Destinations With Delia Jo: Lake Charles, Louisiana




Come for the cuisine - linger for the camaraderie.

That's the phrase that resonated with me while visiting Lake Charles, Louisiana, which is celebrating its 150th year as a city in 2017. Just a short 55-minute flight from DFW, the city boasts a rich, family-taught culinary culture that is evident in every bite you eat (more on that later).

Originally a lumber-centric town, Lake Charles is now the fastest growing city in Louisiana thanks to their booming energy and hospitality industries. Port Lake Charles is the 11th-busiest port in the US; a deepwater seaport used to move goods ranging from agricultural food products to aluminum, steel, and petroleum.

The town has overcome a number of her own struggles, including a massive fire that destroyed its downtown area in 1910, a huge hit from Hurricane Rita in 2005, and a large-scale oil spill in 2006. These trials have served to strengthen the neighborly and compassionate culture in Lake Charles, making them stronger than ever.

The character of Lake Charles is kind, caring, and tastes a lot like fresh-made boudin, coupled with a syrupy sweet beignet drizzle, and an East Texas drawl.

There's a lot to love in Lake Charles for food enthusiasts like me, so I've compiled this guide to tell you where to Eat, Sip, Stay, and Play in this vibrant city.


EAT

Whatever time you happen to be in Lake Charles, it's a remarkably good time to eat. Since I'm already talking boudin and beignets, let's discuss dining in Lake Charles.


Breakfast

Favorites Southern Kitchen, located inside the L'Auberge Casino Resort Lake Charles (more on that later) offers a selection of proper breakfast/brunch dishes served all day, ablaze with Louisiana flair. The Cajun Benedict shall go down in Dining with Delia Jo history as one of the best brunch dishes I've eaten, and the Chicken & Waffles are super savory - filled with bacon and cheddar. Plus, beignets at any meal are a must #WhenInRome (or, you know, #WhenInLouisiana).



A little bird told me that the newest, hottest spot for baked breakfast-y goods in LC is The Bekery. Daily fresh baked scones, quiches, biscuits, muffins, and breakfast sandwiches await your sleepy head Tuesday-Saturday. Rumor has it the cinnamon rolls are sinfully spectacular.

Hangover brunch, anyone? Sloppy's Downtown is THE place to go on Saturdays for live Zydeco music, dancing, Bloody Marys, and of course, morning after grub that's guaranteed to bring you back to life. Don't miss the Boudin Beignets or the Shrimp & Grits. The Zydeco Brunch takes place every Saturday from 10am-2pm.



Lunch

For your midday meal, might I suggest Seafood Palace for a real Lake Charles experience? Try your hand at cracking blue crabs, and definitely start with the Fried Gator. They'll also make you dip potato salad in Gumbo. I'm still trying to assess how I feel about that, but nonetheless, it's a local experience to be sure.



A visit to Lake Charles wouldn't be complete without a visit to Darrell's Famous Po'boys. Something I learned on this trip was that Po'boys aren't about the fried toppings, like I thought, but they're actually all about the bread. Napkins will be needed, as I, the messy eater of the trip, went through at least 12 napkins while scarfing down my Darrell's Signature Sandwich (with ham, turkey, roast beef, and roast beef gravy). A local favorite in Lake Charles since 1985.



People swear by the crawfish (when in season, typically between March and June) and other seafood offerings at Steamboat Bill's. The Crawfish Pistolettes sound like something I need to try on my next visit to SWLA.

Soul food feel-good spot Mama Reta's Kitchen came recommend to me by a group of locals. Yes, Mama Reta is a real person, and yes, locals say she makes some mean Gumbo, Mac and Cheese, and Sweet Potato cookies.

Botsky's is your place if you're looking for souped up gourmet hot dogs and sausages of all sorts. From Kobe Beef to Alligator to Smoked Duck or even Buffalo, you can choose from one of their pre-ordained concoctions at the counter, or design your own.


Dinner

I honestly didn't expect to find so many fantastic restaurants in a town of only about 80,000 people. But I found that these beautiful people love to eat just as much as I do.

Calla is a breath of fresh air, hidden away upstairs in the new Walnut Grove development in Lake Charles. Some of my favorite bites at Calla were the cut-so-thin-I-could-breathe-and-break-one Sweet Potato Chips, the savory Blue Crab Beignets, Watermelon Salad, and the Smoked & Fried Chicken, which came generously drizzled with a White BBQ sauce that made even this Alabama girl do a double take. Well played, Calla.






Jack Daniel's Bar & Grill will forever abide in my memory as the place I found Chargrilled Oysters so good they made my eyes water. Each and every favorite oyster experience of mine has taken place in the fine state of Louisiana, so it's no surprise that it should happen here in Lake Charles. Chef Lyle Broussard demonstrated his signature method on the patio of Jack Daniel's Grill overlooking the pool, complete with his mouthwatering secret butter with over 40 ingredients. It's the sort of thing that makes people fall in love with food all over again. JD's serves hundreds of beers on tap and traditional bar/grill fare. But go get the oysters.




If you know me and my partiality to French cuisine, it's no surprise that 1910 was one of the highlights of my trip. Opened just a couple years back, the fine dining restaurant with a patio looking towards Calcasieu Parish Court House serves Cajun and Creole dishes with classic French influence. The Foie Gras, Quail Bombs, Parmesan Asparagus, and Gumbo Croquettes are all apps worthy of making a meal.



Bodega Wine Dive is a jazzy little joint that would have you believe you were in Uptown Dallas if you didn't know better. Set in a classy and comfortable atmosphere, Lake Charles' newest wine bar serves pizzas, carefully selected wines, and snazzy cocktails, in addition to the best darned cheese/charcuterie board I ever ate.





If it's hearty Italian food you're in the mood for, The Villa offers just that, along with some Louisiana tones and modern influence. I'm loving the Crab Cannelloni, the Veal Parmesan, and the Gamberetti.



Locals also recommend Blue Dog Cafe for both Cajun cooking and Louisiana fusion, featuring steaks, seafood, and an excellent honey glazed duck.

Located inside L'Auberge Casino Resort Lake Charles, Ember Grille & Wine Bar is a modern American steakhouse touting an extensive wine list, attentive service, and an unforgettably romantic dining experience. Start with the Bacon-Wrapped BBQ Shrimp or the Crab Cake. Seared Scallops with grilled corn, corn crema, lime, and a Parmesan crisp are a savory symphony of flavors (and some of my favorite ingredients). Special occasion? Splurge with the signature Ember Tomahawk, a 42 oz ribeye carved table-side or the Japanese Wagyu Strip Loin "Manhattan Cut". To complement your meal, you must have the Truffled Mac & Cheese and the Lobster Mashed Potatoes. The talented team at Ember prepares a perfectly executed meal that you will remember forever. Don't miss it.



Snacks

The Sausage Link is a Louisiana gift shop and meat market. There, you can watch how boudin is made and buy some, which you'll want to do once you realize how delicious it is when made well. Taste the cracklins, and bring some home to share your new addiction.





Pops & Rockets is heaven for anyone who savors the long lost days of the 80's. Their gourmet handmade pops and ice cream are given witty 80s-song-inspired names. Pair them with classic arcade games and tubular tunes to make this an ideal sweet treat stop for the whole family.


SIP

Yellowfin Distillery makes vodka with pure Louisiana cane sugar. Owner and distiller Jamison Trouth ferments, distills, filters, and bottles his vodka on-site in this brand new operation, creating a smooth vodka with a sweet finish. You'll be seeing Yellowfin in stores soon - stay tuned.



Louisiana Spirits' Bayou Rum distillery is the largest private rum distillery in the country. Since 2011, Bayou Rum has supported Louisiana's 2 billion dollar sugarcane industry and the 17,000 sugar cane farmers by creating Louisiana's very first rum. Made in a copper pot using 100% natural unrefined Louisiana cane sugar and molasses, the rum is highly decorated, having won over 100 awards in numerous tasting competitions.



Beer connoisseurs will enjoy touring and tasting at Crying Eagle Brewing Company. The facility features indoor and outdoor stage for live music, as well as an outdoor beer garden.



The Frosty Factory is a Lake Charles tradition. Featuring drive-thru Daiquiris (that's right, Texans: DRIVE-THRU), the Bayou Rum Daiquiri goes down nice and smooth. They also offer billiards and karaoke if you're lookin' to stay for a spell as you sip your frosty libation.

STAY


L'Auberge Casino Resort Lake Charles, a AAA Four Diamond property, was my home for the duration of my stay. Between the food, the pool with lazy river and swim-up bar, and the service, I'd definitely return to L'Auberge for any future visits. The 26-story casino resort offers 1,000 casually elegant rooms, 147 luxury suites, and 70,000 square feet of 'round the clock, Vegas-style gaming. The 18-hole championship Tom Fazio designed golf course, eight distinct restaurant, and relaxing spa round out the case for the resort.

View from my room on the 15th floor


PLAY

Lake Charles' Mardi Gras Museum is truly an impressive display. Spend some time in the 6-room museum learning the festival's history while gazing at the world's largest collection of stunning Mardi Gras costumes, then climb aboard a parade float for your own SWLA Mardi Gras photo op.

P.S. Lake Charles' Mardi Gras is 100% family friendly.




Take a stroll or a spin down Shell Beach Drive to see the stunning, stately homes, dating back to the 1830s. At Christmastime, festivities along Shell Beach Drive include hot chocolate and carriage rides to take in the view of holiday lights on the gorgeous homes. Adding to their unique charm, most of the houses on Shell Beach Drive have accompanying boat houses on the water.

Creole Nature Trail Adventure Point, a kid-friendly free attraction that immerses visitors in Louisiana culture, is the starting point for a journey down the Creole Nature Trail. At Adventure Point, kids can learn how to "go crabbin", jam to some Cajun and Zydeco music, smell and learn about Cajun cusine, and learn to spot gators and other native wildlife. Inspired? Adventure further by exploring the expansive Creole Nature Trail.



The Listening Room at the historic Cash & Carry is an intimate space that hosts concerts in an intimate atmosphere. On our visit we were lucky enough to witness talented Louisiana local Marc Broussard in action, strumming alongside his Dad, Ted Broussard.



Anytime is a good time to visit Lake Charles, because, as the Festival Capital of Louisiana, the city hosts over 75 festivals a year. There's one going on almost year-round, and you can always count on the festivals to feature a taste of Louisiana. As our tour guide and local historian / published author Adley Cormier said, "My God, we love to eat".

Ditto, Lake Charles. Ditto.


GO

When I enjoy visiting a city so much that I can see myself living there, I know I've experienced it in the right way - and this was certainly true of my time in Lake Charles. Beyond the soul-filled food culture and rich history, the good-hearted people of Lake Charles are the ones who give it its charm.

Head to https://www.visitlakecharles.org/ to start planning your own Cajun culinary adventure in Lake Charles, where Boudin meets BBQ and welcomes you with a warm smile. 



*My trip was hosted by the city, but as always, all thoughts and opinions remain my own.




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