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Forks in the Road

The best of dining along the Gulf Coast

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Even when we reach maturity, which most of us truly never achieve, the battle cry never grows tiresome. Adventure awaits, along with new discoveries, new friends and new experiences to be recounted to those we left behind.

You can take the journey on your own terms. Go without a plan, meandering into the countryside, following some long-dormant internal instinct, and just see what you shall see. Or you can map every moment, studying guides and historic books, assuring you will miss nothing of interest.

Or you can do something in between: Keep enough time free to take advantage of adventuresome prospects that unexpectedly head your way, but plan and reserve pieces of a schedule so you are confident of where you will be sleeping, dining and what you will be seeing at least for a part of the adventure.

Road trips around here can be close, satisfying affairs. New Orleans is at the center of America’s Third Coast, a treasure trove of culture, history, sites, entertainment, back roads, small towns, big cities and luxury or spartan accommodations. The coastal states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the panhandle of Florida are kissed by the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico – both the best friend land ever had, and its worst enemy.

Fortunately for the residents of the Isle d’Orleans, the central part of the Gulf Coast states are within easy reach. That ribbon of concrete known on maps as Interstate 10 East and West goes right from the heart of our town all the way to both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. But for our immediate purposes we shall concentrate on those sections of I-10, and even U.S. Highway 90, that stay closest to the Gulf, oftentimes providing pretty views of blue or emerald-green waters, or moss-covered oaks lining barely-moving bayous.

The Gulf Coast reaches back for its roots in tribal populations whose villages dotted the entire area. Then Europeans arrived, mostly Spanish, French and English, followed by citizens from Caribbean nations, people from Eastern Europe, Africa, Germany, Italy and Ireland, and most recently, newly arrived residents from Vietnam and other countries in the Near and Far East.

These layers of people built communities, made homes, educated their young and provided sustenance derived from within their previous-nation heritage, but adding what the end-of-land and warm sea of the Gulf Coast proffered. Crops of all types flourished in the fertile soils. The bounty of the rivers and the waters were beyond even what the immigrants had enjoyed in their native lands.

Ultimately, the people blended into the region and into each other. The important point is that all of those international influences, as well as influences from the heartland of North America, traveling to the South on rivers, brought lifestyles, celebrations, cuisines and even languages to the Gulf Coast. There is a diversity of cultures that makes this area not only historic and fascinating, but downright compelling to visit.

The immigrants to our areas brought with them the tasty cuisines of their homeland, adapting the ingredients available here. What has evolved are incredibly imaginative, unique and satisfying dining experiences. In the kitchen and at the dinner table are perfect ways to learn about people, their heritage and their surroundings.

Today, the mantra among a suddenly environmentally aware nation is to “Eat Local.” We’ve been doing that around here for more than 300 years. Welcome, America, to our world.

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