Local Restaurants

elgatoI love Mexican food . . . . but I don't love tasteless, Americanized "Mexican"-like food smothered in plastic cheese. And that's pretty much all I find around here.

But my husband introduced me to El Gato Negro in the French Quarter before I even moved here and I fell in love with the bright, fresh flavors. They've also opened up one in Destrehan, which is much closer to Thibodaux and just as good as the original.

So on our way to Biloxi for the weekend, we stopped at the Destrehan location with the whole crew. And let me say they have a ton (more than one is a ton in this area) of vegetarian options that are seriously good. My three year old loves the "wah-ka-mole-ee" they make table side.

This time, I got the three cheese enchiladas. Now I know the picture doesn't look like much, and yes I know that is a whole lot of sour cream . . . . but what made it was the side of orange-oregano salsa. It was fresh, sweet, bright and a perfect complement/pick-me-up to what could have been a heavy cheese dish — often the case when people are trying to cook without meat.

gato_margaritaThey also have the best seasonal orange and lime margaritas on the planet made with fresh lime and orange juice. Matter of fact, they made me think I liked margaritas . . . . which, after trying way too many, I found out is not true. I hate margaritas. Except theirs. And I love them.

destrehan_la_heartDESTREHAN

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tableauI know food in all cultures is an important part of family and community. But food in South Louisiana isn't just a part, it IS family and community — kinda like the food-centric Italians or French.

As I said before, I'm an Air Force brat. That means, after living in seven different states by the time I was 25, my community is basically my mom, dad and sister. Yes, that's pretty darn small. I've picked up a few friends-that-are-family along the way. And I found some here. And this family is teaching me a whole lot about South Louisiana food and what it means to be true friends.

Matter of fact, they invited me to my first crawfish boil. And, surprisingly, this I-hate-all-things-fishy girl didn't puke. He makes first-class gumbo, jambalaya and anything Cajun and does it up like Cajuns do . . . . with friends and fun.

But anyway, all that backstory to say we all went to New Orleans this weekend for a kid-free night. We had dinner at Tableau in the Quarter. And, not surprisingly, there really were no vegetarian options other than piecing together vegetable sides. The other option when there are no vegetarian entrées is ordering a meat dish without the meat. But I find the meat is usually an important flavor in that particular recipe . . . so taking that away usually results in a a flat taste that doesn't play to the strengths of the vegetables and other ingredients that are left. But the Bleu Cheese salad was awesome and strange with a huge chunk of bleu cheese on toast. And the company made the really slow service totally tolerable.

After dinner we hit one of their favorite spots — the Davenport Lounge in the Ritz for drinks and jazz. I love the ambiance of this lounge, not just for the music but because it was clean with comfortable seating with no one puking next to me. AND I discovered a Pimm's Cup. Now, I know this sounds like no big deal. But I totally hate alcohol. Not because of moral reasons, I just think it tastes like hair spray. But my friend gave me a taste and this refreshing cucumber, strawberry, soda and gin drink from Britain is amazing. She says the Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone also has good ones.

So a toast to my Cajun family, the Davenport Lounge and Pimm's Cups.

nola_la_heartNEW ORLEANS

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blue_bayou_smoothieI'm not big on smoothies. I like to chew my fruits and veggies. But my boys LOVE them.

And far too many are full of added sugars, which good fruit and the right mixture of flavors totally don't need. Anyway, The Carrot Patch in Thibodaux is a great place to get all kinds of smoothies — from fruits and veggies to proteins like peanut butter.

We got the all-fruit Blue Bayou smoothie with blueberries, pinapple and banana the other day as a special treat after school. And, as you can see in the picture with the bright, vibrant, natural colors, they use great ingredients, which, in turn, makes a fresh and well-rounded smoothie without any unnecessary additives.

thibodaux_la_heartTHIBODAUX

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wwThis has been a very long week. I think because the time changed. I think because we're nearing the end of the school year. I think because I'm always "over it" by this point. Either way, I needed a break today and decided to drag one of my favorite students to one of my favorite local places to eat lunch — Weeping Willow.

This little cafe in downtown Thibodaux has good coffee, homemade desserts and a good vegetarian sandwich — the Caprese.

First, let's settle on exactly how you say this. It's Italian and the Italians say ka-pray-zay. But I'm always stressed about what to say because Americans look at you crazy, roll their eyes and say things like, "oh the KA-PREESE"? Sure, yeah, whatever.

Anyway, pronunciation aside — you pick how you want to say it — Caprese is traditionally fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil with salt and olive oil. And it's absolutely my favorite salad. Weeping Willow changed it up a little with regular mozzarella, baby lettuces and pesto. But it's light and fresh and a great alternative to traditional meat sandwiches. The week is looking up. . . or is that because I can smell the weekend?

thib_la_heartTHIBODAUX

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atchafalayaMy husband and I have date night every other week and this week he surprised me with dinner at a new-to-me restaurant in New Orleans: Atchafalaya.

Like a lot of restaurants in the city, they are committed to local farms and products. And, of course, I love that.

Before I get too far into this, let me be quite clear that I am no food critic. New Orleans especially is full of true foodies who can smell precise ingredients and wax poetic about flavors. I am so not that. I'm just a (mostly) vegetarian transplant trying to eat in seafood-ville. And . . . I know this is shocking . . . but seafood IS meat. It had a face and parents.

Anyway, back to dinner. So they had a vegetarian entrée, but it was eggplant and I'm not big on most preparations of eggplant. So I was very un-Catholic on this Friday night during Lent, which I always realize later when people are looking at me funny, and ordered chicken. It was good with mushrooms and, I thought, an Asian-inspired sauce. But the highlight for me was their mini cornbread and jalepeño muffins in the bread basket. So good.

It's also my habit to try bread pudding anywhere I can and compare. Since it's a local speciality, it's fun to see all the variations.* Atchafalaya's seasonal bread pudding was cinnamon with macerated strawberries. And that was also amazing. Not too sweet, not too soggy and perfectly fresh with local strawberries.

atchafalayaAnd they have a cool logo stamp on their to-go bags — how can you not like that?

*I also like to try pecan pie. I did this in New York City for Thanksgiving. I should have known better when they pronounced it PEE-can pie. Some things are better left to the South.

nola_la_heartNEW ORLEANS

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