Getting to Know Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s Undercover Culinary Capital
A 90-minute drive from New Orleans, Baton Rouge offers an amazing food-and-drink scene full of local Gulf Coast flavor, without the tourist traps.
By Nils Bernstein
Old State Capitol / Getty
There’s more than one destination-worthy city in Louisiana. Baton Rouge, the state’s capital and second-largest city, shares New Orleans’ rich, multicultural history, but in a decidedly tamer setting. (Except perhaps on LSU football game days). The increasingly diverse culinary scene never loses its local color (crawfish phở, anyone?) with iconic ingredients like catfish, redfish, crawfish, alligator, pigtails and soft-shell crab. And you can still find textbook étouffée, gumbo, jambalaya and po’ boys.
Located in the Watermark Hotel, the city’s oldest skyscraper that was built in 1927, The Gregory serves modern Southern cuisine from Louisiana-born chefs Justin Lambert and Chad Galiano. The menu screams of the South. Start with frog legs, redfish pâté or Gulf oysters Rockefeller spiked with Herbsaint. From there, move to speckled trout with crab maque choux, crawfish andouille ravioli in a pimento cheese sauce, or flatbread topped with turtle sauce piquant, alligator sausage, crawfish, okra and green tomato. One of the city’s most extensive wine lists is matched by a large, rotating selection of local craft beers. Check out its blog for a handy explanation of the difference between Cajun and Creole food.
Last year, wife-and-husband owners Saskia Spanhoff and Enrique Pinerua opened Cocha, a seasonal, vegetable-forward restaurant that reflects the increased diversity of the region. Pinerua is from Venezuela, while Spanhoff is second-generation Dutch from Baton Rouge, and the menu looks to every corner of the globe. Pinerua’s heritage shows via arepas and cachapas (Venezuelan corn-cake staples), and his mother likely inspired the grilled cheese that employs Basque-style chorizo and Idiazabal cheese. You might also find muhammara, moussaka, kinilaw, African peanut stew and Malaysian-style Gulf fish. There are also beer brats from nearby Iverstine Butcher, served alongside German potato salad and housemade sauerkraut. The wine list is equally international, though beer options stay close to home.
A fan of sweet wines, sour beers, and old-school Rioja, Bernstein is an exhaustive traveler in search of new and unsung chefs and restaurants, innovative wine and food pairings, and eating and drinking at the source. In addition to Wine Enthusiast, Bernstein has written for Bon Appetit, Men’s Journal, New York Times, Men’s Fitness, Hemispheres, and Kinfolk, among others.