Photography by Yuri Krasov
There is more to Louisiana’s art and culinary scene than New Orleans. Modestly defining their place on the map of state’s premier tourist destinations, the twin cities of Shreveport-Bossier market themselves as Lousiana’s Other Side. Rest assured, on the other side of The Pelican State mudbug is still king, and pralines are still pecan, but rush hour traffic is refreshingly over in 15 minutes time, and in the Louisiana Boardwalk outlet paradise you can shop both Banana Republic and Gap for a total of $30. You know you are in the South when your every question is met with a smiley yes. ma’am [sir], and a young mother seated across from you at an open air festival communal table apologizes for her baby “staring at you.” Politeness, propriety, and hospitality are genuine here, and therefore come naturally to local residents.
We came to Shreveport-Bossier for its annual Red River Revel Arts Festival – an annual weeklong nonstop food and art extravaganza, complete with big-name bands and small-town jubilant crowds. That’s where we met Chef Saul Williams of Guillaume’s Gourmet whose etouffee is prepared with local crawfish, and whose rum-soaked bread pudding is a perfect excuse for consuming alcohol early in the day.
Three vendors’ booths down, we looked at a strange concoction in a clear plastic cup. Layers of pulled pork, smoked beans, barbecue sauce, potato salad, and coleslaw were topped with a dill pickle. What’s this? A parfait, said the vendor. Pardon moi? My previous parfait back in the Bay Area consisted of tasteless fat free yogurt, fresh organic berries, delivered from a farm within a 150-mile radius, and cardboard-like sugarless bits of granola. Apparently, the sky is the limit to perfection… It gradually downed on me that while in Louisiana it’s better to forget restrictions and just indulge.
Ever heard of Armadillo Eggs? Those are firm little torpedoes of jalapeno peppers, stuffed with Jack cheese and deep fried in premium draft beer batter. Texas Toothpicks (we are close to the Texas border, remember?) are slices of fresh onions and jalapenos battered and deep fried. Both delicious appetizers are served at Silver Star Smokehouse in Bossier City along with an array of smoked meats and creamy cheesy potatoes au gratin. Not exactly what we call healthy here in California, but undeniably yummy.
Wine Country Bistro and Bottle Shop in Shreveport is a spacious upscale dining establishment combined with an amazing wine shop, selling good brands from all over the world at dreamlike prices. Chef Michael S. Brady turns up traditional dishes like shrimp and grits and cornbread with whole kernels as well as creative fennel soup, game du jour, and moules frites.
Indulging in Cajun cuisine is easy at Big O’s, located in an unpretentious strip mall on Captain Shreve Drive. Odis and Drenette Johnson, and their family members serve catfish and shrimp platters with their famous homemade tartar sauce. You can have a second helping of it, but the recipe is secret.
Family businesses in the area are unique, diverse, and thriving. At Fertitta’s Delicatessen, a.k.a. Home of the Muffy and the last historic Mom and Pop grocery store on Sam R. Fertitta Drive, Muffy sandwiches of deli cold cuts are served with Papa Fertitta’s house-made olive mix made of green and black olives, chopped and mixed with peppers, herbs and spices.
The Chocolate Crocodile on Louisiana Boardwalk, owned and managed by a husband-and-wife team of Cyndi and Jim Ragon prides itself in making affordable chocolates and caramels on premises. The store supports local high schools’ football teams, various community endeavors, and boasts 20 kinds of caramel and chocolate covered apples among many other delights. “We like dipping things in chocolate. Don’t stay here too long,” warned Cyndi. “We might dip you…”
At Plantation Gourmet Coffee Company in Mooringsport, you can learn from the owner and enthusiastic coffee purveyor Stanley Schikowitz that everything you knew about coffee drinking before was wrong. No more dark as midnight, hot as hell, sweet as a kiss. Mild, tepid, flavorful, devoid of bitterness and never ever spoiled by sugar or cream (not to mention soy) coffee is supposed to be sipped and thoroughly enjoyed like wine, or even more so, considering that there are over 400 different isolated chemicals in the former, and only 250 in the latter.
In a first for the Shreveport-Bossier area winery, On Cloud Wine, Debbie Keckler and her all female staff pour light, sweet, and refreshing Penelope Peach, Blueberry Moon, and other blends of whites and reds with fruit and berry juices.
A bustling culinary scene in the twin cities is greatly complemented by a West Edge Arts District in Shreveport:
Southern University Museum of Art on Texas Street showcases its exquisite collection of African art from different countries, time periods, and styles, displayed in cozy galleries. Public and school tours are accompanied by an enticing narration from the museum Coordinator Carolyn Coatney. A surprisingly large for a relatively small city art center next door, called Artspace, presents local artists through juried exhibitions, annual shows, and art sales. Across the street, Robertson Film Center (Christopher L. Jay, Director of Marketing and Programming) shows art house and foreign films and treats its viewers to an array of creative cocktails and light fare at its modern Abby Singer’s Bistro, designed in techno-industrial theme with film reel and celluloid elements. Large, beautiful, and surrounded by luscious gardens, R.W. Norton Art Gallery houses a 1250-piece permanent collection of American and European art of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Visual art in Shreveport does not only stay indoors, and can be found in unexpected places. AT&T building on the corner of Cotton and McNeill Streets is covered top to bottom with a two-sided mural by Meg Saligman, called “Once in a Millennium Moon.” The artist was aided by the community in painting the grandiose artwork “by numbers.”
Thanks to short distances, most of the attractions are reachable from the centrally located hotels. Best Western Chateau Suite Hotel is comfortable, clean, nicely decorated, and as every single establishment down here, has hospitable staff, Southern-style. To learn more, visit shrieveport-bossier.org.