Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Have a cracklin' good time in Lake Charles

If it ain't fried, it ain't food in funky, artery-clogging Louisiana town

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First time I heard Up on Cripple Creek, I thought: "Hey, that Lake Charles sure sounds like a funky place. I gotta go there one day."

After three trips through the swamps and bayous of southwest Louisiana, I finally did. Go there, I mean. You know what? Lake Charles, way down there on the Gulf of Mexico, really is a funky place.

I kick start my Lake Charles experience with a taste of boudin (boo-DAN) at Famous Foods. Boudin is a spicy sausage delicacy unique to Acadiana, the southwest region of Louisiana first settled 300 years ago by French-Canadian refugees (Cajuns) and still showing strong French influences. Tried some cracklin' (fried pork belly), too, just to put the taste of the south in my mouth.

There are hundreds of boudin takeout joints in southwest Louisiana.

The Lake Charles Visitors Bureau even prints out an official Southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail Map with names and directions, a cholesterol challenge you can test drive to discover how long your arteries hold up.

"Sweetheart, we have a saying here in Louisiana," says Bessie Girl, my PR guide to culinary bliss while on our way to sample biscuits SSRqn' grits. "Here, we don't eat to live, we live to eat."

If you're on a diet, a Lake Charles Cajun culinary tour is not is not recommended. But if you love tasty food, funky music, tasty food, friendly and polite people, and tasty food, you've certain come to the right place.

Misse's Grocery makes the best dang king cake in town. King cake is what everyone snacks on during Mardi Gras in Louisiana. Of course, it's Mardi Gras all the time in Louisiana, so you can eat king cake any dang time ya'll want. Just don't ask what's in it.

At lunch, the spice level cranks up a notch. The Seafood Palace ain't much on the outside, no sir, but observe that menu! Crab and shrimp pistolettes, po' boys, crab and crawfish pies, fried gator, crab claws -- and those are just the appetizers! Then ya'll got yer chicken SSRqn' sausage gumbos, and we ain't even made it to the seafood entrees yet.

Next day we wander down to the neighbouring town of Sulphur. At LeBleu's Landing I witness boudin sausages being handmade in the factory. Feeling peckish despite that sight, I hit Hollier's Cajun Kitchen for fried okra, hush puppies, alligator balls, local oysters, fried pickles and fried catfish. "We got a saying down here, sweetheart," says a smiling waitress, serving up a platter the size of Atchafalaya swamp. "If it ain't fried, heck, it ain't food."

We work up an appetite for dinner with a stroll through the Mardi Gras Museum, boasting the largest costume display in the world, and ride a horse-drawn carriage through the Charpentier Historic District with its fine old mansions. Then it's time for a visit to the Imperial Calcasieu Museum for a history of the Deep South.

Lucky me, my visit coincides with the annual Rouge et Blanc Food and Wine Festival, a huge street party in the heart of town. Rumour has it that there are 75 festivals per year in Louisiana, but my bet is if most wine festivals are like those in Lake Charles, pretty soon you lose count.

Testimony to Louisiana's fine French heritage is the charming La Truffe Sauvage, where you really must order the bouillabaisse. The moulard duck foie gras with a duck leg confit and leek Mousseline ravioli goes well with a crisp Chardonnay.

Suitably anchored for the evening's entertainment, it's only a short drive to Delta Downs to watch the thoroughbreds run, a local Louisiana favourite.

Winnings in hand, we wander down to Yesterdays, where Leroy Thomas and the Zydeco Roadrunners are drawin' folks to the dance floor like honey on a stick. If you can't dance to zydeco, sweetheart, the arteriosclerosis must be settin' in.

The day ends at L'Auberge Casino Resort, where the roulette and hot tub call your name. But time to rest, because tomorrow's another fun day and there's plenty more on the menu to savour yet. Remember, up in the Great White North, ya'll ain't gonna find no boudin nor cracklin no way, no how.

-- Postmedia News

If you go:

L'Auberge Casino Resort and Hotel: mylauberge.com

Lake Charles Visitors Bureau: visitlakecharles.org

Boudin Trail Map: visitlakecharles.org/visitors/culinary-explorations/boudin

La Truffe Sauvage: thewildtruffle.com

Delta Downs Racetrack: deltadowns.com

Mardi Gras Museum: swlamardigras.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 2, 2013 D3

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