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Around Louisiana

Regional reports from across the state

Rice Palace Restaurant


Profile: He Walked With the King

Music legend James Burton was born in the Webster Parish town of Dubberly. He is a self-taught guitar player who  performed at the Louisiana Hayride before he was 16 and was lead guitarist for Ricky Nelson, John Denver, Emmylou Harris and Elvis Presley.

In 1957, Burton was working with Bob Luman when 17-year-old Ricky Nelson heard one of their rehearsals.

Nelson, hooked by the unique sound, remained there for three hours, recognizing that the music style he had been searching for was finally on his horizon. Ozzie Nelson soon got in touch with Burton, telling him Ricky wanted him as a full-time musician. Burton and bass player James Kirkland became members of Nelson’s backup crew and began appearing regularly on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in the closing segment that always featured a performance by Nelson and his band, and Burton wound up living with the Nelson clan for the next two years by invitation of Ozzie and Harriet. By May of 1961, Burton performed on Nelson’s “Hello Mary Lou/Travelin’ Man” single that quickly replaced Roy Orbison’s “Running Scared” in the No. 1 position.

In the mid-’60s, Burton was approached by Johnny Cash to perform on a new television show called Shindig and became a member of the regularly appearing group, the Shindogs. When the Shindogs performed the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride,” it can be argued that Burton’s guitar work was equal to George Harrison’s. Burton had become a hot commodity because of his genius with the electric guitar.

Elvis Presley, who told Burton he always watched The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet just to catch his guitar- playing at the end of each episode, approached him in 1968 while Burton was working with Frank Sinatra. Presley was in preparation for NBC’s ‘68 Comeback Special, as it would later be known. Overbooked, Burton had to refuse the King, but a year later when Elvis came calling again, the two joined forces. Presley’s signature statement, “Play it, James,” was always uttered just before Burton’s guitar solos during live performances. He remained with Presley until Presley’s death in 1977 at Graceland.

When Burton, master of the Fender and Telecaster, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, it was none other than Keith Richards, lead guitarist of the Rolling Stones and an avid Burton fan, who gave the induction speech. Sharing space outside of the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium with statutes of Elvis and Hank Williams Sr., a statute of a mop-topped young Burton also stands like one frozen in time from the Swingin’ ‘60s.

Several years ago, Burton returned to his Louisiana roots and still calls Shreveport home. On what would have been Elvis’ 76th birthday this year,  Burton and his wife, Louise, opened a state-of-the-art recording studio that will allow children to record music there for free. According to a report by Adam Kealoha Causey in the Shreveport Times, the studio is paid for through the auspices of a Connecticut guitar devotee. Rob Perkin, a self-proclaimed fan of Burton’s for decades, wanted to join forces with him to help children fine-tune their musical skills. The first recording made at the studio was “Love Me Tender,” sung and strummed by students of the A.C. Steere Elementary School.

Shreveport native Carolyn Sasser, 68, began crying as she listened to her 9-year-old great-granddaughter Anna Cowart sing.

“She’s singing songs I used to sing,” Cowart said. “I was an Elvis fan from way back. I used to go see him at the Hayride.”

The Burtons have donated thousands of guitars to children through the work of the James Burton Foundation.
“This is truly an honor,” said Burton at the studio opening. “It’s a very special day.”

Diane Woodward, a music teacher at A.C. Steere, praised the Burtons’ contributions in the form of instruments and opportunities as invaluable factors in cultivating overall learning skills because it fosters multitasking.

A man who made the Pink Paisley wail playing backup for the King, Burton has shown himself to be a benevolent philanthropist in addition to one hell of a historic figure in rock ‘n’ roll.

James Burton, 714 Elvis Presley Ave., Shreveport, jamesburtonfest@aol.com.


Profile: Wet Noses

Shannon Elliott, whose husband, Sgt. 1st Class Andreas Elliott, was deployed to Afghanistan from Fort Polk, is a devoted mother of four children in addition to being a devoted nanny of sorts to four-legged wet-nosed critters. The Elliotts are Michigan transplants residing in the Bayou State. Matriarch Shannon works at the Humane Society of West Louisiana Adoption Center, or HSWL, a nursery for the homeless, abandoned and adorable.

According to Angela Hauser of the Beauregard Daily News, Elliott has worked at HSWL for the past year.

Although she grew up in a home surrounded by pets, this is the first time she has worked with animals, and the job is a perfect fit. She begins her day by making rounds to check on all of the dogs and cats sheltered in the adoption center, administering medicine to any furry lodger on the premises that requires it.

The hardest part of her humane work is seeing animals who were mistreated delivered to the shelter.

Elliott has no problem taking her work home with her, and her four kids – T.J., Kenneth and twins Fallan and Connor – are happy to help. Entire litters have been abandoned or given up at HSWL, and when the shelter reaches full capacity, volunteers step in to act as foster parents. Elliott and her family foster kittens and puppies, taking care of them until they are old enough to be spayed or neutered. Dogs and cats that are part of a nursing litter, in addition to little furry tykes that need to be bottle-fed or are feeling under the weather, have all been lovingly cared for under the Elliott roof.

The family has adopted four cats and two dogs who were all rescued animals.

“The kids love animals,” Elliott said. “They have learned to care for them through fostering.”

When he is not defending America in Afghanistan, Sgt. Elliott also has been known to bring home strays.

While he is away, his wife fights on behalf of the defenseless little beings whose only voice is the soul-wrenching look in their plaintive, innocent eyes.

“I like to see the animals go to a new home,” Elliott said. “Some of them stay here a long time ... and it’s bittersweet when they leave because I miss them. But I am happy to see them go to a home where they can play in a fenced yard, sit on a couch and be loved.”

Worth Watching: Digital History

I must admit I used to spend many lunch hours in the Louisiana section of the public library, happily perched at the microfiche stations reading historical newspapers – everything from front-page accounts of Civil War battles to the death notice of a 5-year-old ancestor who succumbed to yellow fever in 1853. Sometimes winding the spools of film and watching the images fly by on the screen was a little dizzying, but it was well worth it when it resulted in uncovering a historical gem.

Mary Linn Wernet, an archivist at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, is
working to make accessing the past via historical newspapers and periodicals much easier. Participating in a project that is part of the National Digital Newspaper Program, a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress, Wernet was a member of an advisory board fostered by Louisiana State University Libraries’ Special Collections Division. This board consisted of archivists, educators and historians and was formed to brainstorm a plan to digitize Louisiana newspapers published from 1860 to 1922. Additionally, Wernet was elemental in facilitating the title selection process, something that garnered kudos for the advisory board from the Library of Congress; some representatives of the 22 states participating in the project wish to model their own programs after Louisiana’s. Due to Wernet’s fine work, she has been asked to serve on the Digitizing Louisiana Newspapers Advisory Board for the 2011-’13 grant cycle, which will, for the first time, consider non-English newspaper titles. Newspapers have been published in both French and English in Louisiana’s colorful and diverse past.

The consultants involved in the project will evaluate microfilms to make certain they are suitable for duplication before they can be digitized into an online resource with easy access to data. Thanks to the efforts of Wernet and her colleagues, Louisiana newspapers will soon be accessible by visiting chroniclingamerica.loc.gov.


Fork in the Road: Crowley’s Rice Palace

The Rice Palace Restaurant in Crowley is a self-described Cajun family restaurant with a Truck Stop Travel Plaza tacked on for good measure. Breakfast hours are from 11 p.m. to 11 a.m., 12 hours to alleviate any serious hunger pangs that might hit you on the road or otherwise. During these golden breakfast hours, rib-eye steaks are offered with eggs any style and hash-browned spuds. The Western Omelet is a puffy mélange of seasoned onions, green peppers and ham crowned with cheese. Sandwiches are served here for breakfast: The Exit 80 Burger is an 8-ounce hamburger. It’s perfectly charbroiled and can be dressed with onions, jalapeños, mushrooms or cheese. If you’re really hungry in the middle of the night or morning hours, enjoy a 16-ounce grilled Angus rib-eye with a garden salad and a heaping order of golden fries. The classic Southern-fried steak comes with Texas toast perfect for dipping into the signature white gravy, along with a green salad and fries.

Denizens of the Crowley area might choose to dine within regular hours when dinner is served. The dinner menu includes an appetizer of seafood-stuffed mushrooms: mushroom caps gorgeously fried and stuffed with crawfish and shrimp, with a rich cream sauce. The Firecracker Shrimp can be either fried or grilled; they come wrapped in bacon and stuffed with Swiss cheese, served alongside a Thai-chili dipping sauce.

Salad entrees are delicious, especially the Creole Tomato Seafood Salad: Shrimp and crabmeat are tossed together and nestled on a bed of fresh field greens and then drizzled with the eatery’s own Creole tomato dressing. The Blackened Shrimp Spinach Salad proves that blackened shrimp and spinach are perfectly matched flavors, especially when accompanied by grape tomatoes and pecans and christened with a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. Delicious and healthy at the same time, the Sizzlin’ Shrimp dish is a must-have – eight perfectly grilled shrimp served over grilled veggies such as haricots verts, squash, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms and zucchini.

The Rice Palace, 2015 N. Cherokee (near Exit 80 on Interstate 10), Crowley, (337) 783-3001.

Savoie Fair: Saving the Trees

The slated construction work at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette seemed destined to destroy some venerable and much-esteemed oak trees that were campus fixtures, and indeed, three of these trees were actually removed in December. But the student voices that comprise the group SPEAK cried out to save the trees, and, along with pleas from the Lafayette community, they were not ignored by University President Joseph Savoie. Savoie began a concerted effort to save the remaining trees while effectively facilitating construction, reported Theresa Rohloff in the Acadiana Gazette.

“Of the three trees that were removed,” Savoie said, “two were natural growth … and both were in ill health.” 

The wood from these trees was given to UL faculty member Jim Foret, who will have his class build playground equipment on the site of new Picard Center for Early Childhood Development.

Savoie began exploring other alternatives to keep the trees from the teeth of the power saw.

In order to save one of the endangered oaks, the blueprint of the construction plan has been changed to allow the oak to remain in its present spot. A tree that grows along Boucher Road will be handled with kid gloves to facilitate a move: Root pruning will be done on the tree: The soil will be removed from around its base and the roots trimmed to encourage new root growth. After the soil is returned, the tree will be scrupulously cared for until a year from now, when once again soil will be dug from around the tree and large pipes will be inserted beneath the root network. The tree will be lifted onto a platform with a minimal amount of stress and moved a few feet away from intended construction.

High marks of praise are resounding from the Lafayette community for the combination of  civil student protest and the consideration and cooperation of Savoie, who put his little gray cells to work and came up with the ideal solution for the happiness of the students and the community, not to mention the oak trees.

Baton Rouge/Plantation Country

Cause to Celebrate: Snow Nice To Come Home To

It was a far cry from the baking deserts of Iraq: When Louisiana Guardsman Sgt. John Jennings returned from a second tour of duty, Sno-Mobile of Louisiana delivered a ton of man-made snow to the family’s backyard on Prairie Lane in Walker to celebrate both his safe homecoming and his daughter’s fourth birthday last Jan. 8.

According to the Baton Rouge Advocate, in anticipation of his homecoming and Abigail’s birthday, Jennings contacted Sno-Mobile co-owner Sue Muller last autumn and ordered the snow because, in his own words, “Abby really likes the snow.” 

Sue and Bill Muller were happy to fill, completely free of charge,  the Jennings’ backyard with snow made by a motor-driven machine that ground 10-pound blocks of ice into snow.

“We’re doing this because we believe the businesses of Baton Rouge and Livingston need to do more for our veterans,” said Sue Muller, who added that she was having incredible fun in the Jennings’ backyard where the shouting exceeded that found in her church.

This particular Saturday afternoon was filled with the sounds of snow crunching, well wishes from family and friends and children’s laughter – a fitting celebration of all-pervading relief that the family patriarch made it home safe and sound.

“It’s amazing,” said Jennings’ wife, Charissa. “I’m glad he’s back home now. There was a lot of stress, a lot of sleepless nights.”

While her husband was serving in Iraq, she and Abigail relocated from Crowley to Walker. She purchased the Prairie Lane home and painted and furnished the interior as she awaited not only the arrival of her husband but also their second child, Aiden. While guests munched on hot dogs cooked on the new grill, a gift from Charissa to John, the children lay prone in the soft white powdery blanket and made snow angels.

Jennings said: “This is unreal – to have this much support from my family and for what the snow-makers did for us. … This is a dream moment for me.”

Fork in the Road: Eat at Doe’s

Bon Appetit magazine recently proclaimed the steaks at Doe’s Eat Place to be the third-finest in America, and just from reading the menu, you get the impression this eatery knows bouef very well. Each day the steaks are cut from whole beef loins aged no fewer than 21 days, something that provides the finest of flavors in a cut of meat. After it’s cut nearly 2 inches thick from the loin, your steak is then in the hands of the grill master. Your patience is requested so the meat can be cooked to order. So settle in, and have a glass of red wine, a snort of Jack Daniel’s or a martini – a request for a rare steak will take at least 25 minutes, while well-done can take as long as 45 minutes. No matter. That slab of sizzling, succulent, tender meat oozing natural juices is well worth the wait, as are the perfect complement of side orders: sautéed button mushrooms, boiled red potatoes or fries, marinated salad, Southern drop biscuits or slow-cooked green beans flavored with bacon ends.

Seventy years ago, Dominic “Doe” Signa cooked steaks and hot tamales for denizens of Greenville, Miss., using a Delta-style tradition of cooking that’s carried on today. The signature porterhouse steak is available in 1.5-, 2- and 2.5-pound cuts. This delectable cut contains the T-shaped bone that lies between the meltingly tender filet side and the larger strip side. If you choose the 2.5-pound cut, Doe’s can cook both portions at different temperatures to ensure a perfect rendition of a porterhouse. It’s not uncommon for two customers to share one steak between them. The sirloin can be ordered in a 2- or 3-pound cut and also can be cooked at two different temperatures if two diners want to share one steak.

Doe’s hasn’t forgotten its roots: All-beef hot tamales made from  Doe’s original recipe are also served. They haven’t changed since 1941 and come to your table with
a cup of homemade chili.

Doe’s Eat Place, 3723 Government St., Baton Rouge, (225) 387-5331.

Greater New Orleans

Fork in the Road: Pass a Good Time

Le Café De Bon Temps is a new neighborhood restaurant in Slidell with an imaginative, inspired menu that strikes the perfect balance between original cuisine and traditional Louisiana victuals. It was a pleasure to see that the menu featured some of my favorite dishes from my favorite chefs, dishes that I cook at home. Many are the cold Saturday afternoons I’ve simmered a pot of John Folse’s divine sweet potato, spinach and andouille soup – and you can order a delicious version of it by the cup or bowl at this Northshore eatery.

The appetizers get high marks for originality and just plain deliciousness. The potato-and-shrimp croquettes are a creation of three of the most delicious flavors ever: Gulf shrimp and potatoes are blended with apple wood-smoked bacon and then deep-fried and served with romesco sauce. The unusual and scrumptious-to-the-max seafood meatball appetizer is not only delicious but also clever: Ground beef, local crabmeat, crawfish tails and shrimp are cooked together and arrive on your plate in a nest of angel hair pasta crowned by a silky Parmesan cheese fondue.

The C.B.T. Crab Cake, made with crabmeat straight from Lake Pontchartrain, is fried with herbs and spices and served with spicy pepper jelly. One of my favorite things, grilled asparagus, is also offered as an appetizer – these beautiful chargrilled spears are served with béarnaise sauce.

The salads are perfect entrees, especially as spring approaches and South Louisiana is visited more often by warm Gulf air, and the wide variety of salads once again shows the great maverick spirit behind the chef. The grilled Caesar salad starts out as a wedge of romaine lettuce brushed with olive oil that is then grilled, chopped and topped with shredded Parmesan, hard-boiled egg, tomato croutons, grilled chicken or shrimp and the house-made Caesar dressing. In a version of North and South on a plate, the supernal Fried Green Tomato and Lobster Salad is hard to beat – medallions of fried green tomatoes cradle a lobster salad that could come from Cape Cod, and the whole thing is drizzled with the wonderful tang of a balsamic reduction.

Did I mention that this place has a Sunday brunch, offers live music and delivers?!

Le Café De Bon Temps, 40261 Highway 190 E., Slidell, (985) 641-6067

News Brief: Blowin’ in the Wind

Debbie Glover of the St. Tammany News reported recently that a windy day in January was a fitting scene for the ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating placement of a 60-foot-high pilot wind turbine at the foot of the Causeway.

The lanky pole topped with a pinwheel of sorts was a joint effort between the city of Mandeville and Cleco as an experiment to test the efficacy of wind power. This particular turbine has blades that span 12 feet and is expected to generate 2.4 kilowatts of power.

George Bausewine, president and chief operating officer of Cleco Power, described the program as research and development to see if the technology is both cost- and energy-effective.

According to Eric Skrmetta, public service commissioner, the program, slated to last for two years, will compare the cost of alternative energy resources with traditional energy rates paid by consumers.

Cause to Celebrate: Hollywood South

Bridgette Bonner of the Hammond Star reported that three films premiered in Tangipahoa Parish last January, complete with a limo party bus and red carpet fashions.

The program that lets Talented Theatre students from Amite and Sumner high schools conceive, act in and film their own movies is in its 12th consecutive year. From the halls of Sumner High came Reflections, a flick that chronicles the deleterious effects of bad parenting upon students, and 3 Guys & a Guru, which is about three guys who change their personalities to impress the chicks. From Amite High came Because We Have To, the story of six girls in court-mandated drug therapy.

Participants Kirstie Newman, Emily Dykes and Lauren Kent say the themes are entirely student-generated.

Filming the movies takes an entire day, and editing takes a long time, with pre-filming rehearsals usually occurring after school and on weekends. The premieres are attended by school board officials, some local politicians and family members.


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