Hallelujah! Two days of sunshine in a row!
First: Yes, Willy Ray’s BBQ was just as good was we remembered. We both ordered St. Louis style ribs with cole slaw and carrot soufflé as our sides. No photos – we just dug in and ate.
Next morning, we took off for Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. We picked Breaux Bridge because of it’s Cajun country location… and picked Poche’s Fish N Camp because they participate in CampClub USA, the 50% off camping club we are using this year. I didn’t have the highest hopes for a campground with “Fish N Camp” in the name, but what a surprise! We love it here; it is just our kind of park – friendly, roomy, well-maintained, with excellent walking right out the door. Click here to read our review.
The view out our window at Poche’s
Next morning was 29 degrees – but clear!
It was a perfect day for travel, and we settled into our site at Poche’s around 1 pm. The park is built along the edges of huge “ponds”, dredged by a Poche ancestor to raise the level of the land above the easily flooded surroundings. Now the ponds are used for fishing, and attract herons, anhingas and egrets who stalk their fishy prey. After a long walk on the levees, we arranged our chairs on the leeward side of Scoopy and enjoyed a relaxed outdoor happy hour for the first time in MONTHS.
The forecast for Thursday stipulated sunshine, so we planned a full day of tourism. After walking two long loops around all the ponds at Poche’s, we took off around 11 am to catch a “plate lunch” at another Poche enterprise, their “restaurant, smokehouse, and specialty meat” business. Many cars were already in the lot when we arrived, and the place was hopping inside with shoppers in the small market, diners in the large dining room, and to-go lunches walking out the door.
The lunch items were on display in a deli case – five or six different entrees with half a dozen or so sides. I had crawfish etouffee on white rice with yams and cole slaw; Odel had pork roast on dirty rice with the same sides. It was down home Cajun, and absolutely delicious. I think I could live on their dirty rice! We left fulfilled and ready to see the sights.
The town of Breaux Bridge developed along the banks of the Bayou Teche (“river” to us Yankees, and “river with water in it” to you Arizonans), and is actually named for a bridge. In 1799, Firmin Breaux, an early settler in the area, built a suspension footbridge across the Bayou to make passage easier for his family and friends. Before long, traveling directions included the phrase "go to Breaux's bridge...", which eventually was adopted as the city's name.
From our lunch at Poche’s, we headed into Breaux Bridge and crossed the current incarnation of the famous bridge. After a quick loop through the historic district of the town (we plan to come back another day), we headed south. Our ultimate goal was New Iberia, for a visit to the Conrad Rice Mill and the Tabasco hot sauce factory, but our first stop was in St. Martinville, home to the “Evangeline Oak”.
We’ve seen the Evangeline Oak before; this trip, we headed to the St. Martinville Cultural Heritage Center, which houses the African-American Museum and the Museum of the Acadian Memorial. I finally learned the meaning of the word Creole, and the difference between Creole and Cajun. It was an interesting and enlightening stop.
By the time we were done at the museums, we are ready for a sit-down break – and we knew just the spot: Le Petit Paris Cafe, home to the “Hot Beignets” sign I posted recently in my recollection of our prior visit to Cajun country. I meant to get a photo, but the beignets were gone before we knew it! :)
Odel heads into Le Petit Paris Cafe
Nothing left but powdered sugar.
Another several miles, past huge old oak trees and small wood frame homes raised off the ground on short concrete piers or blocks, and we had arrived in New Iberia – home to the Conrad Rice Mill, “America’s Oldest Working Rice Mill” (click here to read the history), listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We paid a few dollars each for the tour, which began with a video about the company and ended with a sample of freshly cooked Wild Pecan rice in the company store. In between, we took a short walking tour though the mill, where they still use original equipment, 100 years or so old. I loved it! How many manufacturing businesses do you suppose are using original (antique) equipment?
The rice mill silo holds one million pounds of rice.
“Boss Cat”, relaxing on the rice bags.
With our rice purchase in hand, we had to make tracks to get to the Tabasco factory, another six or eight miles away, in time to take a tour. Our tour began at 3:30, and we were the only two people on it. Rather than speaking directly to us, our guide gave the complete spiel – looking slightly over my head - as though she was talking to a group of 50. Pretty funny, but also an interesting place.
It’s a simple process: pick perfectly ripe peppers, mix them with lots of salt from the on-site salt mine, mash it into a pulp, and ferment/age the pulp in oak barrels (purchased from the Jack Daniels distillery after they have been used for making spirits) for 3 years. Open the barrel, mix the pulp with vinegar, and you’ve got Tabasco sauce.
Tabasco aging barrel
Tabasco sauces by the gallon
After our guide explained the process, we watched yet another video (from yet another backless bench), then took a self-guided tour past a long, long window into the factory. No 100 year old equipment here, I promise you! Everything was spotless and stainless.
From the factory, we took the short walk up to the company store. Just about everything they manufacture can be sampled there, including “Sweet and Spicy” pepper ice cream. We left with some of their yummy, new Chipotle Tabasco sauce and a jar of pepper jelly.
We were 30 miles from home, at the end of a long day of playing tourist. After negotiating rush hour in Lafayette on the way home, it felt great to unlock our door, change into stretchy clothes and settle down with a glass of vino!