Exploring the best of Cajun & Creole Cuisine in South West Louisiana
The first Southern Cast Iron Cook-Off competition kicked off in Lake Charles in November last year and I kicked up my heels in celebration of great food and great music. I couldn’t believe my ears when Geno Delafose & French Rockin Boogie hit the main stage. How could I have missed out on hearing live Zydeco for so long? I don’t know what I missed more when closing night was over – Gumbo or dancing to the music of Rockin’ Dopsie Jr and country music star Craig Morgan.
At the cook-off, I learned that food and music are important unifiers in the community and cast-iron cooking is quite popular in most households (which reminds me to get one). The organizers cordoned off a section of the Lake Charles Civic Center parking lot, so the home cooks can prepare to impress the judges. Inside the main hall, celebrated chef Lyle Broussard showcases one of his most popular dishes “Gator Gumbo” for the audience.
Prior to this visit, I’d heard that the Lake Charles Cajun food scene was quite spectacular, but nothing prepared me for the eye-opening choices. Not only does the region offer traditional foods steeped in Creole and Cajun history, but also a sophisticated dining scene.
There are so many places to eat and drink in Lake Charles be sure to add these to your list.
Darrell’s, a family-owned bar that morphed into a local favorite mostly due to their juicy po-boys. These sandwiches have an incredible attitude, starting with a fresh-baked bun and finishing with a creamy house-made sauce (fresh daily) and cheese.
The choices include turkey, sausage, BBQ brisket surf & turf, and local favorite Darrell’s Special – a trio of ham, turkey and roast beef drenched with roast beef gravy and melting cheese. Sauces include mustard, gravy, mayo or a hot jalapeno mayonnaise plus lettuce and a choice of cheese. Sandwiches come in two sizes and the large – is really large – so consider a small if you don’t have a big appetite. The decor is simple diner, service quick with self-serve soda and ice-tea. Comfort food at its best.
What to Eat: No matter what you order it’s going to be good, try the house favourite Darrell’s Special (turkey, beef, and ham with gravy) and cheese bread to share.
Luna Bar & Grill
Chef-owner and musician Dave Evans has created the eclectic Luna Bar and Grill to fulfill both of his passions – Music and astronomy. From the neon guitar on the outside to the framed Jazz posters lining the narrow dining room walls – it’s full of music and local culture.
The Luna theme is evident with “galaxy” named sandwiches, “astronomical” appetizers, super “star” salads and “extra exceptional” entrees – including fish, beef and chicken. One of the most highly recommended appetizers is the amazing Crawfish Stuffed Avocado – not for the faint of heart as the avocado is stuffed with crawfish and cheese, deep-fried and covered in a spicy Cajun sauce. The drinks menu offers a great variety of cocktails including a very drinkable Moscow Mule.
Aside from the dining room, there’s a huge outdoor brick courtyard, a bar, and stage in the back with live entertainment. Arrive early as this popular spot gets crowded especially for the Jazz Brunch on Sundays.
What to Eat: Order the Fried pickles, Galactic Crab dip with Lump crab, parmesan and cream cheese all served with fried flour tortillas as starters.
One of Lake Charles’s hidden gems in a central location. The food is delicious with buns and pastries being baked fresh each morning. The environment is quaint with a modern farmhouse décor; there’s indoor seating as well as a lovely patio with fireplace.
They are known for their variety of breakfast quiche; the breakfast sandwiches are served on light flaky biscuits or croissants. The chocolate chip cookies, sticky buns, perfectly cooked cinnamon rolls, cupcakes, muffins, and scones – all incredible.
What to Eat: Breakfast quiche is excellent and the cinnamon rolls with coffee (serving Acadian Coffee Roasters) are a real treat.
The Villa Harlequin, located downtown in the historic Noble Building, is an exquisite dining experience created from the perfect marriage of two beloved Lake Charles restaurants: The Villa Restaurant – Italian cuisine – and Harlequin Steaks and Seafood. The menu fused the favourites created by two of the oldest restaurant families in the area.
From Harlequin comes steak, and some other popular items like the Harlequin salad dressing, Crab Bisque, and Crab Royale; from The Villa all their traditional Italian dishes with a Louisiana flair.
The décor at the Villa Harlequin is tasteful and a bit formal, but it fits with the great atmosphere and attentive service.
What to Eat: Share brunch Antipasto, Three Cheese Polenta With Jumbo Shrimp, Loaded Fries, Stuffed Mushrooms (Crab, Shrimp, Crawfish, Nduja, Teardrop Peppers, Pea Tendrils, Roasted Red Pepper Aioli).
Jack Daniel’s Bar & Grill (L’Auberge Casino Resort)
Jack Daniel’s Bar & Grill serves up savoury food and tasty entertainment in a casual atmosphere. The restaurant features 35 flat-screen TVs, over 25 beers on tap, tender sizzling steaks, and Cajun/Creole dishes made by award-winning Chef Lyle Broussard who is legendary for his Cajun and Creole flavours.
Jack Daniel’s is the only Southwest Louisiana restaurant in the Louisiana Catch & Cook program. If you’re a fisherman and catch a good one, get it to Jack Daniel’s by 2 pm and Chef Lyle will prepare it for you – three ways – and include appetizers at $22/person.
What to Eat: Chef Broussard’s Gumbo Soup, Chopped Salad (English cucumber, baby heirloom tomatoes, applewood bacon, sweet onion, roasted sweet peppers, cotija cheese, tossed in a creole remoulade vinaigrette), Smoked Brisket Platter – Dry-rubbed brisket slow-smoked served with potato salad and beans.
Ember Grille & Wine Bar (L’auberge Casino Resort)
This fine dining room was recently awarded – Hot Spot, Romantic Restaurant and Notable Wine List – by Open Table diners, also voted Louisiana’s best modern American steakhouse.
Let’s start with the décor, it’s Texas styled elegant, upscale but not intimidating. There’s a lounge, different sections for seating or a fireplace to chill by and enjoy the relaxing piano or a jazz band. The ambiance is great and the dining experience exceptional with gourmet cuisine. Ember Grille & Wine Bar offers a wide variety of Certified Angus, Kobe and Natural Grass Fed beef cooked to perfection over a wood-fired grill.
Fancy wine with your meal, select from the 240 bottles on their list. Can’t decide, choose a flight – 4 wines per flight, each flight designed to pair with your entrée choice.
What to eat: Anything you order will be excellent. consider Bacon-Wrapped BBQ Shrimp, Cheddar Grits, Duck Crêpes with Braised Duck (Hoisin, Vegetable Slaw, Ponzu) and eye-pleasing Lobster mac n’ cheese.
There’s a hip new modern tapas restaurant in Lake Charles, Calla, known for their exceptional wines and Louisiana cocktails.
Calla is dedicated to local and fresh; they prepare farm to table food with a style and unique nature in a laid-back comfortable atmosphere. The menu is creative and changes often so there will always be interesting choices available for order.
If you’re looking for something different and like trying new things like antelope or bone marrow. You’ll find it at Calla. Great atmosphere, attentive service, great cocktails, and mocktails. Portions can be small and a little bit pricey, but the flavors are unique and tasty.
What to Eat: Everything you order in this restaurant will stand out. Must order are the Crab Beignets and Bone Marrow.
When in need of a Frozen Treat head to BOOMBOX, an 80’s themed ice-cream parlour with a really big 80s theme. There are cardboard cut-out 45 records hanging from the ceiling, 80’s music-related art and posters on the walls with a few tables for seating.
Founded as Pops and Rockets in 2014 by two childhood friends who made unique pop flavours in their home kitchens. They changed the name to BOOMBOX and went commercial in 2015 selling their refreshing handmade pops (40 flavours inspired by epic 80’s tunes), ice-creams, shakes, and floats.
The flavours have unique names like ‘With or without Brew’, they’re incredibly rich, complex and made on-site.
Boombox – if anyone deserves to win an award or two its these guys and their delicious ice cream treats. The flavours are delectable … from frozen pops to various flavours of ice cream. There’s no cutting back on quality ingredients including full milk, fresh fruit, and chocolate.
What to Eat: Everything. Pick your flavours and sample.
Distillers and Brewers
Yellowfin Vodka Distillery
Yellowfin is a small two-man operation; it was hard-working Jamison Trouth’s dream brought to fruition. Yellowfin Vodka is distilled exclusively from premium Louisiana cane sugar, filtered and bottled in house.
The owner is welcoming and happy to conduct a personalized tour. You can get close to the distilling apparatus (chemistry at work) where questions are welcome. This is a bare-bones tour without a fancy tasting room but there is tasting, and the vodka is excellent, exceptionally smooth and a tad sweet thanks, in no small part, to the use of sugar cane. The vodka bottles feature colourful labels and each is reasonably priced, there’s only one catch and that is Yellowfin is only distributed in the Louisiana area.
Bayou Rum Distillery
Bayou® Rum is craft distilled from locally grown fresh Louisiana sugarcane. This is the largest privately-owned rum distillery in the US using traditional methods. They use 100% single estate molasses and distill every batch by hand in copper stills, aging in bourbon and sherry casks.
They have an excellent quick tour so you can see how great rum is made, a rum tasting bar where you can sample the incredible products and a gift shop.
Absolutely worth a stop. You’ll meet some very nice staff and sip some mighty fine rum – you might want to try the coffee-based rum, sounds like it would be good on ice cream.
Crying Eagle Brewing Co.
Crying Eagle, a 15,000-square-foot facility that is best known for their most popular brews: Pistol Bridge, Louisiana Lager, Ready to Mingle, and Hop Blooded IPA.
Not just a great brewery producing hand-crafted beers, Crying Eagle is a gathering place for beer-lovers to chill over a cold beer and pizza while watching sports. They have indoor and outdoor stages, event space, beer garden, and two-story taproom offering tours.
You’ll find excellent customer service, a good atmosphere, relaxing with music playing in the background – a wonderful spot to enjoy a cold brew.
It’s dog-friendly has great food, and then there is the BEER! Pick up a 6-pack or fill a growler before you leave.
Acadian Coffee Roasters
This is a Micro Roaster offering 100% Organic, Fair Trade Organic, and Rain Forest Alliance Coffees. They roast organic beans in small batches to ensure the freshest coffee possible with a clean pure taste.
Enjoy their top-grade beans from around the world: Colombian, Costa Rica, Guatemalan, Mexican Chiapas, Nicaraguan, Brazilian and Indonesian. These are what make Acadian Coffee Roasters a coffee experience to return to.
There are several flavours to choose from Amaretto, Chocolate Pecan Pie, Cinnamon Roll, Hazelnut, Raspberry, Chocolate raspberry and French Vanilla. The coffees are flavoured to complement, not overpower. Remember, coffee is not just a beverage, but a social ritual. People come together over coffee.
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Love Boudin, Louisiana’s favourite Cajun snack food, then put the Boudin Trail on your touring schedule.
As you can see this is quite the list of places to eat and drink in Lake Charles, but don’t stop there, there is lots more to be discovered on a return visit.
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Note: I was a guest of Visit Lake Charles tourism but all opinions expressed in this article are my own.