by Connie Pearson
For those who wear a lot of purple and gold, who are often heard yelling “Geaux Tigers” and who faithfully take their children to see the habitat of Mike the Tiger, the reasons are obvious. Baton Rouge is the city where their beloved Fighting Tigers engage in fierce battles on the football gridiron against the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and the rest of the Southeastern Conference. They descend by the passionate thousands during fall Saturdays.
But, what about those who have no interest in football? Why should those travelers plan a long weekend to the capital city of Louisiana, a petrochemical hub located about 75 miles northwest of New Orleans? After a recent visit to this part of the country, I have five reasons I’d like to propose for spending time in this vibrant southern city.
1) GREAT FOOD
New Orleans might get a lot of attention for its Creole and Cajun cuisine, but Baton Rouge can hold its own in this department. Chefs here generously serve up the “holy trinity” of ingredients (celery, onions and peppers) with every bit as much gusto as their colleagues to the south. Seafood is fresh, and the crawfish season is long.
George’s has three locations around town. The original is on Perkins Road, and the other two are on George O’Neal Lane and Highland Road. The atmosphere is strictly casual, and prices are budget-friendly. Burgers and Po-Boys consistently rank high among the loyal customers, but the menu has a variety to suit many tastes. Take a spare dollar bill with you to autograph and add to the décor on the ceiling. That is just another homey touch at George’s. These locations are open from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. seven days a week.
For an upscale, white-tablecloth lunch or dinner, may I suggest Galatoire’s Bistro? French-inspired Louisiana classic dishes are prepared by Executive Chef Dewitt Ginn and served in an elegant setting. The quiet atmosphere and attentive service make this a great choice for business lunches, anniversary dinners or fun nights with friends. The menu grabs the heart of adventurous diners wanting to try something extra-special, with duck crepes, turtle soup and escargot or gulf fish prepared in various ways and a casserole combining shrimp, crab and eggplant. For those who take comfort in more standard fare, steaks, pork chops, salads and sandwiches are also available. If you want to put a final sweet touch on your meal, consider the chocolate espresso crème brulee, the bread pudding or the elderflower berry trifle.
Brunch is served on Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Lunch hours are Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and dinner is Tuesday through Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
2) CAPITOL PARK MUSEUM
With two stories of amazing exhibits, the Capitol Park Museum, located at 660 N. Fourth Street, is one of the most attractive museum facilities I’ve seen. It is open from Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Several different aspects of Louisiana life are told in colorful, informative displays and through recorded interviews revealing distinctive regional accents. The different people groups who settled in Louisiana ranged from Native American tribes to European colonists, African slaves and Acadians from Nova Scotia. Those stories are shared, along with the narratives of famous Louisiana citizens, such as Louis Armstrong and Huey P. Long. Look for the folk art of Clementine Hunter, a former slave, and see its similarity to that of Grandma Moses. Musicians will enjoy the chance to hear the distinctive sounds of Cajun music, as well as zydeco, swamp pop, Baton Rouge blues and New Orleans jazz.
This museum is well worth the $6.00 admission price. Children twelve and under are admitted free of charge.
3) STOCKADE BED AND BREAKFAST
Of course, there are plenty of chain hotels in Baton Rouge, but if you prefer lodging that is comfortable, filled with fabulous art pieces and includes a full breakfast buffet, then consider the Stockade Bed and Breakfast, located at 8860 Highland Road. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Stockade got its name from the Civil War Highland Stockade that was once located on the property.
Innkeeper Janice DeLerno has furnished the inside of Stockade with wonderful furniture pieces, and you’ll feel that you’re in an art gallery with so many great works to enjoy. Her breakfast recipes are delicious, and she is happy to accommodate special diets if your restrictions are noted when you make your reservation. Otherwise, look for such delights as Egg Souffle Casserole, Crème Brulee Pain Perdu, Grits and Grillades, or Cornbread Waffles with Sausage Gravy.
The grounds of the Stockade have been certified by the National Wildlife Foundation as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat. You’ll find fruit trees and flowers blooming in season. It is a very tranquil setting only four miles from Interstate 10 and four miles from the campus of Louisiana State University.
4) ACTIVITIES PROVIDED BY LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY
You don’t have to be a sports aficionado to enjoy the benefits of proximity to a major university. LSU boasts several art galleries, a vast library collection, a Museum of Natural Science and a Textile Museum. One of my favorites is its Rural Life Museum. Open everyday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., it focuses on the ways of the working class in the 18th and 19th centuries. This museum sits on a 430+ acre plot of land that was donated to LSU by the Durden family. The gardens near the museum have five miles of walking paths where visitors can savor the horticultural research being done.
LSU’s School of Music and Department of Theatre also offer full calendars of concerts and plays leading to hundreds of opportunities for visitors to Baton Rouge or permanent residents to attend.
Antebellum plantation homes and grounds dot the landscape between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. These properties offer exceptional guided tours, and visitors are given vivid descriptions of the life and times of the wealthy masters, their families and the slaves they owned. Sugar cane and cotton production were vital to the region’s economy. Many of the resulting stories are disturbing and cruel, but their importance in our country’s history can’t be denied.
The Magnolia Mound Plantation House, a French Creole building constructed in 1791, is located on Nicholson Drive in the heart of Baton Rouge. The hours for tours are Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and on Sunday from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. Adult admission price for guided tours is $10.00 and includes the plantation house, the open hearth kitchen, the privy, a double slave cabin, a pigeonnier, and the overseer’s house.
For a grander glimpse of plantation days, you may drive about 40 minutes on Louisiana Highway 1 South to see and tour Nottoway Plantation and Resort. It is the South’s largest remaining antebellum mansion. If you have time, treat yourself to breakfast, lunch or dinner at the Mansion Restaurant. It is open seven days a week and is a true delight for the senses. The grounds of Nottoway are lush and meticulously kept.
So, if you enjoy great food, history, unique accommodations and first-class museums, gardens, art and music, then Baton Rouge would be a delightful place to spend a weekend. This city, whose name means “Red Stick,” might even turn you into a Fighting Tiger and motivate you to buy a purple and gold shirt.