10:16 PM / Tuesday March 21, 2023

31 Oct 2014

Lafayette, Louisiana

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October 31, 2014 Category: Travel Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO:  Vermilionville Church

By Renée S. Gordon

“Dress in style and go hog wild, me oh my oh. Son of a gun we’re gonna have some fun down on the bayou.”

–Hank Williams “Jambalaya”

Lafayette is considered the soul of Cajun Country and as such is the perfect place to both trace the history of and experience the unique convergence of cultures and the resulting explosion of music, cuisine, art, architecture and lifestyle that set the region apart. This is a city in which it appears the “good times roll” unabated and one is never at a loss for a Cajun-style adventure.

The Ishaks, “The People,” inhabited the area that is now Southwest Louisiana for approximately 10,000-years prior to European contact. They eventually came to be called the Atakapa, a Choctaw word, after first being sighted in 1528 by Cabeza de Vaca who referred to them as the Han. The earliest settlement in the area was Petit Manchac, an English fortification during the American Revolution. The settlement was established where the Old Spanish Trail traversed the Vermilion River, the northernmost navigable point for boats bearing trade goods upriver.

The 1762 Treaty of Fontainebleau resulted in a change from French to Spanish rule and the first few Acadians arrived in 1765. In 1784 King Carlos III of Spain paid the passage for 1500 Arcadians from Europe and granted them permission to live in the region. Carlos was not altruistic but needed to populate the area to protect it from other countries. The Arcadians, in turn, wished to colonize an area relatively free from intervention, thrive and maintain their culture. Vermilionville, an original settlement, was renamed Lafayette to honor the Marquis de Lafayette in 1844. 

Cajun Country Swamp Tours has been awarded the Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence several years in a row. The ecologically friendly and educational tours are offered aboard Cajun crawfish skiffs with quiet motors so as not to disturb the wildlife in the 900-acre Lake Martin. The lake has the highest density of gators in the region because it is forbidden to hunt them in the lake and it is impossible not to sight them. Highlights of this adventure are learning to differentiate between lake formations and the sensational wildlife viewing and photographic opportunities.

The Acadian Cultural Center is situated inside Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve on the site of a 1776 Spanish land grant. Visits begin with an outstanding 35-minute film, “The Cajun Way: Echoes of Acadia,” that dramatizes the forced expulsion of the Acadians from Canada and subsequent events. Exhibits on display interpret the Cajun experience both chronologically and culturally through artifacts, models, photographs and information panels. Of particular note are models of early Cajun architecture. Audio guides in French, Spanish and English are available on request.

Vermilionville, a Cajun/Creole Heritage & Folklife Park, is a 23-acre living history center in Lafayette that interprets the years 1765-1890. The buildings were relocated and restored on site. Tours include homes, a school and a church, many of which feature demonstrations of cooking, crafts and special skills. Musical performances, events and festivals are regularly scheduled.

Highlights of the tour are La Maison des Cultures and La Maison Broussard. The House of Cultures is a half-timbered house built in the1840s. The interior exhibit compares and contrasts the three cultures, Acadian, African and Native American, having the greatest impact on the region. It should be noted that Africans lived in the region, both free and enslaved, when the Cajuns arrived. An 1810 count reveals that the population was 47 percent enslaved, 22 percent free blacks. 

La Maison Broussard is both the oldest and largest home in the village. It was built in 1790 and was the home of the son of Joseph Broussard. Architecturally the house blends French-Creole and Anglo-American architecture.  The seven rooms boast hand-forged rams-horn hinges, French chandeliers and original floors.  Armand Broussard was a rancher and the owner of 28 Senegambian slaves from a cattle region of Africa who arrived in America with ranching skills and contributed to his wealth.

An integral part of the complete Cajun experience is following Lafayette’s 12 venue Cajun Boudin Trail. Boudin is a regional specialty that consists of cooked rice, pork, onions and green peppers in a sausage casing. Boudiniers add the seasonings that create individual tastes. Visitors can follow the trail anytime.

October’s annual Boudin Cook-off tests the skills of the region’s best boudiniers, judging them on effective use of traditional recipes as well as authentic production procedures.

The Festivals Acadiens et Créoles has become one of the city’s signature festivals and now, in its 40th year, it serves as an entrée into regional culture. The seeds of the festival were planted in 1934 when John and Alan Lomax traveled to the area to collect Créole and Cajun music for its addition to the Library of Congress Archive of American Folk Song.

Thirty-years later the festival’s roots were firmly planted when three Cajun musicians were invited to perform at the Newport Folk Festival. This was the first time the music had been “exported” on such a scale and Dewey Balfa, one of the trio, was surprised when he saw that the audience remained in their seats, listening attentively, instead of dancing as was customary in South Louisiana. The music was so well received that Balfa returned with the dream of establishing a way to honor and respect the music in the area of its birth. On March 26, 1974 “A Tribute to Cajun Music” was held in Lafayette. Interestingly, the first tribute was a concert but overwhelmed by the need to joyfully interact with the music, in 1976 the tribute moved outdoors and became a festival. That one day event has become the three day, free, Festivals Acadiens et Créoles.  

Today, the festival begins with the ceremonial cutting of the boudin and a communal sharing of food. Music stages and a dancehall are combined with additional events, the Bayou Food Festival and Louisiana Crafts Fair, to provide a broad spectrum of cultural experiences. The best chefs and restaurants are represented, as are the finest of Louisiana craftsmen. La Place des Petits, a children’s area, provides arts and crafts opportunities and Cultures sur la Table, culture on the table, offers cooking demonstrations and tastings.

Annually the city launches a restaurant walk that showcases the finest cuisine the city has to offer. The Taste of Lafayette is a great way to sample signature dishes and learn about the food culture, but if your visit does not coincide with the event, never fear. Every day is a good day to dine in Lafayette.

I have listed a limited number of places I suggest based on the quality of their food and additional elements of architecture, history, ambiance and hospitality. There are other wonderful dining establishments and I strongly encourage you to try as many as you can.

Chef Manny Augello guides Bread & Circus Provisions’ menu. He deftly blends the myriad regional spices and seasonings to create nourishing and unique dishes using fresh local ingredients. The restaurant’s name stems from the second-century Roman political theory, “panem et circenses,” in which it was believed that the populance would remain content as long as the leader provided food and entertainment.

Louisiana Cooking 2014 Chef to Watch is Jeremy Conner. He is currently Executive Chef at the Village Café where he works his magic with Cajun recipes comprised of only the freshest seafood and local ingredients. His signature dishes are his spin on New Orleans BBQ shrimp, stuffed fish and gumbo. The Village Café is also renowned for its Wine Library featuring the most extensive wine list in the area.

The main portion of Café Vermilionville is located inside an 1835, two story, French Créole house. The structure is really comprised of five buildings, dating from the 18th century, attached together. The structure maintains the original floors and cypress beams. During the Civil War the house served as a Union military headquarters and legend has it that the ghost of a murdered Union captain walks the halls. Dining at the café is a wonderful experience. The chef uses local ingredients to create Cajun, Créole and international cuisine. This is fine dining at its best. 

Numerous delights await you at Poupart’s Bakery. This authentic French bakery is a showcase for the best baked goods around. They are not only a fantasy to the eye, but also a delight to the appetite. Poupart’s provides eat-in and take-out service.

You must have breakfast at T-Coon’s Restaurant. You will probably have to wait, but believe me, the wait is well worth it. David Billeaud traces his lineage to France and is part of the sixth generation living in Acadiana. He opened the restaurant 21 years ago and it has attained legendary status. Breakfast here features all the regional favorites and the breakfast sandwiches, omelets and beignets are to dance for.

One of the most wonderful things about this introductory Cajun experience is that it is for all ages and you are never too old or too young or too foreign to take to the dance floor. The Blue Moon Saloon is designed to look as if you just wandered into someone’s front yard where the neighbors have gathered for a jam session. Top rated regional performers are the headliners while the dancing crowd becomes part of the entertainment. The saloon opened in 2002 on the rear porch of the Blue Moon Guesthouse and you can still book a room there.

If you are searching for South Louisiana’s perfect souvenir or memento you should check out the work of artist Tony Bernard. Bernard, a Cajun through and through, is a native of Lafayette and he has deftly incorporated all things regional into his art. You can bring a bit of Lafayette home or get a glimpse of what is in store for you on a visit.

Go straight to the soul of Cajun Country. Make Lafayette your first stop and you just may never want to leave.

I wish you smooth travels!


On Tuesday, October 21st Malala Yousafzai, the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, was awarded the 24th National Constitution Center’s 2014 Liberty Medal. The medal honors individuals who have striven to ensure liberty at an international level. Previous winners have included Muhammad Ali, Steven Spielberg, Nelson Mandela, Thurgood Marshall and Hillary Clinton. Seven recipients, including Malala, have gone on to win Nobel Peace Prizes.

Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center, the museum of We the People, is located in the nation’s most historic square mile. The museum is nonpartisan and presents innovative programing incorporating state-of-the-art technology as well as lectures, and gallery exhibitions. Currently on view, “Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello” has been extended until January 4. 2015. 

“Treasures and Tales of Italy’s Guardia di Finanza Art Recovery Team” will be on exhibit in The Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Delaware until December 21, 2014. The Art Recovery Team (A.R.T.) is an arm of the Italian military tasked with the prevention and investigation of crimes against cultural patrimony, the illegal trafficking of historic and artistic objects. There are 120 recovered items featured, masterpieces from the Etrusco-Greco-Roman art world and the stories relating the methods and procedures employed in their recovery. Get inside the investigation. This will be the only US presentation. 

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