A Taste of BR’s Food Culture

When other Americans, ones who have never or only briefly been to Louisiana, think of this state, they say Mardi Gras, jazz, Cajun food, crawfish, alligators, swamps, hot sauce, Popeye’s Chicken, Hurricane Katrina, poboys, daiquiris, drive thru liquor stores, gumbo, jambalaya, and the infamous Britney Spears. Those are just some of the things non-Louisiana residents said on Reddit’s AskAnAmerican poll, “Other Americans, what do you think of when you hear the word ‘Louisiana?’”

“And the Creole food that I love and don’t get enough of at all,” said a Reddit user from Boston while agreeing with another user’s answer of swamps and alligators.

Nobody ever has any bad things to say about Louisiana, especially the food. It is so unique in itself compared to the rest of the world’s cuisine. Louisiana food is unlike any other. And in the capitol city of Baton Rouge, there is a lot of culture and history that many do not know about.

There is a fascinating story behind the term “Poboy.” It was coined in 1929 on the streets of New Orleans during a 4-month union strike against the streetcar, now some call them trolleys, company. Because of the strike, the company hired a non-union conductor to get the streetcars driving again. The pro union crowd was so infuriated by this, they lit the streetcar on fire.

The Martin Brothers owned a New Orleans restaurant at that time, but they were former streetcar conductors. In an effort to support their old colleagues, they contacted a local bread baker, to make a special loaf of bread that was long and narrow. The brothers sliced the new loaves down the middle to stuff it with fried potatoes and roast beef gravy, without the meat. These “poor boy” sandwiches were free at their restaurant for the ones on strike against the streetcar company. Workers at this restaurant would joke, “Oh here comes another poor boy.” The sandwich then was naturally shortened with Louisiana dialect to “Poboy.”

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Kimberly Harper *Photo Courtesy: Country Roads

 

That is just one of the captivating stories Kimberly Harper tells on her Baton Rouge food tour, called C’est Si Bon, meaning “it’s so good.”

The tour starts off at a local Baton Rouge restaurant that’s been here since 1968, Poor Boy Lloyd’s with a taste of a deliciously messy hot roast beef poboy. The next stop was Capitol City Grill where the group had a fried green tomato covered in hollandaise sauce, topped with Louisiana lump crabmeat. Stroubes Chophouse was the third stop with a hot cup of duck and Andouille gumbo. Next was Restaurant IPO, which stands for Initial Public Offering, where duck poppers and Bon Temp shrimp were served. The last stop was dessert, of course, at Hotel Indigo’s King Bar & Bistro; some homemade vanilla ice cream with bananas and a bananas foster sauce was the perfect ending to the night.

 

“Louisiana Indians introduced filé powder which is ground sassafras leaves used as a thickener; meanwhile, the word ‘gumbo’ itself is an African word for okra. Spanish settlers intermingled with Cajuns, thus came jambalaya similar to a spicy paella – a Spanish dish – and may derive from this influence. German settlers introduced the art of making sausage, and from this developed locally crafted Andouille sausage.” This is how Harper tells her food tour groups how gumbo and jambalaya came about in Louisiana.

Bananas foster was a dish created in 1951 at Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans for Richard Foster, a friend of Brennan. New Orleans was the major port for bananas. The chefs were challenged by Brennan to create a dish using bananas for Mr. Foster. At the time, the chefs did not know how popular bananas foster would become. Now, Brennan’s Restaurant buys 35,000 pounds of bananas each year for the sauce alone, said Harper.

Harper graduated from a college in Arkansas, but she was born and raised in Baton Rouge. When she visited home from college, her parents hosted a big crawfish boil. Harper’s friends in Arkansas begged to go home with her for the next crawfish boil. This made her realize how much she loves Louisiana and the love and history behind the food culture here. People who grow up in Louisiana will always have that appreciation for the traditions here that revolve around food.

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Chef Troy Deano *Photo courtesy: DIG Baton Rouge

Troy Deano, chef at Blend BR, discovered his passion for Louisiana food in the kitchens of his family. Growing up in St. Bernard Parish, a town on the outskirts of New Orleans people like to call “Da Parish,” he has always had an interest in cooking, especially dishes unique to Louisiana. At Blend, he strives to cook from purely local ingredients, but that is not always the case.

“I’m a from scratch person, I don’t like buying stuff. If I could kill the pig myself, I would,” said Deano. Most cooks like to follow a recipe to ensure a good meal, not Chef Deano. He experiments in the kitchen probably more than he should, but normally comes out with a dish to die for. Serving an average of 30 people a night, Blend offers dishes like crawfish beignets, duck flatbread, and shrimp and grits.

Deano gets his vegetables from Covey Rise Farms in Husser, LA. Pork and sometimes duck from Chappapeela Farms in Amite City, LA. And wild hog, lamb, and burger meat from Two Run Farms in Vaughan, Mississippi, just a short drive from New Orleans. Deano said people from these farms typically deliver his food on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He spends around $1,500 a week buying about 200 pounds of food.

“I am big minded, but small budgeted,” said Deano. Blend has a small kitchen, but Deano never fails to fill up his customers’ bellies.

Seafood is a different story, Deano said. He will usually buy seafood from New Orleans Fish House, but they are not always an option. Seafood from Thailand, China, and those types of places are way cheaper to buy from, because of how they produce. Deano said these big international seafood companies use slavery to manufacture their products. Crawfish are always from Louisiana, and are retrieved in a natural, good to the world way. Seafood is easily accessible according to Deano. In the world we live in now, anything can be shipped to you in a matter of hours. Deano said he could call a company in Hawaii and have something shipped to him the next day.

There is a good bit of people who will say that Baton Rouge is trying to be like New Orleans with the amount of restaurants. Deano said he thinks Baton Rouge does not compete against New Orleans enough. Baton Rouge is not as open minded as we should be about food, he said. Instead of trying to win over New Orleans, Baton Rouge should compare itself to big cities like Houston and New York, who have been continually growing in their food industries.

“Compete with yourself and be the best you can be with your own identity,” said Deano.

Some of the food in Baton Rouge will forever be changing to the trendy thing to eat at the moment, like the sushi craze right now. As will the rest of the world, but BR will never lose those special restaurants that keep its Louisiana food culture alive and thriving.

 

Guts and Glory

Bizarre foods, like turtle and alligator pastalaya, prepared by the inmates were offered to guests with adventurous taste buds at the Angola Prison Rodeo.

The prison grounds were covered with booths containing any type of food you can imagine, even the tasty but horrifying to your health, fried coke. With the majority of food being fried, one booth had a sign that said, “We Fry Everything. Fried Snickers. Fried Oatmeal Pies. Dorito Fried Chicken Breast Fingers.”

Every Sunday in October, and one weekend in April, the Louisiana State Penitentiary puts on a rodeo. Also known as Angola Prison, these daring inmates attract people from not only Louisiana, but also Texas, Arkansas, and other nearby states. This year the April rodeo occurred Saturday, April 16 and Sunday, April 17.

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At Angola, there are no gangs. There are different groups and clubs that unite men together based on their past lives, interest
s, and religions. Some of these groups love to cook, and they have food booths with their group’s name on it, like the Philanthropy Club who made the turtle and gator pastalaya.

“[Angola] used to be the bloodiest prison in the United States,” said Bob Long, a front gate visitation guard. Long also said inmates used to sleep with magazines strapped around their bodies because the scare of being stabbed. Now, the inmates are more comfortable and they mostly trust each other.

When you think of Angola, and what these criminals did to get themselves in there, it is somewhat terrifying. But the rodeo makes people forget about all that. A lot of inmates get to have a good time outside of the actual prison with their loved ones.

The convicts volunteer to do various rodeo activities, like inmate pinball and inmate poker. Inmate pinball is each man stands inside of a hula-hoop and tries not to move as an enraged bull is released. Inmate poker is exactly what it sounds like, a several inmates sit around a red plastic table and pretend to play poker while a bull charges at them. Last man standing wins.

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“They don’t learn, they just get on the bull,” Long said.

Of course, there are classic rodeo activities, like bull riding and cattle chasing. But the crowd pleasers are the events that Angola created. Another one is the chariot race. One inmate is pulled by a horse on a sled going fast pace while trying not to spill Kool-Aid.

There is even a live band of inmates playing rodeo sounds in the arena. They call themselves: Angola Rodeo Guts & Glory Band.

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Before the rodeo begins, the inmates have a chance to show off their arts and crafts. The prisoners have hobbies they get to pursue at nights when their work hours are finished for the day, and on weekends, Long said.

They turn their hobbies into items to sell to attendees of the rodeo. Each prisoner has his own ability he takes pride in, like carpentry, sewing, leather manufacture, and many other makings.

Walking around the crafts area, you see various paintings of Louisiana landscapes, animals, people, and other different scenes. Additional items for sale include cypress chests and rocking chairs amongst other wooden objects, like lamps, decorative toy trucks and clocks.

The rodeo is the only source of income for the prisoners, Long said. They use the money they receive from their sales to buy supplies to continue pursuing these resourceful hobbies, and send money to their loved ones.

“I support myself through the rodeo,” said Rodney “Pa-bon” Gilbo, creator of extravagant 18-wheeler trucks carved out of wood.Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 2.04.13 PM.png

 

 

*Featured Image (top) from Yahoo News*

Angola Prison Rodeo

A weekend of eating unusual foods, browsing handmade crafts, and being entertained in a way you’ve never seen before.

The inmates of Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola Prison, put on a rodeo one weekend in April.

Check Twitter tomorrow (April 16) for live coverage of the event @han_womack. 

 

April 5 EBR Parish School Board Meeting Recap

Five members of the audience came in front of the School Board for one particular item of consideration, to establish BRFLAIM, Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet, at a primary level at the current location for grades K-2; and with the upper level at Polk Elementary for Pre-K and grades 3-5 for the school year 2016-2017. The current proposal is to implement a “grade clustered” concept for BR FLAIM instead of running two Pre-K- 5 schools. The current BR FLAIM campus would serve as “BR FLAIM Primary,” which is grades K-2. And Polk Elementary campus would be “BR FLAIM Upper,” grades Pre-K, and 3-5. There would only be one principal over both of these sites to ensure fidelity of the BR FLAIM model. 

It is uncommon for this many citizens to express their concerns about one specific issue. One infuriated grandmother expressed fear of her seven-year-old grandson being displaced from Polk Elementary School. This woman prefers to be unnamed. She knows of four students her grandson’s age that have had to move to a school across the street because there are not any gifted teachers at Polk. National Association for Gifted Children describes gifted as: “students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.” 

One slide of BR FLAIM’s PowerPoint presentation had a list of the traditional versus gifted students at Polk. In second grade, there are 15 traditional students with five gifted students. In third grade, there are 17 traditional students, and 13 gifted. In fifth grade, there are 14 traditional students with only three gifted students. The grandmother, along with other nodding parents in the crowd, said there are not enough gifted teachers to cater to the students who deserve proper teaching. 

If you uproot our kids, they’re going to suffer.”

At the end of the grandmother’s allotted three minutes to speak, she brought up a concept coined by Dr. Mindy Fullilove. Root Shock.  The children that have a chance of being displaced will experience this stress, said the grandmother. 

The other talkers from the audience were for this plan. Tara Wicker, District 10 Council Woman, informed the board of an event she organized happening April 30 at Polk Elementary. The purpose is to have the board come out and explain to the parishioners of Polk what exactly is happening with the school and the immersion program. 

IMG_9649“My one request, whatever decisions are made, is for you to have open lines with everyone in the community,” Wicker said. 

Two mothers also spoke in front of the board. One mother’s son is in the BR FLAIM Spanish program. She expressed how happy her and her husband are with where they send their child to school every day. The other mom’s has a first grade child in the French program. 

“Enrolling him and being accepted is the best thing that has ever happened to us.” 

Matt Diez, president of the parent-teacher organization at BR FLAIM, promised everyone that BR FLAIM is the strongest immersion program in the state of Louisiana. 

“I feel very confident about what we are doing here,” Diez said. 

The motion passed unanimously. IMG_9650

 

Other things passed: 

  • Relocation of four modular buildings from Broadmoor Elementary School, and demolition of two buildings from Broadmoor and one from Shenandoah Elementary School.
  • 2015-2016 General Fund Budget for East Baton Rouge Parish School System
  • Renewal of a contract for External Auditing Services performed with Postlethwaite & Netterville for the fiscal years ending June 30, 2016 and 2017.
  • Adult Education Parish Prison Budget in the amount of $134,110, effective January 1, 2016, through December 31, 2016

EBR School Board Committee of the Whole Meeting

East Baton Rouge Parish School Board will hold a meeting at the Central Office, 1050 South Foster Drive this evening (Tuesday, April 5) at 5 p.m.

The agenda can be found here.  Some things the board plans to consider are relocating four buildings and demolishing two buildings from Broadmoor Elementary School, and approve the $134,110 budget for the Adult Education Parish Prison.

Check Twitter for live coverage of the meeting @han_womack.

Peace, Love, and Dearman’s

If you go to Dearman’s now, you will see the glass covered in colorful notes of love and sadness. This proves how much the young and the elderly cherish Dearman’s Soda Shop. People are fighting to keep Dearman’s where it has been for decades while the owners of Bocage Village Shopping Center, Hill Properties, are giving thought to terminating the lease after the restaurant caught on fire from an electrical outlet. There has not been a final decision yet. Dearman’s owner, David Van Gelder, and general manager, Casey Evans, have been asked to submit a proposal for the restaurant to stay. Just like any new business would have to tell the landlord why they deserve to be in a specific location.

“It will be a good time for us to fix a lot of issues and actually implement on some cleaning schedules for everyone,” Evans said. Evans said he does not know what the owners of the shopping center are exactly looking for in this being the same business, but he will argue  that Dearman’s is an asset to Bocage Village.

Bocage Village Shopping Center consists of various stores, a few restaurants, and a grocery store. Many of these businesses would suffer if it were not for Dearman’s. Wade, a frequent eater at Dearman’s told Evans that he would never step foot in any of the surrounding places if it wasn’t for Dearman’s. Evans saw Wade while he was getting the mail at Dearman’s. Wade was angry about the news with the landlords. Evans told the Dearman’s waiters and waitresses about this and said, “there is a hundred stories I could tell y’all about customers reaching out.”

When customers of Dearman’s heard the bad news, outrage on all social medias came about. There is a change.org petition to save Dearman’s. Facebook is probably the most widely used social media outlet, there is a  Facebook community page dedicated to saving Dearman’s that has been “liked” by over a thousand people. Charles Grey shared Business Report’s article about the lease termination, and was not happy about it. See his comment:  Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 2.12.57 PM

If you look at Bocage Village Shopping Center’s Facebook page, many people have furiously commented and posted for them to bring back Dearman’s.

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One man commented on a post about another store in the center, saying he has no reason to be there without Dearman’s! Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 2.41.05 PM.png

It is not only affecting the adults of Baton Rouge, but also the children who look forward to going to Dearman’s every week, and who know and love all of the workers. Here are some letters children and others put on the front of Dearman’s for Hill Properties to see.

Dearman’s Tragedy

On Tuesday morning around 2 a.m. a fire occurred at Dearman’s Soda Shop. Baton Rouge Fire Department called the fire under control at 3:08 a.m., according to the Advocate. Nobody was in the area at the time of the fire, no injuries were reported. There is heavy heat and smoke damage to the restaurant. BRFD estimates the damage will cost up to $500,000. General Manager of Dearman’s, Casey Evans, said insurance will cover it.

The cause of the fire is suspected to be from an electrical outlet in the back of the restaurant, with a Coca-Cola refrigerator and ice cream freezer connected to it, Evans said. The fire was contained to the back part of the place and some of the roof. Several other stores in Bocage Village Shopping Center received smoke damage from the fire, but nothing too serious.

Instead of complaining about not having a job at the moment, many of the Dearman’s employees are looking at this devastating matter in a positive way. Caroline Mckowen, server of about 3 years, said, “On the bright side, Dearman’s is going to look awesome when it reopens.” Another server, Lindsey Breaux, commented on how busy the restaurant will be. Evans agreed by saying Dearman’s will have a lot of sympathy customers. Evans said the reconstruction process will likely take over a month or so. Dearman’s should be in full swing when summer rolls around.

Dearman’s has been in Baton Rouge for decades as a local family restaurant. It’s known for their delicious hamburgers and cheeseburgers, but also homemade, hand cut french fries, and savory milkshakes and malts. Michael Vinsanau from WBRZ tweeted a video to show the fire to Baton Rouge residents.

Update on Dearman’s Fire

The area the fire started has been pinpointed to the Coca-Cola refrigerator full of vintage glass soda pop bottles, said General Manager of Dearman’s, Casey Evans. There is also a freezer containing ice cream connected to the same electrical outlet. Coke is sending someone to the restaurant to ensure it was not their refrigerator malfunctioning, Evans said.

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Coke fridge after fire, via Casey Evans 

 

Fire at Dearman’s Soda Shop

A fire occurred around 2 a.m. at the iconic Dearman’s Soda Shop. No injuries have been reported, and authorities said there was no foul play. There is significant smoke and heat damage to the restaurant.

The fire started in a storage room in the back of the restaurant, beside the kitchen. It was contained to that area and the roof, Baton Rouge Fire Department told The Advocate. Several other stores close to Dearman’s in Bocage Village Shopping Center received smoke damage as well.

BRFD said the fire was under control at 3:08 a.m. The cause of the fire is undetermined at the moment.

Stephen Hightower, BR Food Legend

The somewhat recent City Pork restaurants in Baton Rouge have not had any troubles taking off. With a unique style of Louisiana and fancy barbecue cooking, City Pork pleases every head that walks through the door. The chain has consumed the college crowd with their specialty sandwich, The Hangover- two eggs sunny side up, two slices of bacon, sausage patty, smoked corn grits and multigrain toast. And the many other delicious options on their menu.

The owner of all three City Pork locations, Stephen Hightower, has been in the restaurant business for 20 years. Hightower has opened 10 different restaurants and bars as either the manager or owner. He has managed fine dining restaurants, private clubs, historical places, fast casual and full service bars.

I have always had the dream to own a restaurant, and after a few successes and failures, I have found one in City Pork that I hope to build my career around,” Hightower said.

Hightower said the experience he gained the most out of was from his six and a half years at the phenomenal, Ruth’s Chris Steak House. He was able to work with experienced leaders who showed him the do’s and the dont’s. Hightower also said he was faced with many challenges at Ruth’s Chris, but he feels that is a part of what has made him a better owner.

“I believe the diversity of where I have worked along with the varied experience of working in the kitchen as well as directly with the guests in the front of the restaurant has helped me immensely,” Hightower said.

In addition to being the owner, Hightower is known as the Director of Operations for City Pork. This means he oversees all of the day to day operations of each restaurant. Hightower said he is involved in every aspect of what the restaurants do. He manages the restaurant managers and chefs, approves marketing decisions, and he discovers ideas for new growth and development.

When asked what his favorite part about being with City Pork is, Hightower said the “continuous exploration of food.” If they stopped researching new food options, the other restaurants would leave them behind. The restaurant business is challenging and takes dedication.

Steve Carville, a colleague and old golf partner, has known Hightower for over 25 years. They became friends while Hightower was in high school and Carville was in college because Carville’s nephew was best friends with Hightower. Hightower frequently calls Carville for work advice.

“It was no surprise to me that Stephen was gonna be successful,” Carville said. He said Hightower has always been a good guy, and was raised from a good Baton Rouge family. Carville said Hightower treats his employees very well and with high respect. This is evident on Hightower’s Facebook page:  Hightower was on the Food Network in January. Some of his old employees from previous restaurants posted a congrats on his timeline.

Carville said Hightower is a smart, personable, and positive man who works hard at everything he has done and is currently doing. He is always trying to make it better, Carville said. Hightower’s approach to business is customers first, he wants to provide a good value service, and Carville thinks that is the key to his success.

You have to be passionate about three things in this business and that is food, people, and hard work. And I love every one of those,” Hightower said.