Louisiana Plate Lunch Mecca

So, growing up in the midwest, I’d been accustomed to school and work lunches consisting of not much more than a cold cut or a PB&J. On my own, I’d grown to like taking left overs from the previous night’s supper for lunch at work. It was, at least, a step above a cold cut.

Louisiana, however, had me one-upped. There, along with the south more generally, seem to be the last remaining hold-out of the sit-down hot lunch. In the south, food and rest often take precedent to work. To say things are laid back, would be an under statement.

My wife and I soon learned of the plate lunch phenomena. Leave work with your colleagues around lunchtime and come back an hour later. Or leave and come back with stacks of styrofoam to-go containers for yourself and everyone else. Though we forwent the ritual during the week to save money and heath by packing our own lunches, one weekend, outside of Beaux Bridge, we managed to enjoy the best plate lunch place I can imagine. Period. We spotted the above white sign, and knew we had to stop. We found Glenda’s Creole Kitchen definitely tops the who’s who of southern creole cooking.

So the hot lunch is alive and well in the south. It remains largely the last holdout in the nation practicing the tradition of the hot lunch.  The southern hot lunch phenomenon was recently chronicled in an episode of the NPR radio program The Splendid Table. Feel free to click on the above link for their take on it.

We pulled in five minutes after two. Coming up to the door a kind middle aged lady opened the door and greeted us as if she’d been expecting us and was glad to see us. “Are you Tony?” she said. After the initial confusion, we learned Tony’s loss was our gain. Where we otherwise would have been there after close, we were able to buy the phone-in order Tony hadn’t picked up.

Every day has a set menu. They make large batches of two or three dishes, sides, and desserts. The hours are from 10:30 am to 2 pm but when the food is gone, Glenda’s done. Amazing business model. Amazing food. We were there on a Sunday and Sunday means BBQ. I had the BBQ stuffed brisket, my wife the BBQ half chicken, and we both got another chicken for the road.

The dirty rice was so rich and tasty. The creole flavor’s so foreign to my tongue. It was reminiscent of the bahamian rice we’d had on vacation the year before. Whatever mashed animal parts and seasons make there way into that rice are heavenly. The cornbread stuffing was good, too.

The brisket and the chicken were delicious. The brisket and the rice went well together. Juicy, tender, and tasty. I’m now scheming how I can make it back every day of the week to get to enjoy the whole menu. Only problem is, it’s a thousand miles further.

Glenda's Creole Kitchen on Urbanspoon


Our Not-So-Camping Experience at Wyalusing State Park

So my best friend from high school and his wife live up in Minnesota and went to a woodsy far northern university for college. They are outdoorsy and do some pretty serious camping on their time off with their old college friends.

When we knew we were moving back from Louisiana, I gave him a call to suggest we plan a weekend this summer for my wife and I to go camping with them. They had a pretty tight schedule so it worked out that the weekend after we moved up here was the best time for them. So up to the Wyalusing State Park it was.

I was excited to see the Native American effigy mounds and the view from the top of the five hundred foot high palisades overlooking the junction of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers.

We all arrived at 11pm on a Friday. I soon learned that when I suggested we should go camping together, I hadn’t really meant camping per se. But camping we were.

My wife and I had a never-opened two person tent she bought in college while thinking to the day she would be backpacking alone in the mountains of Thailand. I had mentioned to my friend I was considering picking up an inflatable air mattress, but he made fun of me so I foolishly scrapped the idea.

There we were with our tiny tent, no mattress, no pillows–we had forgotten them–and a complete lack of ventilation that made it so hot we were practically naked on top of the sleeping bags trying to get to sleep. They, on the other hand, brought a 5+ person tent with plenty of ventilation, a double air mattress, and no intention of inviting us over.

Two of the most sweaty, miserable hours ensued. We shifted from position to painful position and vacillated through all levels of consciousness yet never reaching that most coveted of levels: sleep.

The weekend before we pulled an all-nighter driving 18 hours back to Illinois and I was not about to endure another all-nigher, knowing it would make it impossible for us to function the next two days.

This was precisely the moment I realized that when I had suggested we meet up to go camping, I had really envisioned staying in a hotel or couchsurfing. I couldn’t take it any longer. I told my wife it wasn’t worth it and asked if we could go to a hotel. She said she could make it through the night but said she thought she was going to be the first one to crack. I insisted, both because I was about to go insane and because I didn’t want the smoke building up in our tent from the surrounding campfires to upset her asthma.

We sent a quick text to their tent to inform them we were heading out to Prairie du Chien to find a hotel and would be back for breakfast.

Now although it felt like we were wussing out on our friends and had failed to impress them with our ruggedness, I suggested that while they live in the suburbs and occasionally go camping, perhaps we’d been the ones to live a little too rustically for the past three years. Their tent, I noted, was more bug proof than our shotgun house in Louisiana and I’m sure they’ve never had a bug in their house. I for one, felt we were okay.  Our friends, initially gave us a little flak, but understood and had a good time with us.

The weekend went on. We enjoyed hiking, the views, and the park’s observatory where we caught an impressive view of Saturn in the night sky. I learned that polaris will only be our north star for another 10,000 years or so. Not to worry, it will return as the north star in 35,000 years.

We ironically caught Prairie du Chien’s 2nd annual Cajun Fest and ended up making some great pizza sandwiches on the campfire with square sandwich pie irons. Take that marshmallow roasting sticks! So all in all, all’s well that end’s well.

The Most Amazing Pizza Man in the World

So my wife wife and I thought we’d try a NY Pizza place out in Prarieville, LA that had raving reviews on Urbanspoon. We happened to be in Baton Rouge late one Friday night, and I thought perhaps it’d be a sit-down restaurant we could sneak into, before they closed, without bothering anyone.

Well, rather than finding a large establishment with a waitstaff, we found the owner himself sitting alone watching a baseball game with the chairs up and the lights off. Instead of being able skirt our rudeness by anonymously sneaking in, I had to face it, if only in the form of a sheepish inquiry as to whether or not it was too close to closing to bother him for a pizza. To my relief, we were welcomed without the slightest hint we were either presumptuous or imposing.

When we thanked him, he said that anytime anyone wants a pizza, he’ll make them one, whether it’s three a.m. after he’s cleaned up or nine in the morning before he opens. It is what he knows, and it’s what he does. He confessed his philosophy was that of the former Starbucks CEO saying, “I’m not in the pizza business serving people, I’m in the people business serving pizza.” I was humbled.

After living in Brooklyn for the majority of his life, he’d come to Baton Rouge seeking warmer weather to better cope with arthritis. I imagined the menu’s claim to have the best NY pizza in the south, stood a good chance at proving true.

As my wife went to the restroom, I watched Omar at work while trying to seem like I was watching the game. He pulled the pizza from the oven so naturally and with such care, he might as well have been a mother with a newborn [granted the analogy surely has its limits]. After slicing it with a pizza cutter, he took a pair of kitchen shears and carefully cut the crust at each slice where the slicer didn’t reach because of the pan.

Such attention to detail seems rare. Few might overtly notice the difference, but when it’s the symptom of an approach to life and work, it is that attention that makes for quality and makes Omar a master in the people business.

Omar is an amazing person and I am fortunate to have met. He made us feel special and said he hoped we’d come back before we moved. Before leaving the parking lot, we were already anxious to return. We did, a week before we left, and Omar obliged my request to take his picture. I’m a little ashamed to say that it’s a picture I’m a little too proud to own. Thanks for the pizza, the garlic knots, and sharing your flow.  We wish you the best.

Roma Pizza on Urbanspoon

Twentysomethings Back at the Farmstead

So my wife and I moved in with her grandmother at the old family farmhouse. Its a neat old house whose blueprints may or may not have been purchased from the Sears Roebuck catalogue in the 1910s, I’ve heard but been unable to confirm. Though her grandmother hasn’t had to keep up the land, she has remarkably kept the farmhouse going for the last two decades largely through her own toil and the paid help of a couple local handymen.

And here we are. Officially boomerangers for the second time. Twentysomethings back on the old family land. Corn to the south. Soy to the north. Rolling Wisconsin hills and the Mississippi River palisades not too far off. As far as Illinois goes, it doesn’t get much more beautiful than this.

When we last lived here for a little over a year before we got married and moved south, we never really made it feel like home. At the time, we had my little eclectus parrot. We made room for the parrot cage in our bedroom, but didn’t feel we had the authority to move any of the antique furniture. We made do around it. The solid footboard of the antique farm-bed came inches too short for me to lay straight. Only the parrot, anxious to chew on the hardwood any chance she got, didn’t feel imposed by the massive turn-of-the-century secretariat lording over both the room and our existence.

This time, looking at living here for the foreseeable future, my wife and I made a pact to do everything we could to work to gain the hard-earned consent of her grandmother to move furniture and free up a bedroom closet, in order for to have at least a minimum of space our own.

It took two days of moving furniture out, our stuff in, and squirreling away the remainder in the basement and attic. We moved the antique bed and secretariat across to a bedroom used for ironing. The twin beds from there, we wrapped in plastic, and carried to the attic. Our bed and reading desk were in. We pulled an oak dresser out from the attic, moved the old marble topped dresser to the corner of the room, and kept a retro teal 70’s reading chair in front of the window. I hung my contemporary Maya oils and my wife’s yearly inspirational collage and we were in business. It makes for an eclectic combination. Best of all it feels like us and it feels like home.

Our Last Louisiana Hurrah

So my wife’s father made the drive down to help us pack up and drive our stuff back north. We worked on it Memorial Day weekend and thought, with a little luck, we’d have it all packed up ready to go for Tuesday morning. One recliner and a few boxes into it we realized we were wrong. It wouldn’t all fit. Not even close.

We had to wait until Tuesday to rent a U-haul trailer. Picked it up to find out that the brake lights only worked sporadically and after much unsuccessful troubleshooting in the hot sun decided we’d test our luck without them on the way to Illinois. It’d be okay, after all, my wife and I’d be following in our car.

We had the trailer filled in a hour or so since everything was already boxed up and then waited for 5:00 to come around when we were meeting friends from work at Hot Tails for our last little hurrah.

Since my first time there, I’ve imagined ordering the Cajun Burger a hundred times or so. I failed to get a good picture the first time so, to me, it was more than enough of an excuse to dream of a redo. Tonight, I was determined to capture the spicy, juicy burger topped with sauteed crawfish, if it was the last thing I did [in Louisiana].

But it wasn’t. My wife’s father was poised to order a fried shrimp, crawfish, and catfish platter. I proposed we one-up and split the gulf platter which’d also have frog legs, oysters, and a soft shell crab. He agreed, and my cajun burger officially became unfinished business.

Almost everyone made it.  To our enjoyment, we went though more than one plate of Hot Tails fried pickles, which as far as I can tell, give many a fried pickle a run for their money. They are crisp and spicy with addictive dipping sauce. The food was good. The fried catfish. The frog legs. The steak. The jumbo shrimp sensational salad. It was all amazing. We spent a good couple hours carrying-on, exchanging cards, memories and promises of seeing each other again under the watchful guise of the house elk.

As dinner progressed, it startled us as we began to realize how close we’d become in the last couple years. It was hard and sad trying to say goodbye. But as dusk approached we made it final and left for what lie ahead.