welcome to Baton Rouge, y’all

So we have been living here for nearly a week now. And I have learned a few things. First of all, our house is gorgeous. It’s an upgrade from our house in Swansboro. Walk-in pantry, walk in closets, four bedrooms, three baths, beautiful landscaping, surround sound, fenced in back yard (which came with a lovely jungle gym), enormous glass windows, open floor plan, hard wood throughout, fireplace, ENORMOUS master bath, living room built-ins, built-in liquor cabinet…cable TV hookup outside (LOL)…just gorgeous. Pictures to come.

We have ventured out a little and soaked in some of the lay of the land. And I feel like we are living in another country. It is so weird! Our neighborhood, which is beautiful (matching mailboxes, 24/7 video survellience, etc…you know, that type of thing), is like a suburban dreamland. Like someone vomited up Desperate Housewives all over the place (with less wisteria and no white picket fences). But when you venture beyond the 8 foot privacy fence that surrounds our little haven, let’s just say you’re not in Kansas anymore. The area outside our fence harkens back to the devastation and poverty that still permeates the community around here.

But there are dozens of areas around here like that. Beautiful up-scale neighborhoods surrounded by fences, plopped right in the middle of very sketchy looking rural areas. Areas that make you sad, make you think about what this pitiful, but strong community has been through. Not just Katrina – they also had catastrophic flooding here last year from a massive thunderstorm that got caught and wouldn’t move on. Enough flooding that people were in their boats and kayaks rescuing people and pets from their homes which were underwater. Anne Rice used the word “decay” to describe this place. Everything is moist and damp and old. It is a powerful word for this hauntingly beautiful city.

Speaking of vampires, sometimes when I am driving about, I feel like I walked straight onto the set of TruBlood. The decay coupled with the vast amounts of wealth down here make for the perfect backdrop for a vampire novel. To get into the city from my house in Prairieville, you have to hop on I-10, which is about 15 minutes away. To get there, you take a couple of roads, one of which is called Historic Old Perkins Road. I have got to take some photos of this place. The street is a two lane divided highway with no median. Any historic area in Richmond is just totally dwarfed by it. It is overgrown by ancient oaks draped with Spanish moss like spun sugar on a Croquembouche. Old white picket fences, circa 1861, line the road creating a foreground for the enormous historic plantation style homes. One after another.

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Mixed into this is a lot of new money on the same street. Think southern money. Just like you see on TV…blended with a little Los Angeles flair. White columnar entryways, huge front porches, big ass fountains in the front yard, gated driveways. The whole 9 yards. There is a home right on the main road which is finishing up construction that must be 8-12 bedrooms. Its a fucking castle. It has towers for God’s sake. All that is missing is a moat and a drawbridge. It’s honestly a monstrosity. According to local legend (which I have been unable to confirm), the builder committed suicide on the job site…

The food is amazing so far. I’ve had a couple of Po’boys, and some wonderful salads with fresh seafood. And let me tell you something about this place – no one in the country does fried food or iced tea better. There is a local fast food joint called Raising Cane’s. They serve nothing but made-to-order chicken fingers, served with cole slaw, texas toast, and fries. I have no idea what their signature sauce is made out of, but it must be laced with crack. It is so delicious, I was literally licking out the cup at the end. Best iced tea I have ever had (everywhere we go down here, it’s so good!). And they do have unsweet, thank god.

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There are dives on every street corner – family-owned types of places. Their marquis advertise local comfort food staples like crawfish pie (which I have heard rave reviews about but have not yet tried), homemade boudin (which I have tried and it changed my life), and Po’boys. Around here, if you can put meat in it, they are putting crawfish in it instead and slapping it on a menu. Crawfish fettuccini alfredo, crawfish caesar salad, fried crawfish platters, boiled crawfish, crawfish sausages, crawfish Po’boys, crawfish stew. You name it.

We went about asking where to get traditional boiled crawfish. And everyone said, as if we should know this already, “Tony’s!”

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So we scoped out Tony’s Seafood Market and ventured over to the rougher side of town to the famed brick and mortar. It was a seafood lover’s paradise. Everything from live catfish, to fresh gulf shrimp, to scallops and even salmon. Laid out on ice awaiting your instructions for preparation. They also sell tons of frozen specialties – housemade crawfish pie, peeled ready-for-recipe crawfish tails, frog legs, alligator meat, TurDuckEn. They make their own boudin (a cajun sausage made with rice) in three different varieties (shrimp and crab, traditional pork, and spicy crawfish). There is even a lunch/dinner bar you can grab a fried seafood box, or a sandwich, or some deep fried boudin…even a muffuletta (which is a Louisiana sandwich, made on special bread with cold cuts and olive salad, that I have not actually had here yet).

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But their raison d’être…is the boiled crawfish. The smell of them (which is powerfully clove-y) hits you like an oncoming train when you open the doors. You buy them hot and ready. $3.29/lb and they scoop them into a paper bag, lined with plastic. You can also buy pre-boiled hot corn on the cob and potatoes for a Louisiana version of take out dinner.

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This place was so cool. And attracted all walks of life…people from every social class, race, sex, age. Which means a lot in an area like Baton Rouge. Food brings people together. It’s an important message. Leave it to my mother to meet the owner, William, and get us free fried boudin bite samples and a tour of the sorting and boiling process for the crawfish in the back. He also discounted our shrimp order and gave me some free hot sauce (because apparently people either dip their crawfish in ketchup or hot sauce around here). I get the feeling its like the Latke debate…applesauce or sour cream (or if you’re a heathen like me…ketchup).

By the way, I have arrived at the hot sauce mecca of the US, and I am loving it. I have three favorites already, which I have been eating on everything since we arrived.

We were told that we should buy 3 lbs of crawfish per woman and 5-10 lbs per man, depending on his gusto for the little critters. We bought 5 lbs for the four of us (my mom, my aunt, Brian, and myself). I ate about 2-3 lbs on my own (You only eat the tails…so they don’t have a lot of meat in them). Brian was quite suspicious of the whole thing…didn’t like the guts-y part of ripping the tails off. He worried the whole time about eating crawfish poop. *rolling my eyes*

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Even the grocery stores around here are different. You have your Walmarts and Walmart Neighborhood Markets, and your Winn Dixies. But there are some local favorites too. Rouse’s market, which serves boiled crawfish by the pound on the weekends. Carter’s, which has an enormous amount of mustards, jams, relishes, dressings, remoulades, etc. Condiments are a big thing around here. And no matter where you shop, there is a fish fry/crawfish boil section in the spice aisle. They sell pre-made roux for gumbo or étouffée, crawfish boil spice mix (which can be liquid, solid, or both), beignet mix (from Cafe Du Monde) and of course their signature chicory root coffee, catfish fry batter mix, and, like, 90 different hot sauces.

Oh and everyone is so stinking nice! I was in Carter’s with my family and I had to pee. I scoped out the situation and found no bathroom. I walked back to my aunt who asked if I’d been successful. I said no. So this woman with her cart walks up and goes, “Oh honey, are you looking for the bathroom? There is one in the back right hand corner.”

I replied, “Oh I didn’t see a sign. Is it open to patrons?”

She shrugs, “I don’t know, but I have been shopping here for 30 years and I always use it. No one has stopped me yet!”

Very well then. So I peed, which was a great relief. And about 10 minutes later, passed her again in an aisle. “Did you find the bathroom, sweetie?” she asked.

“Yes ma’am, I did.”

“Oh good. I know how it is when you’re pregnant. You always need to know where the bathrooms are!”

On another occasion, we were in a children’s boutique where my mom was having a onesie vinyl-printed for her first grandchild (she was busy in the few days she was here), and we met and started talking to a woman who works there. When we came back to pick up the onesie, she told me she had a friend who custom makes stethoscopes and she was going to get me one for free if I wore it around the hospital as an advertisement for his business.

Everyone is nice around here…until they get behind the wheel of a car. I have never been in traffic like this in my life. And I lived and commuted in DC for a year. I mean, this shit is crazy. The main drag near our house is a lot like Midlothian Turnpike in Richmond, VA. It’s called Airline Highway. Let me set the scene. It’s a 4-6 lane divided highway. Sometimes it has a concrete/grassy median but a lot of the road is a left turn median. There are shops and stores all along it, and there are stoplights every block or two.

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Guess what the speed limit is…just guess…

65 fucking miles per hour.

No shit.

It is terrifying. Imagine people driving down Midlothian Turnpike at 70-something miles an hour…everyone driving that fast. Meanwhile people are trying to turn right across the rumble strip into a restaurant parking lot (yes it has a rumble strip along it like a freaking interstate). Not to mention, I have no idea where all the heavy traffic comes from around here but it is insane. All day long. Not just at rush hour. Heavy, sometimes standstill traffic everywhere. Stop lights are super short at green and super long at red so it takes forever to get anywhere. And people are super aggressive. Yesterday I was on my way home and traffic was backed up at a stoplight on Airline Highway. It was red and it was backed up so far that the left turn lane was blocked. Some impatient guy cut across a U-turn break in the median and drove through the grassy median at full speed around everyone to get to the stoplight. Every left turn is a left turn yield, which is beyond irritating. And I don’t know where the “southern pace of life” thing went, but everyone here is in a goddamn hurry. Geeze.

So, other than traffic, things are splendiferous here. I even tried my hand at some homemade boudin étouffée last night, which turned out to be delicious (I made my own crawfish stock from the leftover heads from Tony’s).

This place is fascinating, and weird, and very cool. I cannot wait to check out Lafayette and N’awleans (learning to say it correctly down here).

So, who is coming to visit? 🙂

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