5 reasons to visit Cajun Country
A weekend road trip can cure what ails you, particularly if you feel like you’ve fallen into a rut. An overnight visit to a fresh and interesting location will shake things up for you and give you a new perspective … and it’s just a whole lot of fun too. Bearing all of that in mind, I recently packed up the family and drove down the road to the heart of Acadiana … better known as Cajun Country.
There’s no more fresh and interesting location than that!
To the uninitiated, Acadiana refers to the southern part of Louisiana where many people are of French/Acadian descent. This area stretches along the Gulf of Mexico from the Texas border to some of the parishes south of Lake Pontchartrain. The region is typified by large swaths of swamp land and bayous to the south (though much of the overall land is dry), French cultural influences out the you-know-what, and a pretty epic local cuisine.
For our trip, we visited the communities of Lafayette and Breaux Bridge and the immediate surrounding areas, where we listened to a ton of zydeco, ate our weight in delicious food, and visited some alligators.
Predictably, we had a ball.
We started off with one of the greatest ideas I’ve encountered in my 40-plus years on this planet: the zydeco breakfast.
In Breaux Bridge, Café des Amis began the tradition of bringing in a live band to perform zydeco in the early hours of the weekend, wherein locals and visitors could enjoy a bite to eat and a quick dance before the day had barely gotten started. Buck & Johnny’s continued the tradition, and you can visit them every Saturday morning to get this unique spin on Cajun and Creole culture. As an added bonus, the menu reflects the local influences as well. Normally a pizzeria, on Saturday mornings Buck & Johnny’s offers several tasty breakfast-appropriate dishes with a local flair … everything from beignets to “Cajun swamp rice” (scrambled eggs and rice topped with crawfish etouffee).
As Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band wailed and dozens of people swung about on the dance floor, I sipped my coffee, enjoyed my boudin omelet, and tapped my foot thinking there must be no better way to begin a visit, here or anywhere else for that matter.
This was truly Cajun Country.
From here, we had been planning to go on a Cajun Country Swamp Tour of Lake Martin, but that got delayed because of lightning. So we diverted to Bayou Teche Brewing instead.
Bayou Teche is actually one of the longest running breweries in the state, but they sure haven’t lost their creativity. They have a wide range of seasonals and special brews on tap that aren’t distributed elsewhere, so a visit is well worth your time. (Given the variety of beers on the menu, you might be best advised going with a flight or pair of flights.) Additionally, if you visit the tap room on Saturday they offer several tours as well as live music later in the day. We managed about half a tour before our kids decided they’d had enough, but it bears mentioning we had the kids with us … they’re a kid friendly spot.
And for the record, my favorite beer of the lot was probably the Cinco de Bayou … a perfect beer for a hot day in Cajun Country.
Next up on the agenda was the world-famous Popeye’s buffet.
Why is it world-famous? Well, because it’s the last one in existence!
Yes, this is the only Popeye’s buffet on the planet Earth. And let’s be honest here: doesn’t a place you can get unlimited Popeye’s chicken, biscuits and sides sound pilgrimage-worthy? It certainly was for us. And I have good news for everyone:
The food was hot and delicious, I ate two platefuls, and I am just now emerging from my food coma.
Yes, I know local restaurants generally make for a better experience than a chain fast-food joint. But there are exceptions to every rule.
We needed some recovery time from the Popeye’s buffet (as would any normal human being), so we checked into our hotel and tried to wait out the rain to go on our boat tour of Lake Martin.
The rain didn’t cooperate.
So, we were eventually faced with the challenge of needing to find an indoor activity. Fortunately for us, Lafayette isn’t lacking in that department either. We eventually settled on the Lafayette Science Museum, and we were glad that we did. The cost of admission was quite low, while the museum itself was quite cool.
They had a ton of interactive displays to engage the kids, some virtual reality experiences to delight the parents, and the museum ended up being one of the biggest hits of the trip with pretty much all of us. Seriously, this is a pretty awesome option for families.
By the time we had finished, the rain had broken up, so we strolled through downtown Lafayette for a bit, stumbling headlong into the city’s art walk.
The 2nd Saturday ArtWalk provides local galleries and artists the opportunity to interact with patrons and show off their work. One artist had a giant chalkboard up for people to contribute their ideas to, while many other stands had crafts and art for sale. It was a really cool way for us to have a nice walk (and burn more of the kids’ energy off).
Our last stop Saturday was one of the area’s most famous restaurants, Prejean’s.
Opened in 1980, Prejean’s has become a Lafayette landmark, famous for its savory, Cajun-inspired dishes. Well known for a variety of awards won, dignitaries visited, and their presence at major events like Jazz Fest, they were high on our to-do list. And once again, we didn’t come away disappointed.
We were warned of a long wait from the outset, so that’s something to be aware of, though our own wait was actually quite short. Either way, you have the option of visiting the bar for drinks while you wait.
The interior of the restaurant plays up the Cajun influences, with the whole place done up like a bayou, complete with plastic gators and pretend moss. Yeah, this is kind of cheesy, but that’s part of the charm in a place like this. A tourist trap only becomes a trap if you aren’t enjoying yourself.
And we enjoyed ourselves thanks to the food, all of which came out prepared expertly and flavorfully. I enjoyed the crispy duckling with wild mushroom sauce, while my wife took her best stab at the crab lover’s dish (fried soft-shelled crab, over lump crab pasta, served with crab cake and crab meat au gratin). All of that was a steep hill to climb after the buffet experience earlier, but it was certainly tasty.
A few words of advice: Get the peanut butter pie.
The next morning we were up bright and early again for our swamp tour. Fortunately, the thunderstorms stayed away, and soon enough we were chugging along through some of the most unique sights you’ll ever see.
Our tour guide, Shawn, was knowledgeable and eco-minded, taking special care not to disturb the local wildlife, and he did a great job of eye-balling things in our immediate surroundings that might be of interest to the group.
The most exciting part of the trip was when we passed near a momma gator and her nest … she gave us some warning grunts and hauled after the boat to make sure it was moving right along.
The kids loved that. But it really was more of a quiet ride than a person might expect watching TV and seeing those big airboats and such. Our boat was pretty quiet.
It’s beautiful and serene out there on Lake Martin. It really is its own different world.
After that, we stopped into Billy’s Homemade Boudin & Cracklins in Scott for – you guessed it – some boudin and cracklins.
Now truth be told, there are a ton of great local boudin places to check out in Cajun Country. (Confused by boudin? Here’s a quick explainer.) But Billy’s is certainly one of the biggest operations … and a personal favorite of ours. They make a mean pepperjack-stuffed boudin ball, their crawfish pies are pretty great too, and their cracklins are like the perfect cherry on top of your Cajun sundae.
Our final stop was a bit out of the way, but worth the extra effort. (Plus you can hop on Highway 90 directly after for a scenic drive home.) We journeyed down to Avery Island to visit the incredible home of Tabasco sauce.
Located just a couple of miles from Vermilion Bay (which opens into the Gulf of Mexico), Avery Island is best known as the source of a national addiction in the form of Tabasco, but it’s also home to an incredible natural preserve and beautiful man-planted gardens … and it’s deep in the heart of Cajun Country.
We started with a tour of the Tabasco museum, the Tabasco factory, and the Tabasco gift shop. I am resisting the urge to call this tour spicy, but I will say it was informative … and the gift shop had a lot of cool stuff in it.
Like the factory and the Tabasco grounds, the Jungle Gardens are open to the public and explorable. Some of the sights here are incredible, particularly when taken in context of how much work it took to make some of these highlights even possible. Massive rows of flowering plants, beautiful bridges and other man-made structures, towering oak trees, and yes, even the occasional gator appearance will greet you should you make the journey.
And with that, we were done, at just a shade under 30 hours. I really couldn’t recommend this Cajun Country trip (or some variation of it) more. Just a short drive down the interstate for anyone living in Louisiana (or near Houston), it’s a really convenient way to experience some things you normally wouldn’t be exposed to.
Two gigantic thumbs up.