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Friday, August 5, 2011

A Burger Stand and Expectations Defied (Again)

best burger

Must every post on my blog begin with an apology for lack of content? Probably not, but I feel compelled to apologize for the dearth of material anyway. Hot temperatures and relatively few day trips have kept this blog quiet... it's just not that pleasant walking around in business clothes taking pictures when the heat index is 115 degrees. This post is light on pictures, too, but I thought the experience warranted a post.

I took the above photo of Best Burger last summer - I've passed it dozens of times while traveling on Highway 190 through Point Coupee Parish. (Highway 190 is a popular bypass from Baton Rouge to I-49. I-49 runs from Lafayette, through Alexandria, up to Shreveport, and Highway 190 provides a more direct route if you're headed to Alexandria from Baton Rouge. It is probably best known as a notorious speedtrap - especially through the hamlet of Krotz Springs, where municipal police stand guard at the bottom of the bridge over the Atchafalaya River, waiting for unsuspecting speeders to crest the hill.) I've often thought that Best Burger must be amazing - I mean, just look at it. For a place like that to survive in 2011, the food must be really great, right? I've often thought of stopping but never did until today, on my way back from Alexandria. Until I looked back at the picture above, I didn't realize that it looks a little different now - note in the picture below, taken today, that the seating area left of the restaurant is now partially enclosed. More on that in a moment.

As I rolled down Highway 190 with my stomach grumbling, I nearly stopped at one of the numerous boudin & cracklin shops along the way. But at some point I remembered ol' Best Burger and decided that today was the day. I was excited... but as I got close and saw the small handful of work trucks sitting in front, I got nervous. I pulled up in my European sedan, dressed for a business appointment, and drew a long stare from a guy eating in his truck. For a moment I thought of backing out and going through the McDonald's drive through just down the road, but I steeled myself and walked up to the window.

The window slid open and a pleasant, handsome woman asked for my order with a smile. Burger, fries and small Coke, please. No small, I was told, despite the fact that I was looking at the words "small, medium, large" on the menu. For another moment, I felt uncomfortable. Medium is fine, I said, and pulled out cash to pay. The total was about $6.50, which I paid and began to step away from the window, ready to stand in the heat for a few moments until my food was ready. Before I could take that step, the lady behind the window asked, "you wanna come inside here in the air conditioning while you wait, baby?" She gestured to an unmarked door just to the left of the window. I thanked her and opened the door.

Upon opening the door, I found a bare, dimly lit room with a few plastic picnic tables. There was another window that lead to the kitchen where you could watch the woman prepare your food - it was now evident that she was the only employee of Best Burger. The room was nice and cool, with a few other people waiting on their food. As I took my place on the plastic bench, something struck me. It may seem inconsequential to you, but it was somewhat revelatory to me. As I approached Best Burger, I had naturally assumed that I would not be welcomed. I was driving a different kind of car, wearing dress clothes, holding an iPhone... but the thing is, outside of one pre-teen girl who stared at me the whole time (probably the iPhone, actually), I don't think anyone else cared. The lady behind the counter ("Miss Betty," as best I could tell), didn't have to tell me that there was an air-conditioned waiting room. She could have taken her time preparing the food (oh, and she did) and let me bake in the Louisiana sun, but she referred to me as "baby" - just like she did everyone else - and made sure I was comfortable.

A couple people came and went, each referred to as "baby." Clearly all of them knew Miss Betty, and she made arrangements with one customer to drop something off at their house later that day. Eventually my order was ready, and with one last "baby" I was sent on my way. As I completed my drive back to Baton Rouge, I reflected on how similar I felt the day I first visited Stelly's, chronicled in a prior post. One of the things I truly love about South Louisiana is the unequivocal hospitality. As with my experience with Stelly's, I went in with strong preconceived notions, but South Louisiana defied expectations again.

I suppose you want to know if the burger was any good. Well, it was fine. In this day and age, with the proliferation of Five Guys and the ability to get ridiculous gourmet burgers from food trucks, it didn't exactly blow my mind. (Pretty good fresh bun, patty mildly seasoned, decent condiments.) But even though the burger might not have been quite good enough to warrant a return trip, Ms. Betty reminded me that I shouldn't be afraid to stop again if I wish.

Friday, February 25, 2011

New Iberia

I needed a day off badly. And although the pressure of running a business certainly takes its toll, one of the positives is that I make my own schedule. Not wanting to think about work at all today, I decided I would set out to explore and take some photos. I consulted the list of potential topics for the blog and decided today would be a good day to drive out to New Iberia – a cute little Cajun town I had been through a couple years ago. As an added bonus, my wife was off work today, so she joined me on the expedition. So I guess this one wasn't “solo,” but I figure you'll forgive me.

New Iberia traces its history all the way back to 1779, when it was settled by a group of Malaguenian colonists. As I think we've touched on before in this blog, South Louisiana Cajun/Creole culture is largely a mix of French and Spanish influence. Malaguenian refers to the town of Malaga in Spain. New “Iberia” of course refers to the Iberian penninsula. My wife and I primarily just explored the downtown area. Let's take a look.

schwing insurance agency building

main street, new iberia

The home pictured below is Shadows on the Teche. The Malaguenians arrived in the area via Bayou Teche, which runs alongside Main Street. Shadows on the Teche was built in the 1830s for sugarcane planter David Weeks. It is a National Historic Landmark.

shadows on the teche

Shadows on the Teche has a number of very handsome homes as neighbors.

main street home, new iberia

main street home, new iberia

Some were decorated for Mardi Gras.

main street mardi gras decorations

main street home, new iberia

main street law firm office

The St. Peter's College Grotto is a replica of the Our Lady of Lourdes grotto in France.

st. peters college groto

posts and porches apartments

main street building

ford, jewelry, ford

main street building

The Evangeline Theater was originally a wholesale grocery, but converted to a movie house in 1929. It is listed in the National Register of Historical Places.

sliman theater for the performing arts

main street view

pair of main street buildings

main street opulence

new iberia side street

The Essanee Theater dates to 1937.

essanee theater

I wouldn't recommend stepping out to the balcony.

don't step on the balcony

new iberia side street

Best I can tell, they really do race alligators.

the great gator race

main street view

new iberia graffiti

la petite mall

This monument highlights the Spanish heritage of the area.

bouligny monument

tuxedo rentals

The Gouguenheim dates to 1894. This is apparently one of only a few buildings that survived a large fire that destroyed much of downtown New Iberia in 1899.


I bet this is the only sushi bar in the world named “Bojangles.”

bojangles sushi


ticket taker

st. peters catholic church

Finally, we were hoping to find some good home cookin' while we were in New Iberia, but it didn't work out. Instead, we stopped at the famous Mulate's in Breaux Bridge (a.k.a. “the Crawfish Capitol of the World”). Suffice it to say we experienced it but probably won't go back.

mulates entrance

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Over in Iberville

Hello, friends. I had an appointment in White Castle today and had the opportunity to explore a little bit. As you may recall from a previous post about the White Castle Ferry, the area is not far from Baton Rouge as the crow flies. However, we have this big river that gets in the way. On my way to my appointment, I crossed the Horace Wilksinson Bridge (a.k.a, “the new bridge” over to West Baton Rouge Parish, and then took LA-1 south.

On the way down LA-1, you pass through Plaquemine, LA. I was once again reminded that I need to spend some time in Plaquemine with the camera. Today was not the day, though – Plaquemine will take the better part of a day to explore. Therefore, after my meeting, and in service to you, dear reader, I took the circuitous route back to the bridge via River Road. I had never taken this particular stretch. There were a few pleasant surprises.

On the way out of White Castle, it's impossible to miss Nottoway Plantation. I've seen just about all of the so-called River Road Plantations now, and in my opinion, Nottoway is the most impressive structure. Others, like Oak Alley Plantation, have the gorgeous, erm, oak alleys, but Nottoway is a far more impressive building, at least from the exterior.

Finished in 1859, the home is miraculously a Civil War survivor and measures a robust 53,000 square feet. You can find out more about the history of Nottoway on their website. Here are a few pictures I snapped on my way past.

nottoway approach

nottoway plantation

nottoway behind the trees

Below is St. Paul Catholic Church in Bayou Goula. Apparently the church is over 150 years old and suffered damage during Hurricane Gustav. You can find more information, and see more pictures, here.

st. paul catholic church

Cows having lunch on the levee.

lunchtime on the levee

Further down the road.

power line, roadside memorial

At one point, I was driving about 50 miles per hour, and very nearly missed this weathered road sign. I literally snapped my head to the left and slammed on the brakes, then threw it in reverse for about 500 feet. Luckily, traffic was light.

madonna chapel road sign

Apparently Madonna Chapel measures 8' by 8' and was built in 1902 by a poor sugar farmer after an answered prayer to the Blessed Mother for his son.

world's smallest church

Finally, I blew a lot of time at this cemetery, St. Raphael Cemetery, just outside Plaquemine, before River Road rejoins LA-1. Some of the graves date to the mid-1800s.

cross, st. raphael cemetery

st. raphael cemetery graves

st. raphael cemetery graves 2

earle, saurage tomb

cut down

aged 26 years

together forever

damaged tomb

tomb at st. raphael cemetery


monument at st. raphael cemetery

st. raphael cemetery monuments