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.
Parrain’s Seafood Restaurant
Parrain’s has been a Baton Rouge staple since its debut in 2001, as it serves Gulf Coast seafood to a perpetually packed house. There are a few “turf” options, like the addictive whole fried Cornish hen with dirty rice and coleslaw, but you’ll want to upgrade with sautéed crawfish or lump crab. Fried fish fans can’t miss the “Whole Shebang,” which consists of stuffed shrimp, regular shrimp, catfish, oysters, alligator and a cup of gumbo. Wash it down with one of two-dozen-plus beers on tap, about half of which are from Louisiana. Pro tip: Oysters on the half-shell are bargain-priced each day, but are 50 percent off on Tuesdays.
Baton Rouge Facts
At 450 feet, the state capitol at Baton Rouge is the tallest capitol building in the country. The former capitol building, completed in 1852, was built as a medieval Neo-Gothic castle and is now a museum
Louisiana State University boasts roughly 1,200 live oak trees, valued at $50 million.
The 1953 Baton Rouge bus boycott is believed to be the first such protest of the civil rights movement, and it was a model for the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott.
Baton Rouge translates to “red stick,” named for a pole that early French explorers found separating Houma and Bayogoula tribal hunting grounds.
The LSU Indian Mounds are two Native American mounds more than 5,000 years old, which date back further than the Egyptian pyramids.
At The Cove, you’ll find more than 1,000 whiskies, which includes around 500 Scotches, at least 500 beers and more than three dozen varieties of absinthe. The bar offers more than 300 drinks, with a focus on historic cocktails, a generous daily happy hour from 5–8 pm, nightly specials and 20 percent off for people in the service and film industries. It’s topped off with knowledgeable and friendly servers. Is this your favorite bar yet?
Cane Land Distilling
Proprietor Walter Tharp’s family owns Alma Plantation and Sugar Mill in nearby Lakeland, which means that Cane Land Distillery, which opened in May, is one of very few estate-bottled spirits producers in the country. With a motto of “cane to glass,” its rhum agricole is made from fresh-pressed cane juice and has bright notes of cut grass and green banana, while the rum argenté (French for “silver”) is modeled after unaged Cuban light rum. There’s also an exceptionally smooth sugarcane vodka. The tasting room offers straight tastings as well as interesting cocktails, and hour-long distillery tours are available by appointment.
Olive or Twist
Olive or Twist has close to 1,000 spirits and more than 100 craft beers, but this is the place for creative cocktails. Try the “Thai-quila,” which features Tequila with coconut milk, turmeric and lime leaf, or the “Peter & Bugs,” a mix of pisco, Galliano and grapefruit liqueur with lemon and carrot juice. Unusual spirits flights and “cocktail roulette” (bartender’s choice) add to the fun. A recent expansion came with an expanded menu of Southern comfort food, which includes one of the city’s most decadent brunches. Happy hour runs all day Sunday and Monday, with $6 wines and cocktails.