Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Eating Up Louisiana: Two Tasty Road Trip Stops (Part II)

Read Part I, which details our Cajun feast at Café Des Amis in Breaux Bridge, Lousiana.

Now, we flash forward to Sunday and road trip stop #2.  We’re leaving Natchez, Mississippi, after a delightful weekend in this historic town on the Mississippi River (stay tuned for a separate post on that!).  

This time, we make our brunch pit stop 1.5 hours south in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at the city's #1 ranked restaurant according to TripAdvisor: Juban’s, which is a bit more affordable at brunch.  Located in a strip mall, this award-winning, 29-year-old culinary gem makes you forget all about that once you step inside the gracious interior.  It also provides a contrast to Café Des Amis in that it specializes in upscale Creole cuisine instead of Cajun cuisine.   

Juban's Restaurant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, an ideal road trip stop right off I-10. Epicurean dining in a strip mall, though there's a lovely Southern facade out front. 

The difference?  I’m glad you asked, as I’ve always had a bit of confusion about the distinction between these two French-influenced cuisines.  Basically, unlike the Cajuns who migrated from French Canada, Creoles are descended from the early colonial settlers in Louisiana.  Most were of French and Spanish heritage, and most lived in or around New Orleans.  Later, the term included African-Americans as well as those who were mixed race.  Thus, while there’s a strong French element to both Cajun and Creole cuisines, Creole food also reflects other influences, such as from Africa and Spain.

So it’s apropos that the two most famous Creole dishes – gumbo and jambalaya – are both symbolic of this fusion of cultures.  Essentially, both are a big heap of things thrown into one big pot.  In fact, the word jambalaya is the combination of the French word for ham (jamon), the French and Spanish article “a la,” and the last syllable of the Spanish word for a rice-based dish (paella).  Of course, just to keep you on your toes, there is also a Cajun version of jambalaya that later evolved, but unlike the “red” Creole version colored by tomatoes, the “brown” Cajun version has a tasso base. 

Got that straight?  Phew!  Fortunately, at Juban’s, I was able to put my quest for understanding such nuances aside and just indulge my palate.  To try as many things as possible without passing out, we again split three items.  Selections were made while munching on the complimentary sweet potato chips dusted with powdered sugar.  

Sweet Potato Chips dusted with confectioner's sugar, the complimentary snack that hits your table upon arriving at Juban's.  Clearly a secret plot to rev your appetite. 

I would like to thank the heavens now that I started with a Strawberry Mint Julep, which uses strawberry-infused honey bourbon. (Essentially, it’s Knob Creek bourbon that’s had a honey comb and strawberries soaking in it.)  While my meal was excellent, this cocktail goes into the pantheon.  Sweet but not too sweet.  Husky but not too intense.  In sum, the best mint julep I’ve ever had. 

The Strawberry Mint Julep at Juban's.  Perhaps the most amazing discovery of the trip.

Now, back to the food.  First off was the Pain Perdu (“Lost Bread”), the Creole version of French Toast.  Adding as much richness as possible (seemingly the name of the game in any Louisiana cuisine), this dessert-like breakfast incorporates custard and Chantilly cream as well as a topping of wild blueberries.  It was absolutely divine, and it practically melted in my mouth.  

The Pain Perdu at Juban's.  Perfect if you like dessert for breakfast.

Next, we took a sharp turn to the savory with a cup of Juban’s Gumbo, made with smoked chicken, roasted duck and andouille sausage.  Of all the gumbos I’ve tried, this seafood-free, meat-laden version was definitely one of my favorites.  It was incredibly smoky and flavorful with a dark medium roux (a French thickening base).  

A cup of gumbo at Juban's is a must with any meal.  Interestingly, it comes with a smattering of rice on top.

Last, our Monte Cristo Madame arrived, a peculiar-yet-satisfying merger of a Monte Cristo sandwich and a Croque Madame – and of flavors both fatty and sweet.  To break it down, it’s a fried ham and gruyere cheese sandwich topped with a poached egg (that’s the “Madame” component) as well as fruit compote.  Overkill?  Definitely.  But it all melded into one big “I can’t take another bite…but I must have another bite” finish.

And that, in the end, was the gastronomic theme of this entire trip:  where excess meets ecstasy.

1 comment:

jessica_mccleary said...

Both days sound amazingly delicious and worth a trip!