Disclaimer: this post is 4463 words long. Don’t read it if your twenty minutes, or whatever, are that important to you. I like to believe this is a worthwhile post and will be a worthwhile topic.
I’ve wanted to do this for a while now, but have put it off for one reason or another. Even the least perceptive among us has surely noticed a demographic shift. Dyestat hosted a significantly younger community—a primarily high school community attracted by high-school-based content. Currently offering no content apart from the forums, TrackTalk is not consistently bringing in new crops of posters. This topic is not where I will opine on the trajectory of TrackTalk; I simply choose to mention the demographic shift because it is relevant to the following: as the members of this site age we develop interests apart from that which initially brought us together. Posters are graduating college, going to graduate/professional schools, getting jobs, and maybe finally having some disposable income.
With these new discretionary funds many of us choose to travel—maybe flying across the country to visit a college pal in his new city, maybe taking a road trip to catch a weekend MLB series, maybe travelling on business, maybe simply taking a pleasure trip. From what I’ve observed, we have posters spread throughout the country: the Bay Area, L.A., NYC, Wisconsin, Chicagoland, the Beltway, the South, et cetera. There exist already nearly innumerable websites dedicated to travel and dining. For the most part, those sites lack a certain intimacy. Do you really care what Craig from Peoria has to say about the food scene in Baltimore on Yelp!—probably not. There exists, on TrackTalk, a familiarity (real or imagined) largely absent elsewhere on this series of tubes we call “the Internetz”. Bolton may think Yifter is a moron for his opinion re: Lance and doping, but he probably would respect the same man’s opinion on a museum in Philadelphia or somewhere.
Something causes me to believe it would be a worthwhile exercise for us to submit reviews of our hometowns, college towns, or even the towns where our cousins live and we go on vacation sometimes. I’ll get us started in two parts. Part one will cover Baton Rouge and its sequel will deal with the City That Care Forgot.
I look forward to learning about, and eventually visiting, the cities important to y’all. Enjoy:
BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA
Baton Rouge is the state capital and, with a population of 230,000, the second largest city in the state. Factoring in the unincorporated portion of East Baton Rouge parish and the surrounding suburbs of Baton Rouge, the metro population is ~800k. However, it is safe to say were it not for the government, LSU, and Exxon, Baton Rouge would just be another armpit like Meridien, MS.
A word to the wise: unless you are downtown, don’t venture North of Florida Boulevard. Around 90% of the violent crime in the city occurs in that area. Of course, most of that crime is drug-related and you could probably drive through there with no mishaps. But I would hate to say I told you so in this situation.
Situated between two of the great culinary regions in the country, New Orleans and Cajun country, Baton Rouge’s offerings are surprisingly boring. That is not to say that a good meal is hard to come by here; it is just that it pales in comparison to its neighbors.
Italian: with a large population of Papists the Italian options are abundant, as one would expect. The top two are undisputed: Gino’s and Ruffino’s. Gino’s is more of what you would expect from a traditional Italian restaurant: chicken/veal parmesan/piccata/marsala, lasagna, et cetera. The best offerings on the menu are the cannelloni (both meat and seafood), Capri salad, and tortellini carbonara. A lot of people I know are crazy about the seafood arancine, but it doesn’t really excite me. Ruffino’s is a bit more of a fine dining experience. Their red sauce is a bit richer than Gino’s and I prefer it. They have perhaps the best pizza you can buy in a restaurant in this city. I usually stray from the Italian fare here and choose something from the steak and chops portion of the menu. My favorite is the “Pork Tchoupitoulas”—two bone-in pork chops topped with New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp and served with asparagus. The roasted chicken is also phenomenal; I never thought I would say that about so simple a dish. Frankly, I have never had a bad dish here and can’t imagine anyone going wrong with any of the options on the menu. The wine list here is pretty extensive, if that is a factor that impresses you. DiGiulio Brothers’ is another slightly cheaper alternative. Cheap is probably not the correct term for DGB, because the food here is anything but delicious. A plus for DGB is that it is in my favorite area of town, surrounded by good nightlife. Stay away from Monjuni’s. It is highly touted and advertised, but is an affront to all standards of taste and decency. Anthony’s Italian Deli and Pocorello’s are outstanding places to pick up lunch, cured meats, or pre-cooked meatballs.
Pizza: For as many good Italian restaurants as we have, there is a dearth of good pizza. Apart from the aforementioned Ruffino’s the best pizza you will find here is at Whole Foods. Of course, the pizza at Whole Foods is outstanding and compares favorably with all of the pies I have ever tasted. It is a thin crust pie at Whole Foods, so don’t go in there expecting some Chicago-style offering. A lot of locals talk up Fleur-de-lis, but it sucks in my opinion. It is cooked on a conveyer belt, which, if I were in charge of issuing restaurant licenses, would be grounds for loss of a restaurant’s license.
Mexican: Most of our offerings are of the Tex-Mex variety, and most are mediocre on their best days. The top three are Superior Grill, Ninfa’s, and Coyote Blues. The first two have the standard offerings: enchiladas, fajitas, quesadillas, you know the drill. Coyote Blues puts a bit of a local spin on things—fried oyster tacos, duck and raspberry chipotle quesadillas. There is a restaurant called Serrano’s at the North gates of LSU, which is popular due to its location. The food is pretty awful, although I did have a good brunch there one time. That probably had more to do with the inexpensive Bloody Marys, than the quality of my huevos. A recent influx of Latinos ha led to an explosion of taquerias. Most are pretty good. My favorite is El Limon. They have a variety of tacos: carnitas, lengua, barbacoa, cueritos, etc. They have a really tasty red chile sauce on the tacos, which are a bargain at $1.50 each. Their tortas are good as well, but I usually stick with tacos.
Oriental: My favorites for sushi are Ichiban and Sushi Yama. I don’t eat abominations like “bomb” rolls and California rolls and crunchy rolls though, so I’m not sure which restaurants do those things well. Girls really like this place called Tsunami, so I assume they do a good job of ruining high quality fish with cream cheese there. Ichiban and Sushi Yama have always presented me with exceptionally beautiful fish and outstanding service. My one complaint is the difficulty of finding Monkfish liver in Baton Rouge. Bay Leaf is by far the best Indian restaurant in town. Go for lunch, dinner is tasty but a bit overpriced (again, in my opinion). The lunch buffet sacrifices no quality and usually 4 meat offerings, a couple of vegetable offerings, and a couple of varieties of rice. Rama is my favorite Viet dining option. I’m not as well versed in Viet cuisine as I would like, but the V.C. whom I know tell me it is authentic and well-done. There is a growing SE Asian community in a part of the city inconvenient for me to travel to frequently, but I hear good things about the food scene in that part of town and intend to find my way out there sooner rather than later. My favorite Thai restaurant is Thai Kitchen. I usually get the Panang Curry.
Hamburgers: I’ve never been wild about hamburgers in restaurants. I can buy some ground brisket from the butcher and be perfectly happy with the grill or cast-iron skillet at my house. The only place that has made me say “Wow!” with a burger is Roul’s. It is next door to the aforementioned Serrano’s and about 200m from Mighty Mouse’s apartment. It is very dive-y and the proprietor is an Arab with a sense of humour. He hollers at passers-by “Come try my burger! It juicy-juicy like a ■■■■■!” The burgers are cooked on a griddle and are in the neighborhood of half a pound. I don’t know what kind of meat he uses; a classmate once told me he saw Roul buying meat from some guy on the side of the road. I don’t really care; it is greasy and delicious. His fountain drinks taste better to me than other restaurants. If you are into burgers I have either liked the following places or have heard good reviews: Five Guys, Chimes, Fat Cow.
Mediterranean: There are at least a dozen decent Lebanese-esque restaurants here in town serving the usual: gyros, shawarma, baba ghanoush, and the rest. I’ll let you in on a secret: they all get their food pre-cooked from the same supplier. They just heat it up at their own establishment. It tastes perfectly fine, but anyone claiming to discern a difference between, say, Roman’s and Arzi’s is full of crap. Roman’s, Arzi’s, Atcha, Alabasha, Akasha, and Serop’s all have multiple locations and are perfectly fine.
Miscellanea: The Chimes is a Baton Rouge staple. It is right outside of the gates of LSU and has served generations of students and professors. The décor here is great and so is the beer selection. They have 45 beers on tap from around the world, plus a selection of rotating taps depending on the whims of the propietors/bartenders. Additonally, they have ~80 other bottled beers available. They have a promotion called “Around the World”. You have six months to drink 60 beers from 20 countries. You are limited to five beers on your account per visit. If you complete the challenge, you get a shirt and your name on a plaque in the restaurant. Lasseviren has completed it twice. I have never been compelled to spend the money. The food here is good, if uninteresting. They offer an array of sandwiches and fried seafood, which are all better-than-average. My favorite dish is the New Orleans style BBQ shrimp. These shrimp have never seen a grill and I have no idea whence comes the name. They are head-on shrimp sautéed with butter, garlic, beer, pepper, and some other spices then served with their sauce on white rice with French bread. It doesn’t sound notable, but a couple of bites will change your mind. I usually end up going with the raw oysters when I am here. They are ridiculously cheap (something like 35c) from 12-3 everyday and all day Tuesday. Cold, salty oysters with cocktail sauce and draft beer is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
A place called Chelsea’s is currently my favorite restaurant in town. Their menu is eclectic compared to similarly priced (read: inexpensive) restaurants around town. Five grilled cheeses on foccacia, grilled vegetables on couscous, fried green tomatoes with remoulade sauce, and plate lunches are all outstanding here. This place is right next to DGB and Rama in the best area of town, and will be discussed further later on in this review.
Stockyard Café and Dorothy’s Kitchen are the best purveyors of soul food—stewed neck bones, fried chicken, smothered pork chops, collard greens, cornbread, and the rest. They are both located in the ghetto, so I would go before dark.
Barbecue: Frankly, it sucks here. I would not rate the best places above “average”. This is very disappointing to me since good barbecue is one of my vices. Couyon’s, Pimanyoli’s, and Voodoo do it the best. They don’t suck, but would quickly go out of business in Memfrica, Texas, or even Tuscaloosa. Couyon’s sells $1 pints of PBR and High Life along with $1.50 pints of Bud/Bud Light/Miller/etc. and has a nice set up with TVs and handheld trivia. It is not a bad place to kill some time.
Steaks: You only need to know three names: Doe’s, Ruth’s Chris, Fleming’s. Doe’s is not a white tablecloth eatery by any standards. It is the type of place you go with some buddies and a gallon jug of cheap wine. That is not to disparage the quality of meat they serve, though. First of all, their tamales are outstanding; start your meal with at least six. The steaks are all USDA prime and dry-aged. If you know steaks, you are probably already salivating. They are also ~2 inches thick. One downside, if you can call it that, is that they don’t offer any steaks less than 32 ounces. Obviously the rational among us will need to split the steak with a date. I always go with the porterhouse so I can enjoy the tenderness of the filet and the flavor of the strip. The steaks are served with delicious deep-fried drop biscuits and honey. I think they serve vegetables here too, but who cares? Ruth’s Chris is a national chain, but started in New Orleans. This is the second location of the restaurant. I prefer their steaks to Fleming’s, but Fleming’s has better side dishes. I don’t really care about side dishes when I go to eat steak. Both serve USDA Prime. Avoid Sullivan’s at all costs. They charge USDA Prime prices but only serve USDA Choice quality.
Fine dining: Maison Lacour takes this category, hands down. If you are trying to woo a client or a girl, this is the place. The cuisine has heavy French influences, and all of it is par excellence. Juban’s and Ruffino’s are distant runners-up. They are both outstanding, but do not hold a candle to Maison Lacour. Juban’s offers Creole fare like one would expect to find in New Orleans; they have an outstanding bouillabaisse as well as fish dishes.
Also, avoid ACME Oyster House. It is overrated in New Orleans, but retains some charm there because of its history. The outpost here opened in, like, 2008 and has similarly subpar food and haughty prices. For seafood hit Parrain’s (next door to ACME), Louisiana Lagniappe, or Sammy’s. Sammy’s offers the best crawfish of any restaurant in town.
Entertainment and Running in next post…