The South's Most Creative Small Towns
Best Food Town: Breaux Bridge, Louisiana
Like most places in Acadiana, Breaux Bridge doesn’t make much of a fuss when it comes to its food. But ask a resident for a recommendation and you’ll likely get an enthusiastic earful of dishes not to miss. While New Orleans hogs the culinary spotlight, here is where you’ll find the unsung heroes of South Louisiana cuisine—lunch joints, meat markets, and seafood palaces that produce the authentic (and unblackened) classics of the Cajun canon, heavy on pigs from the barnyard and seafood from the Bayou Teche and nearby Atchafalaya Basin.
Although Breaux Bridge may be a quiet Louisiana bayou town, you wouldn’t know it on Saturday mornings. Hard-driving accordion music leaks from the historic Café des Amis, where the weekly zydeco breakfast packs the tables and dance floor with regulars and visitors alike. The café serves updated versions of regional specialties, including a rare interpretation of Oreille de Cochon, a crispy breakfast pastry that’s the oversize country cousin of New Orleans’ beignets, stuffed with boudin, the spicy rice- and-pork sausage that’s almost impossible to find outside Cajun Country. By noon, when the music stops and everyone’s had their fill, the town returns to its regular pace—slow, easy, relaxed. Then it’s time for lunch.
What’s Going On
Locals line up at Poche’s Market, a bare-bones dining room grafted onto an outstanding smokehouse. The tough part is choosing among the daily specials. Do you go for the transcendent crawfish étouffée or shatter-crisp fried catfish? Whatever you choose, opt for rice dressing (also called dirty rice) topped with gravy from the intense pork backbone stew. Sample more boudin at Charlie T’s or Babineaux’s Slaughter House, not to mention the amazing cracklings at Goulas’ Grocery, or delightful French fare at the always quirky Chez Jacqueline. In May, the population swells during the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, a culinary and musical celebration of the area’s signature crustacean.
Despite its diminutive size (or perhaps because of it), Breaux Bridge has developed as a weekend destination for city dwellers from New Orleans or travelers en route from Houston. Visitors wander along the charming downtown stretch of Bridge Street. Historic homes, such as Maison des Amis and Au Bayou Teche Bed and Breakfast, now cater to the city’s steadily growing stream of visitors. Every spring, bird-watchers head to the Lake Martin Bird Sanctuary for spectacular views of its rookery.
There’s no better way to finish off a weekend than at the Sunday afternoon dance at Angelle’s Whiskey River Landing, a roadhouse bar situated just outside town on the edge of the Atchafalaya Basin. Surrounded by moss-draped cypress trees, traditional Cajun and zydeco acts perform for a die-hard crowd, eager to get a few more two-steps in before the workweek begins.
Culinary roots run deep in this part of Louisiana. Poche’s proprietor, Floyd Poché, took over from his father, Lug Poché, in 1976. “I started off with the étouffée recipe and boudin from my daddy,” he says. Today he dishes up some 1,000 plates to hungry diners during an average Sunday lunch. While most folks in town take a humble approach to their cooking, New Orleans chefs aren’t shy about spreading the good word. Donald Link (Cochon, Herbsaint) and Tenney Flynn (GW Fins) have been known to hit Breaux Bridge, especially during peak crawfish season. Both give high marks to the no-nonsense Crawfish Town USA, just off Interstate 10. “Man, the meat was sweet with just the right amount of pepper,” says Link, shaking his head. “Boiled perfect.”
Kerry Moody evacuated to Breaux Bridge in the uncertain days following Hurricane Katrina, during which time he helped owner Patrick Dunne open a branch of his New Orleans–based culinary collectibles store, Lucullus. Lucullus joined the long-standing Aux Vieux Paris Antiques, where owner Robert E. Smith specializes in seventeenth- to nineteenth-century French furniture and housewares. Dealers have since opened shops catering to all levels of the antiques market, including the 17,000-square-foot Lagniappe Antiques in a renovated car dealership. “We saw a lot of potential here,” Moody says. “The town and this part of Louisiana really have a magic to them.”
The Runner-Up: Highlands, North Carolina
This Appalachian retreat attracts visitors both escaping the summer heat and looking for a snowbound winter hideaway, which may explain why it’s become such an outrageously good place to eat. The most famous of its fine-dining options is Madison’s in the landmark Old Edwards Inn and Spa, offering classical European fare. Locals love Cyprus International Cuisine for its globe-trotting menu and its chef, Nicholas Figel, who won the inaugural King of the Mountain Chefs Challenge in 2010. Just eleven miles away, in Cashiers, Chef John Fleer (late of Blackberry Farm) cooks hyper-local fare at his new outpost, Canyon Kitchen.