Louisiana Road Trip
Day One: Baton Rouge to Vacherie
Distance: 112 miles
Start your journey into the state's storied past at Louie's Cafe (louiescafe.com or 225/346-8221), a Baton Rouge institution that has been located outside the gates of LSU since 1941. Order the Seafood Louie ($13), an omelet filled with shrimp, crawfish, and vegetables topped with an herb crème sauce.
A few miles north, cross the Mississippi River to pick up River Road (State 988). You'll pass expanses of sugarcane fields along the 30-mile stretch to Nottoway Plantation (nottoway.com or 225/545-2730), the largest remaining (and recently renovated) antebellum mansion in the South. Its hour-long tour is an excellent primer on the history of plantations along River Road and worth the $20 admission price.
Continue on to Donaldsonville. After a seven-year-long post-Katrina lull, this charming small town is back. Stop by Framer Dave's (alvinbatiste.com or 225/473-8536) to meet Alvin Batiste, whose art studio is tucked in the brick framing shop. Alvin is known for his paintings of Cajun culture, and he loves to chat up visitors as he draws in his sketchbook. (Paintings begin at $100.)
For lunch, walk down Railroad Avenue to the Grapevine Café and Gallery (grapevinecafeandgallery.com or 225/473-8463). Owners Cynthia and Steve Schneider serve their mix of Cajun and Creole dishes in a refurbished 1920s building, where epicurean New Orleanians mingle with locals just back from a deer hunt. Start with an order of crawfish cornbread with crawfish étouffée ($9), but save room for spinachand- andouille-stuffed drum ($19).
Across town, the River Road African American Museum (aficanamericanmuseum.org or 225/474-5553) tells the story of African-Americans in Louisiana and their contributions to the state's culture ($5 admission). Be sure to check out the exhibit on the rural roots of jazz, which has strong ties to this community.
Continue on River Road, now State 18, to Oak Alley Plantation (oakalleyplantation.com or 225/265- 2151; rooms fom $135). Check in to one of the century-old cottages, and take a stroll under the vast canopies of 300-year-old live oaks.
It's well worth a little backtracking for a memorable meal rooted in history. Head back north on River Road, and drive 22 miles to Houmas House (houmashouse.com or 225/473-9380), a lavish plantation house filled with period art and antiques. Start with a drink at the Turtle Bar (built in 1828 as a pigeon house), and then walk to the main house for dinner at Latil's Landing. Chef Jeremy Langlois creates historically nuanced meals with a modern twist, such as the Rack of Lamb Burnside ($42), which reflects the hunting tradition of the 1800s. Marinated in Louisiana-based Community Coffee, the tender meat falls off the bone.
Day Two: Vacherie to New Orleans
Distance: 60 miles
Start the day with a complimentary breakfast of Pain Perdu (French toast made from French bread—the Cajun way) at Oak Alley Plantation Restaurant. Then drive 4 miles east to visit Laura Plantation (lauraplantation.com or 225/265-7690). Tours ($17) offer a glimpse into life on a Creole plantation based on the memoirs of its namesake, Laura Gore. Before you leave, pick up a bottle of sugarcane wine made down the road at Becnel Plantation Winery and released this spring ($18).
Less than half a mile east of Laura is B&C Seafood and Cajun Market (2155 Louisiana 18; 225/265-8356), a family-run business that sells locally caught shrimp, catfish, and crabs. Try the chicken and sausage gumbo ($6/cup) and the Cajun Sampler ($12), which includes boudin balls, catfish, alligator, and crawfish kickers—a cross between a hush puppy and fried catfish.
From there, drive 50 miles east to New Orleans, where River Road intersects with Oak Street in the historic Carrollton neighborhood. Once lined with banks, barbershops, and grocery stores, the street is now a parade of vintage clothing stores and restaurants.
After strolling, have dinner at Jacques-Imo's (8324 Oak Street; jacquesimoscafe.com or 504/861-0886), where chef Jacques Leonardi prepares a wonderfully memorable Cajun bouillabaisse ($27) with oysters, shrimp, fresh fish, and mussels.
Rest your head at New Orleans' famed Hotel Monteleone (hotelmonteleone.com or 504/523-3341; rooms fom $119), which recently underwent major room renovations in celebration of its 125th year. For a nightcap, visit the hotel's Carousel Bar and order the Ramos Gin Fizz ($10), a Crescent City original. It takes 15 minutes to make, but it's a delicious and authentic way to end your trip.