ON THE ROAD
Refuge in Ruston
For the work-weary who dwell from Shreveport to Monroe and points a little farther south, the Lewis House Victorian Bed & Breakfast in the Historic District of Ruston is perfectly stationed like a beautiful bonbon atop a delicious dessert – easy both to reach and to enjoy. This Victorian-era house (circa 1900) is a haven of quiet, beautiful rooms with a bewitching gift shop filled with Duck House Heirloom dolls and lamps, silver by Godinger and handcrafted samples of Victoriana arts. The arches within are adorned with gingerbread; even the staircase and landing lead you on an enchanting walk to your room. The Victorian style within is non-fussy and understated, airy and refreshing. The rooms, which boast gleaming hardwood floors, are pools of peace, with different styles of décor to appeal to the very feminine, the masculine, the cerebral – and don’t forget the lovers.
Manta’s Doll Room, a tasteful confectionery filled with lace, roses and pink walls, is worthy of a daddy’s girl or princess wannabe. The four-poster in the Mallard’s Nest, rising amid a décor with the deep-green color of a mallard’s head and rich wine breast, is fit for a king who has just returned from the hunt. The atmosphere of this warm room has an In the Hall of the Mountain King feel to it. The Professor’s Suite just escapes being called austere by the charming addition of a carved bed headboard
and the brocade on the coverlet and drapes. You can almost picture Arthur Conan Doyle or Charles Dickens writing here – the cozy fireplace is a perfect place to curl up with a tale of Sherlock Holmes or be in the company of Oliver Twist.
But my favorite room is The Majestic Suite with its elegant richness. Warm, Sybaritic colors that range from the green-gold of a chardonnay to the deep red of a merlot contribute to an intimate atmosphere that is almost intoxicating. The owners of Lewis House try to keep this room reserved for honeymooners and lovers. The fireplace nestling close to the carved four-poster bed contributes to this sumptuous, deserted island atmosphere.
Tea is served downstairs on tables draped with lace. Exquisite rose-laden china and the strawberries of spring accompany this ritual perfectly. A shady porch provides a quiet view of the lovely neighborhood.
The Lewis House Victorian Bed & Breakfast is on the National Historic Register. As an added measure of hospitality, the staff will pre-arrange a massage for you and also do any shopping you may need.
210 E. Alabama Ave., Ruston, (318) 255-3848, www.thevictorianlewishouse.com
The Lady Banks
Springtime in Louisiana can be a blur of beauty like an impressionist’s canvas. Our rich black soil seems to just spew forth blooms, and making its appearance during the vernal equinox in Louisiana is that prodigious climber, the yellow Lady Banks rose. The dark-green foliage is borne by slender branches sans thorns, and the velvety double roses are an ice cream yellow that burst forth looking like the petticoats of cancan dancers. Native to China and cultivated by 19th-century Brits, it wears its scent delicately, like a lady who doesn’t wish to appear too forward. Growing as high as 15 to 20 feet and possessing a wide girth, it isn’t recommended for small areas. It grows on trellises, arbors, porch pillars and in the wild ditches of the Bayou State; plant in full sun, and water weekly or more often when the weather turns hot.
Adras LaBorde, reporter and editor of Alexandria’s Daily Town Talk, who was born in the Avoyelles Parish town of Bordelonville on Dec. 12, 1912, was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Louisiana Political Museum, some 19 years after his death.
According to Avoyelles Today, LaBorde, the son of Enos LaBorde and Lily Bordelon, worked as a radio operator on a ship, and it was there in the isolation of the ocean that he began to read to pass the time. LaBorde read encyclopedias and nonfiction and for the most part was self-educated. Fluent in French like any true Bordelonville native, he once broadcast an entire program in French for WWL radio while he lived in New Orleans. He wrote a training manual for pilots on radio language used by the armed forces during World War II called Roger, Wilco. LaBorde served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps during the war.
In 1945 LaBorde joined the staff of the Alexandria Daily Town Talk and worked his way up from the basement. Five years later he was named managing editor, a position he held for 27 years until he was named executive editor. His political column, “The Talk of the Town,” endured for decades, and during this time, he wrote about the likes of Joseph Ransdell, Allen Ellender, Jimmie Davis, Earl K. and Russell Long, John McKeithen, deLesseps “Chep” Morrison, Charles “Buddy” Roemer III, Raymond Laborde, David Treen and John Schwegmann. The colorful, questionable tapestry of Louisiana politicians were chronicled by LaBorde’s pen throughout the years, and none was more colorful than Gov. Edwin Edwards, a fellow Avoyelles native. Edwards would drop by LaBorde’s home from time to time for a visit. On one particular visit, he was accompanied by a procession of state troopers who traveled with sirens blazing. The neighbors were fearful there had been a major calamity, and Mrs. LaBorde was so embarrassed that she asked Edwards to kindly return to their home in a more quiet manner in the future.
Reporting on politics was LaBorde’s meat and drink, but he extended his reporting beyond the confines of campaigns and elections to also write about the inner clockwork of government and bureaucracy. He also championed conservation in his column; among his crusades were the removal of pollution in Little River caused by oil fields and urging Gov. Edwards to back the state purchase of the Saline-Spring Bayou Wildlife Management Area and to also obtain the land that covered Spring Bayou. President and state director of the Rapides Wildlife Association, LaBorde was given the Edward Meeman Conservation Award by the Scripps-Howard Foundation for outstanding journalism in the field of conservation. Proud of his rich French background, LaBorde was a staunch supporter of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, or CODOFIL.
During the course of his career, he wrote some 10,000 columns; brought computers to the newsroom; and hired women and black reporters, a first for the Daily Town Talk. LaBorde was considered an authority on Louisiana politics and government during the 20th century. He is buried beside his beloved wife, Blanche, in Alexandria Memorial Gardens.
Creating a New Path
Last December, the Atakapa-Ishak Trail in Cajun Country officially opened. Laced with bike lanes and scenic walks and dedicated both to paying tribute to the proud Atakapa-Ishak nation of Louisiana as well as feeding the soul, the trail will ultimately connect Lafayette to nearby Breaux Bridge and St. Martinville.
The Atakapa-Ishak nation is a tribe of ancient American Indians who peopled southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana in the northwestern half-moon curve of the Gulf of Mexico. Calling themselves the Ishak, meaning “people,” the tribe was divided into what were known as The Sunrise People and The Sunset People. During their aboriginal era, they were peaceful. Their six bands that spread from Matagorda Bay in Texas to Vermilion Bay in Louisiana have been mistakenly reported from time to time as being extinct.
The Choctaw, who hated the Ishak, gave them the name Atakapa (which means “man-eater”) as a slur based on an erroneous accusation of cannibalism, and European settlers believed this false claim for many generations.
Tasso and oyster pie come from the Atakapa-Ishak, and other names prevalent in Louisiana have a direct connection to these people: Anacoca, Calcasieu, Carencro, Lacassine, Mamou, Mermentau, Opelousas and Teche. Their foot trails reached as far north as Rapides Parish, Natchitoches and Sabine.
This spring, General Mouton Road in Lafayette, part of the Atakapa-Ishak Trail, will be lined with more than 40 blooming fringe trees, also known as Grancy Graybeards, that look like ethereal, low-hovering white clouds when in bloom. This particular stretch of the trail will include the historic neighborhood of Freetown-Port Rico. These trees were planted by volunteers from nonprofit and government agencies. The trail is being built in phases; already Phase II is under construction. When concluded, it will be a fitting tribute to a people who have long been a cultural enrichment to the Bayou State as refreshing as a stroll on a beautiful spring day.
In Louisiana, they make their appearance in the nick of time – after the dogwoods have ceased flowering and before you can feel lonely for the sight of them. Fringe trees (Chionanthus virginicus) boast many monikers: Grancy Graybeards, old man’s beard, snowdrop tree. The genus name of Chionanthus is a Latinized Greek version of “snow flower.”
Vaporous and angelic-looking atop the tree’s thin trunk and branches, the flowers exude a sweet fragrance that reminds you of lilacs. They cascade downward like the snowy beard of a wise old alchemist, hence the name. In summer and early autumn, the thin branches are filled with oval-shaped indigo fruit bearing one powdery white bloom and a lone seed. Adding to the bounty of spring beauty, the tree attracts songbirds, deer and quail. In rare instances, both male and female flowers are found on one tree.
In olden days, the bark was used to make a medicinal tonic that lowered fever and reduced body fluids. This member of the olive family grows as high as 20 feet, but the spread of its low-hanging, flowering branches often exceeds its height. It can thrive in full sunlight, but one of its names, fringe tree, comes from the fact that it’s often planted in partial shade on the fringe of a forest near a creek bed or stream.
FORK IN THE ROAD
The Fat Cow in Baton Rouge
The Fat Cow, a new eatery in Baton Rouge, takes hamburgers to a higher plane, and while many of the dishes may make you up your dosage of Lipitor, there are plenty of “green pastures” for healthy grazers to enjoy in a comfortably casual setting.
The meat used for the hamburgers is ultra-fresh and ground on-site from high-quality cuts of beef. It’s seasoned only with salt and pepper – but it’s what they do to this thick, succulent, simple patty once it lies between toasted buns that takes you on a delicious voyage of epicurean adventure. The Smokestack Burger is piled with a delightfully harmonious combination of smoked bacon and smoked cheddar cheese while a good measure of fried onion straws mingles with lettuce and tomato amid a spicy barbecue sauce. The 120 Burger is crowned with Gruyère cheese, smoked bacon, caramelized onions, arugula, tomato and a wonderfully complementary horseradish mayonnaise. The Muffaletta Burger only sounds like an unlikely fit – the layers of salami, provolone and Swiss cheeses and Black Forest ham piled with olive salad is a surprising mélange of enjoyable flavors. If you have a taste for the sweet-and-salty, don’t miss the Wentworth Burger: This patty is topped with brie, apple slices, Black Forest ham and delectable red onion marmalade. Discriminating burger connoisseurs must partake of The Hundred Dollar Burger – this beefy disc nestles amid foie gras, balsamic vinegar, truffle oil and Parmesan cheese – all for $15!
For sides, you owe it to yourself to try the hand-cut fries tossed with the richness of duck fat and topped with Parmesan cheese.
If you’re in a lighter frame of mind for fare, the Baby Bleu Salad boasts exquisite champagne vinaigrette that flavors spring greens, candied pecans, dried cherries and crumbled blue cheese.
The Fat Cow, 4350 Highland Road, Suite B1, Baton Rouge, (225) 761-9272, fatcowburgers.com.
The disappointing performance that capped the otherwise-perfect season of the undefeated LSU Tigers in the BCS National Championship game stunned the LSU faithful. While conspiracy theories and wild speculations swirled as to what happened to this team of fire-breathers whose pilot light was extinguished by Alabama amid much languishing and hand-wringing, a group of 30 Tiger fans were present to welcome the vanquished Tigers home to Baton Rouge the day after the BCS game. In the group was Debra Montgomery, mother of defensive end Sam Montgomery. According to Rebekah Allen of the Advocate, this group put aside their devastating disappointment, proudly clad themselves in purple and gold and awaited their team.
“They play for the loyal fans,” Montgomery told the Advocate. “It’s easy for everyone to be there when you’re a winner, but the people that are down in the trenches like this faithful crew – that’s what really matters.”
Also present was Robin Waller, a school librarian who cheered and shook pompoms as the team buses arrived.
“I wanted to tell them to have no shame,” Waller said. “They had a great season, 13-1. Who else can say that?”
Greater New Orleans
FORK IN THE ROAD
The Irish House in New Orleans
Each year on St. Patrick’s Day, I wear green and claddagh earrings. I usually place an Irish-themed wreath on my door a few weeks before. I sometimes make soda bread, almost always combine mashed potatoes with cabbage and bacon for the heavenly dish called Colcannon and always slip a few drops of green food dye into a beer. There are times when, hiking in a wild Louisiana landscape, I wish that St. Patrick had visited the Bayou State and de-snaked it the same as Ireland. I once tore my Achilles tendon attempting to do Lord of the Dance in my living room. When someone once sarcastically asked me what a French Frois was doing wearing green on St. Paddy’s Day, I was proud to reply with an aped Irish accent that, “Me mother was an O’Rourke.” French and Irish blood – no wonder I like wine and ale!
The Irish House, a cozy new eatery that might be considered an Emerald Isle enclave, is a true Celtic celebration, offering daily lunch specials that are traditional delicious renditions of corned beef with bubble and squeak, bangers and mash and fish and chips. The dinner menu, however, blooms beyond this standard Irish fare as beautifully as a bouquet of Bells of Ireland in a kind of transition from “My Wild Irish Rose” to Celtic harp music.
The Mar Thús – or appetizers – are flavorful, robust creations such as the pan-fried cheese served on grilled romaine with roasted pepper-and-bacon dressing; the velvety, hearty Gonsoulin Ranch Meatloaf nests on fried walnut bread with a slathering of mild mushroom-and-foie gras butter in an incredible experience of flavors. Seared jumbo scallops recline on stone-ground grits flavored with chorizo and served with julienned veggies in a beurre blanc made even tangier by the addition of lemon.
The Priomhchúrsai, or entrees, portion of the menu takes your dinner to the next level with offerings of scrumptious beer-battered venison sausage served on a wild mushroom cake and flavored with a sweet onion-mustard sauce. My personal favorite is the Muscovy duck breast stuffed with two of my favorite things – figs and brie. Celeriac purée, sour cherry-brandy sauce and caramelized zucchini complete this festive dish. The seared salmon fillet is accompanied by Colcannon, beurre blanc and a ragout of cherry tomatoes and peppers. End your meal with the Tipsy Cake flavored with hazelnut and raspberry.
The Irish House, 1432 St. Charles Ave. New Orleans, (504) 595-6755, www.theirishhouseneworleans.com
CAUSE TO CELEBRATE
Brews-Fest in New Orleans
NOLA Brewing Co., located on “Hopitoulas” Street, has emerged as one fine microbrewery with an exceptionally creative batch of brews among their pleasurable imbibing repertoire. Straddling the months between Thanksgiving and hurricane season, two delicious seasonal brews will be available for ideal quaffing. Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with the Irish Channel Stout (available from November through March). This concoction leaves just the right amount of cobwebby Brussels lace on the sides of the glass as you make sipping headway. With a creamy sweetness redolent of caramel, chocolate and vanilla, it is complemented with the perfect refreshing amount of bitterness found in good stout. The last flavor noticeable in each sip is bitter chocolate.
Making its appearance in April, the lighter, crisper Hurricane Saison (Flemish for “season”) is available either on tap or in draft packs. This brew is the color of a floppy straw hat with a yeasty, almost herbal fragrance as delicious as New Orleans in the spring.
NOLA Brewing Co., 3001 Tchoupitoulas St., New Orleans, (504) 896-9996, www.nolabrewing.com.