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Regional Reports from across the state
Cork in the Road
West Monroe’s Blackberry Merlot
Eleven years ago, Jeff and Libby Landry, joined by four sons with the biblical-sounding names of Noah, Micah, Ethan and Kohen, planted the first grapevines of what would become Landry Vineyards in Folsom on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. By 2003, Landry Vineyards was a certified licensed Louisiana Native Winery. Two years later, Hurricane Katrina would change the life of the
Following the storm’s devastation that reached well into the Northshore area, the Landrys uprooted their vineyard and winery and became transplants to West Monroe’s hilly terrain, where all have blossomed. Now ensconced in a 20-acre site where they work and reside, the Landrys lovingly tend to their vines, winery and tasting room. They lend a Louisiana flavor to winemaking, as unique as our own culture, that complements the diversity of our cuisine.
In the spring, the Louisiana countryside is rife with blackberry brambles as prevalent as birdsong, and Landry Vineyards offers a delicious and distinctive Blackberry Merlot. With more emphasis on fruit than tannins, this wine has a semisweet bouquet and flavor. Its Merlot Semi-Sweet is a fruitier version of the usually dry merlot, while its Merlot Dry is a delicious blend of merlot with the Norton/Cynthia wine grape.
Blanc du Bois Semi-Sweet is like a spring day caught in a bottle – crisp, clean flavors of peaches, pears, tannins and honeysuckle fairly sparkle as they slide across your tongue. The same flavors minus the sweetness can be enjoyed in the Blanc Dry. The Muscadine Blush is a sweet treat growing in popularity among Bayou State wine drinkers.
Plans for the winery and vineyard are growing along with the grapes. The Landrys recently launched their monthly outdoor concert series. The tasting room is open by appointment Monday through Friday and open to the public on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Also on the horizon are wagon rides through the vineyards; daylight filtering through the vines will surround you in a beautiful and intoxicating sea-green glow.
Landry Vineyards, 5699 New Natchitoches Road, West Monroe, (318) 557-9051.
Andy Sellers, a resident of Dubach, recently returned to Louisiana from Egypt where he was caught in the civil unrest that eventually led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. According to the Ruston Leader, Sellers, a mechanic for Atwoods Oceanic, travels regularly to Egypt to work on an offshore rig in the Mediterranean Sea. Last February, Sellers and his crew landed in Cairo when protesters were beginning to mass in Tahir Square. The next morning, boarding a bus bound for Alexandria, they discovered that an armed guard was riding with them. By the time they reached Alexandria, they were surrounded by military,
tanks and guns.
They found relative safety once they made it to the rig in the Mediterranean but were among Egyptian workers who worried incessantly about their land-bound family members caught in the midst of the violent turmoil. Sellers’
own sense of security didn’t last long.
“We even had to shut down the rig for a couple of days because the helicopters weren’t able to fly,” he said. “If someone had gotten hurt, we wouldn’t have been able to get them to the hospital … and there were concerns about running out of food.” The quiet days were spent watching the events unfolding in Egypt on CNN.
While his rig was not operating, there was talk of moving it to an area off of Cypress, but after Mubarak resigned, Egypt as a nation calmed down, and the rig remained where it was.
Sellers hasn’t forgotten the recent turmoil and is scheduled to return to his Mediterranean oil rig.
“I think about it every time I leave the comforts of home … but this is how I make my living,” he said. “If I felt completely unsafe, I probably wouldn’t go. But it looks like they have things pretty much under control now.”
Cause to Celebrate
River Races in Alexandria
Louisiana is far away from China indeed, but when you study the two closely, they share remarkable similarities. Full of rice-, seafood- and festival-lovers and landscapes dotted with rice paddies, inland marshes and rivers, both cultures possess cuisines that, well, just plain rock. On May 14, Chinese tradition will come to the Red River in Alexandria in the form of the inaugural Dragon Boat Races on the Red River, organized by the Alexandria Museum of Art.
The origin of this more- than-2,000-year-old sport is steeped in legend. The most popular legend centers around Qu Yan, minister of the state of Chu. He lived from 340 to 278 BC and was one of China’s earliest poets. A passionate lover of his country, he defied the mighty Qin state that was threatening his province and was deposed and sent into exile. Exile did not silence him. He wrote the immortal poems “Li Sao” (“The Lament”), “Tian Wen” (“Heavenly Questions”) and “Jiu Ge” (“Nine Songs”) that greatly moved and influenced his people. When Qu Yan heard that the Qin army finally captured the capital of Chu, he wrote “Huai Sha” (“Embracing Sand”), clasped his arms around a heavy stone and threw himself into the Miluo River. The grief-stricken people of Chu gathered on the riverbank to lament him as fishermen took to their boats to search for his body. The people threw zongzi, triangular rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves, into the water for the fish to feast upon instead of the drowned poet’s body while an old doctor poured realgar wine into the river to inebriate all of its creatures. To this day, at all dragon boat festivals, zongzi and realgar wine are still consumed.
This athletic event has increased in popularity all over the world. According to the Cenla Focus, with the assistance of a Canada-based dragon boat racing company, the Alexandria Museum of Art is staging the event as an original approach to fundraising. The boats resemble long punting canoes with dragon figureheads. They are painted in Chinese designs and colors. On board are 20 paddlers, a drummer in the front and the helmsmen in the stern.
“We have the Red River at our back door – why not use it for a fun community activity?” said Catherine Pears, the museum’s executive director. The race is open to churches, schools, businesses, groups of friends, military units and anyone else who wishes to band together for an exhilarating time of it on the Red River one day in May.
For more information
visit, www.louisianadragonboatraces.com or call
Fork in the Road
Natchitoches’ Merci Beaucoup
In the charming historic district of Natchitoches lies a jewel of an eatery rapidly and justifiably garnering attention. Patrons of Merci Beaucoup have claimed that the restaurant’s meat and crawfish pies can stand up to any other legendary pies of the region; bite into the flaky crust filled with the savory meat or crawfish filling, and you won’t argue. One of their entrees, the Meat Pie Plate, served with a side order of dirty rice, a garden salad and buttery toasted French bread, is as deliciously Louisiana as moonlight over a cypress swamp – it reminded me of scrumptious suppers cooked by Avoyelles Parish relatives in my childhood that we consumed at a table on a back porch shaded by a mulberry tree and overlooking plowed fields.
To taste the Cajun Potato is to experience the glorious transformation of the pomme de terre into a stuffed creation topped with crawfish étouffée and an oversize fried shrimp.
Jambalaya devotees must try this eatery’s unique rendition of the Bayou State staple: the Cane River Jambalaya. Cajun stewed tomatoes, black-eyed peas, spices and ground beef blend together nicely with the perfect accompaniment of corn bread.
Burger aficionados will have no trouble sinking their teeth into the Demon Burger, a magnificent half-pound of Black Angus beef piled with onions, mushrooms, cheese, lettuce, tomato and spicy mustard, all held together in the delightful envelope of a toasted sesame seed bun.
For dessert, it’s hard to ignore the Old Fashioned Bread Pudding. This warm tummy-pleaser is served with a wonderful butter sauce flavored with vanilla and topped with whipped cream and nutmeg. Mangez!
Merci Beaucoup, 127
Church St., Natchitoches,
The Big 101 in Abbeville
Adles Perry of Abbeville celebrated his 101st birthday last March. Perry was one of five children. His parents, Rodolph and Amanda Theall Perry, owned a farm, and the couple put their son to work picking cotton. One of his assigned duties also was to keep blackbirds at bay. Each morning his father would give him a whip to pop at the feathered intruders.
“It made a sound like a gun,” Perry told Vermilion Today.
If you would like to travel the progression of the past hundred years, Perry is an apt tour guide. Perry and his siblings used to walk 4 miles to school every weekday. In addition to the distance of the 8-mile round trip, there were logistical problems of the bovine sort that frequently forced the children to walk the levees instead of the roads.
“They’d milk the cows in the morning, and then they let them out on the roads,” Perry recalled. “And the cows would chase us. One day, we walked through the canals.”
The water was up to his neck, and his older sister held his hand to guide him through.
When he was 10, his family moved to Abbeville, and there, aside from a stint in the Air Force in World War II and frequent traveling, he has remained. Growing up in Abbeville, he worked as a clerk at Moresi’s Store and at Steen’s Syrup Mill. Stationed in Italy, he served in the Air Force from 1942 to 1945. He flew with his fellow airmen into Germany and Austria, but his favorite city was Rome. While stationed in the Eternal City, this serviceman from Louisiana met Pope Pius XII.
The Pontiff told him he knew he was American by his uniform, and the two exchanged handshakes. The Pope then gave him warm wishes for a safe return that would find his family well. At the end of the war, Perry was back home employed by Wood Motors.
“The whistles blew, and the church bells rang,” he recalled. “When World War I ended, I was old enough to remember that we could hear the whistles, too.”
Perry lost his wife of 61 years, Thelma Hoffpauir, three years ago. When asked his secret for living such a long life, he gave sage advice: “Keep busy. Do things … and never get angry. … I expect to live a lot longer.”
Fork in the Road
Mondo Italiano in Houma
The sight of Cristiano Ristorante from High Street in Houma shows you a quaint gabled country house with a sloping tin roof that you might expect to serve down-home victuals instead of sumptuous Italian cuisine. This illusion is dispelled once you sit in a setting that unfolds like a Tuscan villa, amid walls washed in colors that remind you of the green-gold of extra-virgin olive oil or Pinot Grigio wine, with touches of terra cotta and Chianti hues dispersed at tasteful intervals.
The antipasti menu is almost too good to be true. Chef Mason’s Chargrilled Oysters, prepared with roasted red pepper-garlic butter, are delicious. The same can be said for the duck breast fried in strips and served with either pomodoro sauce or a honey-buttermilk sauce. The Verdura Fresca is a zuppe wherein fresh veggies and pasta have simmered in a broth flavored with herbs and sherry. Completely refreshing and invigorating is the Caprese Insalate, a simple but exquisite offering of tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil.
In the pasta department, the Ravioli Aperti consists of open-faced ravioli with jumbo lump crabmeat. Added to this creation is yet another divine marriage of flavors – lemon with thyme sauce; it serves as a perfect and velvety complement for the crabmeat and ravioli. Comprising a sumptuous mélange of ingredients and flavor is the Pappardell con Gamberi – fresh basil, Gulf shrimp, pine nuts and garlic in a rich butter sauce served over pasta.
If, like me, you can’t get over your guilt at eating veal, other entrees include the Pollo Piccata, a poultry rendition of one of my favorite dishes, veal piccata. Tender chicken breasts sautéed with capers, butter, lemon and white wine make a delicious replacement.
Cristiano Ristorante, 724 High St., Houma, (985) 223-1130. n
baton rouge/plantation country
Opting for Success in the Florida Parishes
OPTIONS, a nonprofit agency partnered with the United Way, has graced the Florida Parishes of the Bayou State for more than three decades. According to the Advocate, the agency has mentored and assisted people with disabilities to the point of them becoming independent community members who hold down steady jobs.
One of their shining success stories belongs to Julie Burke, a client of eight years. Through the assistance of OPTIONS, Julie is a proud member of the Ironing Crew at Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Hammond.
“I love my job,” said Burke to the Advocate, “and one of my favorite parts of the job is when customers come in and visit or talk about sports.”
Supervisor Mable Jasper, a 27-year veterans of OPTIONS, has nothing but praise for Burke.
“Julie likes her job and is very helpful in assisting staff, clients and customers,” Jasper said.
In addition to her work, Burke is a fan of Kenny Chesney, country music in general and bowling. With the supportive help of the agency, she lives in her own town house and enjoys both her independence and her family.
Spending time with her family, which she described as loving and supportive, is one of her favorite things.
Burke’s mother, Dottie Spangler, is pleased by the influence OPTIONS has had on her daughter’s life. “I believe OPTIONS strives for excellence in all that they do and always have the best interest of people with disabilities at heart.” Spangler also praises the Hammond community in general, which, through the unending work of OPTIONS CEO Sylvia Bush, is always ready to offer support.
OPTIONS was started in the Hammond community in 1973 by concerned parents of people with developmental disabilities. Their one-on-one approach helps target each individual’s needs. The agency also operates four community homes with around-the-clock residential support that provide a secure and nurturing environment.
For more information, call Sylvia Bush at (985) 345-6269, extension 116.
Fork in the Road
St. Gabriel’s Roberto
Driving down the River Road in St. Gabriel, if you blink, you might miss it. Roberto’s River Road Restaurant is housed in a former general store with no designated street address, just directions that say it’s 3 miles south of Gardere Lane and one-quarter-mile north of Bayou Paul Lane on the River Road (Highway 75). This seeming anonymity hasn’t kept patrons away. People are drawn to its delightful casual atmosphere and wonderful food.
Appetizers alone are worth a drive to St. Gabriel. The Eggplant Crab Cakes are set in a beurre blanc that’s been polished with a dill hollandaise sauce – the undertones of lemon and butter are like a revelation. The savory and spicy BBQ Shrimp and Grits is perfect: All the succulent sauce and flavor of the dish is soaked into a grit cake that’s been deep-fried. The Cajun Crawfish Salad consists of deep-fried mudbug tails nestled in fresh spinach christened with a savory garlic-and-ginger dressing. These wonderful delights only lead you to the further delights of the entrees.
Fish en Papillote, wherein the catch of the day is flavored with fresh herbs and lemon, baked in parchment paper and then topped with jumbo lump crabmeat, is a meal worthy of a Cordon Bleu chef. Then there’s the Sauteed Catch of the Day – cooked with sautéed shrimp and toasted almonds and doused with hollandaise sauce. The River Road Shrimp consists of 10 huge shrimp that have been sautéed with bell peppers, red onion and garlic in a spicy brandied butter and then poured over linguini. If you really want to test your arteries, order the Shrimp Roberto, a trio of seafood-stuffed shrimp wearing a shawl of bacon, deep-fried and then laid to rest in
the buttery goodness of beurre blanc finished with hollandaise.
Rising like a dream from childhood is the Malted Chocolate Caramel Pie.
This dessert is made of a chocolate pie crust filled with layers of malted chocolate and the divine accompaniment of caramel.
Roberto’s River Road Restaurant, River Road in St. Gabriel, (225) 642-5999.
Greater New Orleans
Cause to Celebrate
Levee Life in River Ridge
I relocated last May after a construction debacle in my old place gave me no other choice. I am now on the second floor, the last apartment on the end at the very back of the same River Ridge complex, less than 12 feet from the levee of the Mississippi River. The two long windows in my living room overlook the levee that rises in an emerald green slope to touch the changing colors of the sky; my porch on the side closely abuts a wooded area that, when I first saw it, was covered with dangling vines of purple flowers and looked like a secluded bower from a pre-Raphaelite painting. I’ve become acquainted with the brush stroke of each changing season on my new home.
In summer, I watched the electric light shows of magnificent Louisiana thunderstorms over the river. In June, the full moon hung just outside my window in the dark early morning beaming down on the levee and batture in a vintage Louisiana scene Blue Dog would have loved.
My usually quiet summer nights were broken one week by a cacophony of croaking that came from the levee. It sounded like a convention of frogs, and I was later awakened by a single croaking frog on the porch outside my bedroom who would not be silent. When I walked on the levee the next morning just after sunrise, ripples of countless baby frogs were hopping on the path and made walking nearly impossible. July brought a possible sighting of a feu follet on the blackened levee and a neighbor who told me people sometimes see Union gunboats on the river at night. That has not happened to me.
At night I’ve sat with the porch door open and listened to the searing sound of the rain pattering in the trees while baby frogs took refuge in the porch plants by the old cane rocker. From my window, I’ve watched a squirrel feast on the Japanese plum tree that also plays host to a roosting white heron. Autumn brought sweet river breezes.
When winter stripped the trees on the batture of their leaves, I could see the tops of ships as they passed; at night, their beacon lights floated across the horizon like slow-moving shooting stars. There amid my sand-colored walls and blue curtains, with my window on the herons, mudbug hills and frogs, I sometimes feel I am living in an Audubon print.
I’ve nearly run the full 12 months of a year in my new home, and next year I’ll know just what day and hour the winter sun will touch a crystal candlestick to paint a streak of prism across my dining room table. But for now, the vines outside my porch are pregnant with purple buds that will unfurl to mark my first year’s passing in my new home. Tucked away and secluded, I have never felt less isolated.
Fork in the Road
Delicious to the Gills in the French Quarter
GW Fins restaurant on Bienville Street is a wonderful addition to the dining repertoire of the French Quarter. The restaurant prides itself on service seafood at the peak of the season, so the menu is apt to change daily. If you’re lucky, you’ll make it on a day when the menu features Blue Crab Pot Stickers or the sheer delight of Crispy Fried Maine Lobster Tail served with rémoulade. Many of the dishes are prepared my favorite way: wood-grilled.
Absolutely wonderful is the Wood Grilled Pompano and its sides. Pineapple-glazed pompano is accompanied by crisp fried plantains and sweet potato hash all flavored with roasted corn butter. The Parmesan Crusted Lemon Sole is a tangy mélange of flavors, served with jumbo lump crabmeat, capers, brown butter and asparagus. This dish gives the impression of being an evolved version of a piccata. There is such imagination that goes into the preparation of these menu items, such as the Pumpkin Seed Crusted Redfish, served with snap peas, butternut squash and darkened butter flavored with sage. Meat-lovers have no reason to feel snubbed just because of the plethora of seafood dishes. The Center Cut Filet is cooked to fork-cutting tenderness, with the perfect and honorable accompaniment of sides – garlic mashed potatoes and crispy Vidalia onions.
Polish off this wonderful repast with what could almost be voted the Honorary Dessert of New Orleans: bread pudding. This eatery’s White Chocolate & Caramel Bread Pudding is filled with pecans and chunks of dark chocolate and topped with whipped cream.
GW Fins, 808 Bienville St., New Orleans, (504) 581-3467