face, I have to work somewhere I believe in." Now serving as the Front of the House Manager and Wine Director at Beausoleil, Dori dedicates herself to keeping Beausoleil on the cutting edge of the local dining scene. She also does wine consulting for other programs in the city and is still heavily involved in all aspects of the Baton Rouge Epicurean Society. 

Dori Murvin is a strong, in-charge female who has been consistently killing it in the Baton Rouge service industry for years. Discovering her love of fine wines along the way ended up being a stepping stone that lead to being one of the founders of an extremely charitable organization in the capital city. The Baton Rouge service industry needs more passionate people like Dori who dedicate themselves to the making fine cuisine and wines approachable and elevating our food culture.

This post is part of a new monthly series spotlighting Louisiana women in the business of booze. Previous features include:
Natalie Parbhoo: Duchess of Distribution
Lindsay Nations: Baroness of Beer

Friday, January 23, 2015

Bite and Booze devours the #SoMes!

Jay and Logan go over the script for the SoMes
Jay and Logan go over the script for the SoMes
Yesterday evening in Baton Rouge may have been a little dreary, but I didn't let that keep me from having a good time! Blair, my Chief Confusion Coordinator, and I fought Baton Rouge traffic for the half-a-mile trip from our office to the Pelican House. With a Gnarly Barley Radical RyePA in one hand I joined my fellow emcee Logan Leger in some script reading, preparing ourselves to host the show. We came up with some good material about trimming beards, Logan's perpetual use of Twitter to talk about LSU Football as if somebody out there cares what he thinks, and my status as a "local celebrity." 

As the show got on the road I ordered a Tin Roof Juke Joint IPA and took to the stage. The crowd that gathered at the Pelican House for the fourth annual #SoMes turned out to be a great one. The audience anxiously awaited the results as the award committee and Baton Rouge Social Media Association board members were introduced. The #SoMes are awards given out for excellence in social media. They cover a broad range of categories from non-profit campaigns to viral pictures. Bite and Booze actually wound up being a finalist in the "Consistently Social" category, an award given out for having the brand which most consistently posts relevant content across multiple social media platforms. I handed out the first award to Visit Baton Rouge, then Logan presented the "Consistently Social" award to... Bite and Booze!

Blair holds up the Consistently Social award for Bite and Booze!
Blair holds up the Consistently Social award for Bite and Booze!

As the emcee, I really hadn't also prepared for a victory in the awards. At previous #SoMes celebrations I had lost out in similar categories to the likes of Raising Cane's and Community Coffee. This year I was up against Abita Beer and Visit Baton Rouge, both with over 100,000 Facebook likes as well as The Advocate, now the state's largest print newspaper. I'm extremely grateful to have been recognized for the work that Bite and Booze does on social media. Obviously the blog itself and the podcast version of the Bite and Booze Radio Show are both forms of new media, but our social media channels themselves, specifically Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, are definitely active in celebrating the culinary culture of Baton Rouge, the State of Louisiana, and anywhere I travel. I also want to give a shout out to Blair Loup, my previously mentioned Chief Confusion Coordinator, for all her hard work this year helping me manage all of the Bite and Booze social media channels. Her Instagram skillz, in particular, are on fleek.

Thanks to everyone who voted and congratulations to the rest of the winners. We actually also took home a People's Choice award at the end of the night as well thanks to tweets during the show. It turns out the Visit Baton Rouge also earned the People's Choice award for votes cast during the online voting period, so we both won twice! Thanks to the Baton Rouge Social Media Association for inviting me and Logan to host the event. We had a great night!

Jay gives his acceptance speech at the #SoMes
Jay gives his acceptance speech at the #SoMes - photo credit to @BRSocMe

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Drink Bourbon with Jay: Whisk(e)y Wednesday presented by Lock & Key

gobr bourbon lock and keyWant to drink bourbon? What about drinking bourbon with me at distilleries in Kentucky? Well, you're going to get your chance! Come along with Myrna Arroyo from Roux Wine Tours and myself to tour Bourbon Country from July 9-13, 2015! We'll be staying in Louisville and taking day trips to Bardstown and Frankfurt as well. We're going to be doing the trip in true Bite and Booze style with VIP tours, excellent meals, and nobody has to drive!

To help us spread the word, the Lock & Key Whiskey Bar will be offering special flights that will go along with the distilleries that we'll visit in Kentucky. This includes a Bardstown flight, a Frankfurt flight, and a Louisville flight. Mark your calendar for Whisk(e)y Wednesday Flight Night next Wednesday, January 28th, from 6-8 PM. Myrna and I will be there to drink some bourbon, tell you about the trip in July, and just have a good time!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Jolie Pearl Sets the Bar for Oysters

Beausoleil Oysters at Jolie Pearl
Beausoleil Oysters at Jolie Pearl

Jolie Pearl, located at 315 North Blvd.
Jolie Pearl, located at 315 North Blvd.
Recently I had the opportunity to check out one of Baton Rouge's newest and most hyped restaurants, Jolie Pearl. The downtown oyster bar, situated across from the North Boulevard's Town Square, serves raw and cooked oysters that delight the senses. Upon entering the old Jobe's building, it became clear that Jolie Pearl's strength is branding. We were beyond impressed with the unique custom decor, the light fixtures, the ambiance, and the amazing chalkboard art lining the walls. Sitting out for all to see are whole oysters, on ice, and labeled according to where they came from. An open Bloody Mary bar faces patrons, and during happy hour diners can choose an album from the restaurant's extensive vinyl collection to play.

Jolie Pearl's atmosphere disarms even the most timid of diners. Oysters, particularly raw oysters, can be intimidating to the untrained palate. They're salty, slimy, and hard to stab with a tiny fork. But the restaurant's transparency and emphasis on educating diners about oysters works in its favor. If you've ever had a trouble getting a whole raw gulf oyster down, perhaps you get acclimated with a smaller Atlantic or Pacific oyster. 

Corn Maque Choux Baked Oysters
Corn Maque Choux Baked Oysters
Jolie Pearl offers oysters from the west, east, and gulf coasts. Vendors ship a steady supply of the freshest oysters to the downtown restaurant. Purists can order a sampling of oysters raw, with an array of flavor-enhancing toppings like Bloody Mary granita, cucumber mignonette, and rum mango salsa. The gulf oysters have always been my favorite. You just can't beat an oyster that grew up in the salty, muddy waters of the gulf. Getting to try them side by side with some New York, Canadian, and West Coast oysters presented a fun dining experience... and confirmed my evaluation though you should really try them for yourselves. For the folks who aren't serious raw enthusiasts, Jolie Pearl slings classic baked and chargrilled oysters. Our favorites off the cooked menu were the baked corn maque choux and the classic chargrilled oysters, though I'd go eat a sampling of the entire menu again and again. Amazingly, Jolie Pearl sells oysters at such a reasonable cost that it won't break the bank to try four of everything when you share them with a group of people. The imported Atlantic and Pacific oysters run a little higher at fair market prices, but they are certainly still worthy of sampling for your taste-buds' delight.

Hand-painted chalkboard art
Hand-Painted Chalkboard Art
The cocktail menu had some eclectic options. Blair and I went with the Corpse Reviver, a mix of gin, Cointreau, Lillet, Corsair red absinthe, and lemon juice. Our intern Sydney opted for the fresh margarita (which she claims is the best she's ever had), a mix of lemon, lime, and orange juice, agave nectar, Silver tequila, and a half salt, half sugar rim. Classy. 

For the high-rollers, $500 buys access to an old-school liquor locker, customized with the keyholder's name. Regular customers can purchase bottles of booze from the restaurant and store them in the locker to drink with their meals. Maybe I need to go ahead and sign up for a Bite and Booze locker. They only have two left and so far they've all gone to lawyers.

At Jolie Pearl, it's the details. The record player, the chalkboard art, the colors from the wood on the ceiling and tables, even the logo set the tone of the experience you'll have. And of course, the details in the oysters. Jolie Pearl brings a unique, inspired concept that deserves attention, so check it out for after-work drinks and perfectly prepared oysters. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Anthony's Italian Deli Glows on Government!

Anythony's Famous Muffoletta
Anythony's famous muffoletta

For years now I've raved about the muffoletta at Anthony’s Italian Deli. An elegant combination of olive salad, mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, and provolone sandwiched between round Sicilian sesame bread, the muffoletta might just be the perfect sandwich. In fact, Country Roads Magazine named it the best sandwich in Baton Rouge in their "Favorite Things" issue a few years back. But just to clarify, I was the guys who picked the five finalists.

Anthony’s take on the classic Italian-style sandwich has won over the tastebuds of Baton Rougeans for more than 30 years, cementing its place as a local staple. Aside from the famous muffoletta, Anthony’s serves up my other favorite sandwich - the life-altering meatball poboy (the large version is served on the muffoletta bread), along with a variety of other sandwiches and traditional Italian dishes.

Anythony's New, roomier storefront
New, roomier storefront

Earlier this week I checked out Anthony's new digs on Government Street in mid-city with my Chief Confusion Coordinator Blair and our new intern, Sydney. The new location is reminiscent of the old Florida Boulevard location in some ways, and worlds apart in others. Gone is the plywood sign on the side of Florida's service road painted in the colors of the Italian flag. No longer must you navigate a suspension-loathing parking lot as far to the back as possible, uncomfortably if it is your first time. But just like the old spot, the smell of olives and fresh bread overwhelm the senses, and the cozy atmosphere welcomes lunchers and shoppers alike to take part in an Italian tradition. Cannoli shells and imported olive oils line the walls. A hand-written menu lists the house specialties. Chairs and tables are packed in like canned Italian anchovies. At just before noon, the lunch line nearly snakes out the door.

Anthony's New mid-city location
New mid-city location

The most notable change in Anthony’s is the slightly larger kitchen and dining area, and the patio area that will be nice come Spring. By the look of things, the new Anthony’s will have more business than they know what to do with. On my visit, a team of people gathered in the front part of the kitchen with Maria taking orders, making pressed sandwiches, and delivering meals. Marco waved through an opening to the back kitchen where he donned a chef coat and looked as pleased as ever. After eating our sandwiches, a muffoletta and a large meatball poboy, Team Bite and Booze looked as pleased as ever too. The restaurant might be new, but the food hasn't changed, and for long-time fans like me, that's what matters most.

Anthony's Italian Deli on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Blanton's: Whisk(e)y Wednesday presented by Lock & Key

Blanton's Bourbon
Blanton's Bourbon
Whisk(e)y Wednesday gets back to reviews this week with Blanton's Bourbon. The original single barrel bourbon from the Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfurt, Kentucky certainly fared well in our taste test.

Before I get to the notes, I have a couple housekeeping items. First, we'll be going to the Buffalo Trace distillery in July! If you'd like to join the trip to Bourbon Country, please sign up for more information on Roux Wine Tours or join us at Lock & Key on Wednesday, January 28th!

Second, after several years of using the same scoring metrics for Whisk(e)y Wednesday, we've tweaked our system a little it. We've added a "Bang for your Buck" component to our scoring. This is measured by weighing the quality of whiskey to the value at which one can typically acquire said whiskey at Lock & Key or when purchasing a bottle at a retailer like Calandro's Supermarket. Generally speaking this category awards whiskeys for providing high quality for a great price... though points aren't taken away for providing amazing quality at a high price, if that makes sense.

Blanton's Bourbon ($14 at Lock & Key) begins with a light nose. It is a bit muted and subtle, and definitely clean. Aromas of oak and cream come with a hard whiff. Butterscotch and cream candy are present on the taste with wood joining the party too. Some spiced nuts and creamy cheese tickle the tongue on the way down. The bourbon finishes clean and smooth yet also rich and complex. A long warmth follows the whiskey all the way down with no sharp edges to be found. Blanton's is a spectacular sipping whiskey and can be easily enjoyed neat or on the rocks. It might perhaps be a tad overpriced for the lack of punch that it presents, so the bang for the buck score got dinged a bit. Still, it is clean from start to finish and balanced throughout, so by all means worth of a taste or bottle purchase. Plus, you can save the horses on the caps and collect them to spell out BLANTONS!

Blanton's Bourbon
Average Score: 75.33

Whisk(e)y Wednesday is a blog post series on Bite and Booze sponsored by the Lock & Key Whiskey Bar. Lock & Key has one of Baton Rouge's best selections of bourbon, Scotch, Irish, and other whisk(e)ys available for on premise consumption. This WW feature was scored by Jay Ducote from Bite and Booze, Arthur Lauck from Lock & Key, and Jeremy Spikes. Using our own proprietary scoring system, whiskeys are marked for Nose, Taste, Finish, Balance and Complexity, and "Bang for the Buck" which should encompass the whiskey's overall value. Marks are then added and averaged, leaving us with a final score out of a 100 point scale. Our scale should be looked at on the full range of 0-100 rather than an academic range where 70 is passing and anything less is failing. A 50 should be considered a very mediocre whisk(e)y (though not undrinkable, you'd let somebody buy you one) while anything below 20 is absolute horse piss, anything above 80 is rather extraordinary, and anything above 90 is world class.

Friday, January 9, 2015

How to Order Louie's Hash Browns: A Case Study

This blog post has been inspired by this review of Louie's in The Advocate. 

Louie's Cafe
Louie's Cafe

As a woman from Sulphur, Louisiana, 24-hour local diners were hard to find growing up. KD's in Lake Charles is the only option, so moving to Baton Rouge for school and spending many a drunken night at Louie's left a permanent grease stain on my capital home. Having never ventured to the new Louie's Cafe, Team Bite and Booze took a trip to the end of State Street for lunch.

When we were seated, it was nearly 1 p.m. on a Friday. Jay, our intern Sydney, and I had just dropped off a case of Jay D's Louisiana Barbecue Sauce at the new Matherne's Market downtown.

Throughout my five years in Baton Rouge, Louie's had mainly been a college post-bar chow-down at the old, typically crowded location where I'd drop my fork and run when the fry cooks yelled that my car was being towed. Now I'm an LSU graduate that can hardly stay awake long enough to catch an episode of Golden Girls before bed who works full time for Jay Ducote at Bite and Booze. I have no dietary restrictions so my go-to Louie's dish is anything.

Upon arrival I immediately pulled into a spot, because we all know the parking is the #1 feature of the new Louie's — duh. As it turns out, the inside of the new Louie's looks exactly like the pictures posted on months ago. Having seen those photos and knowing exactly what to expect, I was simply excited to see the diner in the daylight for the first time in a while.

Louie's looks almost the same as it did at its previous location with the exception of the much-adored beach mural. Other than more bar seating with power outlet strips and more table seating, many of the exact same furnishings (curtains, stools, chairs, perhaps the bathroom doors) have been transported to the new location.

Being that it wasn't the usual rush time between the hours of 1 a.m. and 2:30 a.m., it was a seat yourself kind of gig. Our waitress promptly greeted our table with menus and asked for our drink order. She was neither pleasant nor rude, just how I like my Louie's waitresses.

Things just "are" at Louie's. The service isn't bad and it isn't magical. The late night hours may get crazy, but I've always found that asking for something when I need it is a decent way to help out the waitstaff that is basically waiting on a lot of adults turned cranky toddlers.

Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs with Hash Browns
Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs with Hash Browns

I had the chicken fried steak and eggs ($11.95) sunny-side up served with hash browns and a biscuit. I ordered my hash browns seasoned because to have them any other way would be insane. I like to treat Louie's hash browns like I would treat my child. Sure, I'll have better and I'll have worse, but I love them just the way they are.

My meal appeared to be everything I thought it would be, as all of the components promised with the dish were present. Each bite was mostly amazing, but the first bite was phenomenal.

Jay retreated to an old favorite of his, the "Mitchell," an omelet filled with sausage, hash browns, cheese, and sautéed mushrooms ($11.25).

As an item he’s eaten many times over the years, he provided an in-depth analysis of his selection, saying the hash browns were the best part.

“It was well-seasoned, good flavor,” he said. “Scrambled eggs are a great base for an omelet, but they weren't overwhelmingly fluffy."

He said he also enjoyed the mushrooms, but as always, wishes there was an option to finish it off with a chocolate chip pancake for dessert.

The Big Cheesy Lou with Pepper Jack Hash
The Big Cheesy Lou with Pepper Jack Hash

Sydney had the Big Cheesy Lou ($11.70) with a side of pepper jack hash (hash browns covered in jack cheese and pickled jalapeños).

"It was very burger-like, with a bun, beef patty, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle, mustard," she said. "It was extremely adequate."

She described the hash browns saying, "Them browns tho...that's that good shit."

As I downed my meal and sipped my coffee, I soon found myself with an empty cup that was quickly refilled with more coffee. The restaurant began to fill up with lunch patrons ready to fill their bellies following the Friday morning work struggle, and so began the normal business of the waitstaff near the end of our meal.

Our waitress never offered us dessert, but had I not eaten a hearty lunch I would have probably tried their delicious, large, big bang-for-your-buck bread pudding. While diner desserts usually aren't photogenic, they're usually worth the bite.

Overall, we left with satisfied tummies and a bill around $40 for three people. That’s a small part of Louie’s appeal — you won't get magical service that leaves you sparkling with glitter in places that you wouldn't imagine, but this classic Baton Rouge grub hub boasts that Louie's charm we all know and love.

Blair Loup
Chief Confusion Coordinator
Bite and Booze

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Bourbon Flights at Lock & Key and Calandro's Single Barrels: Whisk(e)y Wednesday presented by Lock & Key

Knob Creek Single Barrel at Calandro's
Knob Creek Single Barrel at Calandro's
If you're looking for something special in the bourbon world you can always go to the Lock & Key Whiskey Bar in Baton Rouge. Their selection of bourbon, as well as all other types of whiskey, is extensive to say the least. Plus, they are knowledgeable and passionate, which goes a long way. In fact, on Wednesday, January 28th from 6-8 PM I'll be at Lock & Key along with Myrna Arroyo from Roux Wine Tours to discuss our trip to Bourbon Country in July. The whiskey bar will be offering special flights that will go along with the distilleries that we'll visit in Kentucky including a Bardstown flight, a Frankfurt flight, and a Louisville flight. Mark your calendar and I hope to see you then.

However, if you're looking for some special bourbon to bring home with you one day, then you have to head over to Calandro's Supermarket. They have expertly selected barrels of various bourbons and bottled the whole thing for their stores, making each of these bourbons truly unique and unavailable anywhere else. Their single barrel bourbons include:

Four Roses
OESK (Mashbill)
10 Years, 4 Months (Age)
55.9% Alc./Vol. (Barrel Proof)

OBSV (Mashbill)
8 Years, 6 Months (Age)
50% Alc./Vol. (Standard Proof)

8 Years, 3 Months (Age)
50% Alc./Vol. (Standard Proof)

11 Years, 9 Months (Age)
56.7% Alc./Vol. (Barrel Proof)

Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbons at Calandro's
Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbons at Calandro's

Jay's own bottle of 1792 Ridgemont Reserve
Jay's own bottle of 1792 Ridgemont Reserve
Knob Creek
9 Years (Age) - Label: "Hand Selected by Our Friends from Calandro's"
60% Alc. Vol. (Standard Proof)

10 Years (Age) - Label: "A Hidden Gem We Found Along The Way. Mark & Taylor Calandro - CJ Webre"
60% Alc. Vol. (Standard Proof)

1792 Ridgemont Reserve
Age - N/A - Label: "Calandro's Single Barrel Select"
46.85% Alc./Vol. (Standard Proof)

Buffalo Trace
Age - N/A - Label: "Calandro's Single Barrel Select"
45% Alc./Vol. (Standard Proof)

All of these single barrel bourbons make pretty spectacular gifts and add something original to a whiskey collection. I've got my hands on a couple of them and hope to grab a few more!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Red Hot Ember: Dining at L'Auberge Lake Charles' Steakhouse

I've really come to appreciate Lake Charles through my recent travels to their corner of Louisiana. There's way more going on amid the rice and crawfish ponds than even the natives give themselves credit for. And with a thriving casino industry bringing folks in from Texas as well as some huge industrial developments, I can only imagine that the next couple years will really see Lake Charles shine. I've had the pleasure of staying at the L'Auberge Casino and Resort quite a few times, and I'm no rookie at dining at their steakhouse, either. The Ember Grille & Wine Bar helmed by Chef Mark Chapman routinely puts out some amazing food. This past August I attended the Travel Media Showcase in Lake Charles which brought food bloggers and travel destinations from across the country to Southwest Louisiana. It's essentially a place to get to know fellow travel journalists and mingle with destination marketers, possibly planning out some future culinary adventures. If they are anywhere close to being as tasty as this one, I'll be delighted!

The Ember Prime "Tomahawk": 40 oz. Ribeye Carved Table-side
The Ember Prime "Tomahawk": 40 oz. Ribeye Carved Table-side

The night before the Showcase began we were treated to dinner at Ember, which once again has never failed to impress. Here's a collection of the evening's dishes. I went ahead and started this blog post with their signature steak, the 40oz prime tomahawk ribeye, carved tableside. Many other dishes follow below, each providing their own signature styles and flavors. I'd try to pick a favorite, but that's nearly impossible. I'll give you a hint though, one of the dishes made the list of the 10 best things I ate in 2014! That isn't meant to take away from the rest of these plates of beauty, though!

American Kobe Beef Carpaccio: Fried Capers, Scallions, Mustard Oil, Creamy Horseradish, Shaved Reggiano Parmesan
American Kobe Beef Carpaccio: Fried Capers, Scallions, Mustard Oil, Creamy Horseradish, Shaved Reggiano Parmesan

Quail & Waffle: Herb and Roasted Garlic Savory Waffle,  Tahitian Vanilla Infused Maples Syrup
Quail & Waffle: Herb and Roasted Garlic Savory Waffle,
Tahitian Vanilla Infused Maples Syrup

BBQ Pecan-Bacon Wrapped Shrimp: Aged Smoked Cheddar Grits,  Candied Onion Shoot
BBQ Pecan-Bacon Wrapped Shrimp: Aged Smoked Cheddar Grits,
Candied Onion Shoot

Lamb Lollichops: Tzatziki Dipping Sauce, Gremolata Vinaigrette
Lamb Lollichops: Tzatziki Dipping Sauce, Gremolata Vinaigrette

Ember Salad Trio

Stuffed Rabbit Loin: Pancetta Wrapped, Potato Purée, Natural Jus
Stuffed Rabbit Loin: Pancetta Wrapped, Potato Purée, Natural Jus

Japanese Kobe Strip Loin
Japanese Kobe Strip Loin

Photos by Dan Jones with tommysTV.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Story of One of the Best Meals I've Ever Eaten: Jay's Adventure in the Dominican Republic Part Quatro

This is the story about one of the best meals I've ever eaten my life. It happened a little over a year ago, but I haven't forgotten the warmth, the flavor, the hospitality, or the way the food truly replenished and rejuvenated my exhausted body and soul. This is the way everyone should experience food when they travel. Well, some of the time, kinda. Seeking out authentic culinary culture can take us out of the hustle and bustle of restaurants, steer us away from seeking out award-winning chefs, and guide us into a pot of beans from a home cook, and that's alright with me.

First, for a quick recap, make sure to check out parts UnoDos, and Tres of my trip to the Dominican Republic.

Santo Domingo Coffee and Panderia Dick
The morning started for us at day break and I still felt the aches as a result of the previous day's activities climbing hillsides and carabining down zip lines at the Monkey Jungle. The #Mancation crew departed our accommodations in Cabarete and convened at Panderia Dick, a small cafe on the main drag through town. We pulled tables together on the patio and watched locals on mopeds whiz by. Dick's Cafe features authentic cuisine, but this breakfast would only be the beginning of my adventure. I scarfed down Desayuno Domincano (Dominican Breakfast) complete with three scrambled eggs with salami and cheese, bread, and butter. Naturally I had a cup of Santo Domingo coffee as well. Then I started to get nervous. Our plans were to go canyoning in the depths of the Dominican Republic. Iguana Mama Tours had the whole trip lined up for us to do the Magic Mushroom Canyoning, but I wanted to back out. I'm not the most athletic fella, and the thought of donning a wet suit while climbing over slippery rocks and repelling down waterfalls didn't seem quite like the adventure I had signed up for, which instead included lounging on more Dominican beaches with non-stop Presidente cerveza attached to my palm.

Jay repels down a waterfall in the Dominican Republic
Jay repels down a waterfall in the Dominican Republic
My body ached already, but our guide assured me that this experience should not be missed. He also made it seem like the physical exertion would not be too excessive.

He lied.

The tour is rated for beginners, but perhaps there needs to be a fat ass clause. We first enjoyed a scenic drive through the jungles and over mountain ranges on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. Starting from Cabarete on the beach we headed inland on a paved road. At some point atop a peak overlooking a pristine valley we stopped by a shack on the side of the road. Mama Iguana's base camp is where we were fitted for wet suits, life preservers, harnesses, and helmets. At this point my gut started turning upside down. If I needed a helmet then at some point I might be in danger of hitting my head, which likely would mean that I'm no longer on my feet. I didn't like this plan anymore. However, it seemed like there would be no way to turn back now. Our entire crew traveled in one van, and that one van, already 45 minutes of drive time up a mountain, continued onward until the paved road turned into dirt. The van stopped when the road became muddy at which point we got out and walked down the side of the hill to a house that perched alongside a flowing stream. We got a few lessons about how to avoid rolling our ankles on the slippery rocks. Immediately thereafter Rob and I had a conversation about turning around, walking back to wherever we could walk, hitchhiking back to the base camp, or really anything we could do to avoid rolling head-first down this mountain current. But we couldn't. We couldn't turn back. So I tried as hard as I could to survive.

Most of the canyoning actually proved to be quite enjoyable. There were stretches where we floated downstream and I thought I could use a cold beer in my hand. There were times when we hiked beside the creek in the gorgeous jungle scenery. But the hiking and swimming, the climbing and slipping, took its toll on me. An hour or so in and I was already starting to feel like I had had enough. We approached a fantastic waterfall thundering down into a pool of cold spring water. The stream flowed over a mushroom shaped rock and then plunged several stories to the calm below. The Magic Mushroom. We took turns, one at a time repelling down the side of the mushroom cap until no more footing existed, then pushed off and enjoyed the ride to the splashdown. My turn came and I nailed it. "That was fun," I thought. "And we must be almost done."

I could not have been more wrong.

Jay with the Mama Iguana guide who just may have saved his life
Jay with the Mama Iguana guide who just may have saved his life
That waterfall constituted what felt like the first third of our canyoning adventure. We climbed over many more boulders and carabined down another even higher waterfall where some of the more thrill-seeking members of our group just jumped. Physically exhausted, I grabbed the ropes, leaned back, and tried to let gravity do more work than my tired arms and legs. At one point I slipped on an extremely slick rock and couldn't catch my balance. Flailing, I fell to the rocky creek bed beneath me and slammed my head on the wet earth. Good thing I had my helmet on. We continued on for what seemed like miles through the canyon. For the sake of balance and continuing on at an acceptable pace, I held on to the arm of one of our guides. Sadly I didn't write down his name and don't remember it now, but this man saved my life. We delicately trudged through the creek bed. My legs banged up and bloody from slamming them into underwater rocks, we continued on, stopping to rest when I couldn't take another slippery step. Finally, as I started thinking they might have to helicopter me out of there if I broke my leg or blew out my knee, our guides led us to the path back up to the road. One problem though: the path led straight up the side of a rocky cliff.

One step at a time I followed behind my hero. He showed me where to place my foot and then I took that step, each one as difficult as the hardest setting on any Stair Master complete with insecure foot holds and while toting a 300+ pound soaking wet and worn out frame. Clutching his shoulder, arm, or hand to help pull me up the mountain, I pushed myself to get there knowing that my salvation rested with the van atop the hill. The ground under my foot gave way and I fell, slamming my arm into the side of the rock, but he caught me and kept me from tumbling down to disaster. Blood poured down the side of my right forearm, so he took a first aid kit out of his bag and bandaged me up while the others continued on. Finally, after what seemed like an hour after everyone else had reached the top, my friend and I climbed over the last ridge to freedom. As I ducked through the barbed wire fence and onto the dirt road where the van waited I felt relieved, accomplished, fatigued, grateful, and, of course, hungry.

Lunch awaited our crew at the Mama Iguana Outpost
Lunch awaited our crew at the Mama Iguana Outpost
Bloodied and bruised, I changed out of my wet suit and waterlogged shoes and into clothes that didn't constrain every fiber of my beat down being. I could smell the home cooked meal, and finally managed to smile and laugh again. A motherly figure appeared with her daughter and they seemed ready to feed us... to take care of us in a way that they must have known we desperately needed. Our hosts opened the lids on the pots of real Dominican fare as my taste buds began salivating in anticipation of the end to my stomach growls. We lined up for the feast, famished, and ready to tear into a meal like a bunch of middle school boys after a football practice. Rice and beans, pollo guisado (stewed chicken), and simmered vegetables filled our plates. I had to stop myself in order to take a picture with Rob's phone before I scarfed down my first heaping. Rice and beans have never tasted so good. Comfort overwhelmed me as I shoveled the vegetables into my mouth. There was nothing fancy on the plate, just authentic, rustic cuisine cooked by somebody who cares. And the chicken. Oh, the chicken. Stewed down in tomato, garlic, and who knows what else, the chicken heightened my sense of what non-fried chicken can be. Rich and deep, the chicken filled my heart with warmth. I went back for another round. I still remember the flavors. I remember the satisfaction. I felt alive again, nourished and ready for a nap. I may have almost died earlier that day, and I would have been pissed if I had missed that meal. Everything became worth it. The entire adventure just a means to be so wiped out and starving that a simple plate of rice, beans, and chicken could move me, feed my soul, and remind me what it is that's truly special about food and people.

My Dominican Feast
My Dominican Feast