Mar 19, 201310:01 AM
Getting Around Greater New Orleans and Beyond
Down the Bayou: Airboats, Catfish and Gators
About 45 minutes outside of the city, there’s a winding stretch of road that’s cradled by sugarcane fields and wildflowers. The road comes to a drawbridge over Bayou Boeuf where Derrick, a Kraemer native, likes to catch sac-a-lait, a white crappie you can fillet and then fry in a pan.
The drive to Kraemer is a wonderful one, especially in the springtime. Over the last couple weeks, wildflowers have taken to bloom and the swamp trees have begun budding. The air is warming and the gators are slowly waking up.
You can find Kraemer, La., from New Orleans by taking I-10 West to Highway 90 towards Houma. This is where thrill-seekers will find Arthur Matherne’s Airboats and foodies can stop at Spahrs, a local favorite for fried catfish. A few miles after Spahrs, veer right onto Highway 182 and take the first right onto Highway 307 toward Kraemer. Once in Kraemer, daytrippers should swing by Zam’s for a swamp adventure. Feelin’ feisty? Finish the day off at Nick’s Bar with a cold beer and some Cajun-seasoned conversation.
Do Something Adventurous
The gator call is a peculiar one—it’s part porcine, almost amphibious sounding. “Oyn, oyn, oyn, oyn…” At Airboat Tours by Arthur Matherne, (4262 Highway 90 E., Des Allemands, La., (985) 758-5531) from spring until summer, this call is one that won’t go unanswered. “Ova dey-uh,” Arthur says. “Big gaytuh.”
We were closing in on a patch of duckweed where a 13-foot alligator was sunbathing. Upon sensing our boat, Big Al—as the Mathernes call him—opened both sets of eyelids and seemed to smile right at us. Meanwhile, a baby eagle was perched in its nest above us. Nutria pattered across floating vegetation, and egrets flew off toward deer stands dotting the horizon.
The airboat functions something like a skipping stone propelled by a fan; riding one could be likened to water skiing on a sonorous riding lawn mower. As is, the ride is a unique, adrenaline-inducing affair but when paired with intimate views of the critters who call the swamp home, a day on one of Arthur’s airboats is truly unforgettable.
During our time on the swamp, Matherne offered boatloads of valuable information. The sun kissed our cheeks, and we worked up a killer appetite for more adventure.
Eat Like a Local
Spahr’s Seafood (3682 Highway 90 E, Des Allemands, La., (985) 758-1602) did it. They figured out onion rings. Forget the days of charming escaped slivers of onion into your mouth with grease-kissed phalanges. Did you know when the ring is cut into smaller sticks, it frees a hand for sweet tea drinking?
That being said, this may not be a John Besh restaurant, but it is the best restaurant for fried catfish and onion sticks. I recommend ordering a kid’s sized catfish for an appetizer and then branching out whatever way feels right, as you can’t go wrong here.
Spahr’s is a family-owned joint with a view of the bayou, a generous menu, charming staff and a full bar. It’s the last stop in Des Allemands before heading to Kraemer.
Have an Experience
Last Wednesday my friends and I drove out to Kraemer to throw a line into Bayou Bouef. Admittedly, the main lure for me was being in the company of the people at Zam’s (136 Kraemer Bayou Road, Thibodaux, La.), a quick-witted Cajun crowd that knows a thing or two about the swamps, but the other offerings here are vast as the people are hospitable.
After cooing at baby goats and watching the youngest cast member of "Swamp People," ZZ “prince of the swamp” Loupe, handling a 14-foot gator, nature junkies should head out on the pontoon for a swamp tour experience unrivaled by any other to be had in the state of Louisiana.
Back on the dock, you can hold pythons with Dago (day-go), eat a home-cooked meal prepared by Ms. Diana and friends or cool down with some ice-cold refreshments. Those interested in taking a piece of the swamp home with them can find local made memorabilia among other retail in the gift shop.
Drink a Cold One
It may be a little rough around the edges, but I have a soft spot for this Kraemer drinking hole. When you think of Nick’s Bar (3358 Highway 307, Kraemer, La.) think of a larger Snake and Jakes where the drunken rambles of young professionals have been replaced by the occasional rant in Patois and crowd-selected juke box tunes. You won’t find any fancy craft beers here, but the domestics are ice cold and the crowd is one of a kind.