Where to eat, drink in Baton Rouge

Friday June 30th, 2017

Heading to Baton Rouge soon? Trying to figure out the best places to eat? Whether you’re looking for some rectangular pizza or a brisket po boy, we’ve got you covered right here with a list of the tastiest destinations to hit while you’re in town.

City Pork

2363 Hollydale Ave, Baton Rouge, LA 70808
This review of City Pork originally appeared Aug. 15, 2016

If I ask an employee which dish they’d recommend, the worst answer is “Everything’s good.” This is the culinary equivalent of this old football saw: “If you’ve got two quarterbacks, you’ve got no quarterback.” Like Nick Saban or Gus Malzahn or Jim Harbaugh or any other coach selecting a quarterback this month, I like to see some separation. I want the one who wins the hearts and minds (or stomachs) of his teammates. I want to know that what I choose is clearly better. So I appreciate an employee willing to help me make the tough decisions instead of further muddying the issue by claiming everything at the restaurant is equal.

So thank you, delightful lady behind the counter at City Pork Deli and Charcuterie in Baton Rouge, for answering honestly. Last week, I was determined to try two sandwiches. I had already decided on the Ultimate Grilled Cheese (Swiss, cheddar and brie with house-cured bacon on Texas Toast) because I am a sucker for grilled cheese. (I have the taste buds of a five-year-old; I also feel the same way about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.) I couldn’t decide on the second, so I asked which I should order between the Cubano (smoked pork shoulder, brown sugar ham, Swiss, dijon and pickles on pressed Cuban bread) and the Pork Belly Bahn Mi (Korean braised pork belly, pate, pickled carrots, cucumber and cilantro on french bread). “We sell more Cubanos,” she said, “but the Bahn Mi is my favorite.” I immediately asked her to add a Bahn Mi to my order. Any sandwich that inspires enough passion to go against public sentiment is worth a try.

Upon first bite, I understood why she had pushed me in that direction. My year of pork belly continues to delight, and I hope more places decide to pass along the joy of proto-bacon. The belly chunks in City Pork’s Bahn Mi were lightly charred and covered in a Korean-inspired sauce that vacillated between spicy and sweet throughout the chewing process. The toasted french bread provided an excellent pillow for the belly, and the sandwich would have been fantastic with even a reasonable amount of belly. But as I kept moving toward the center of the sandwich, the belly-to-bread ratio kept rising. This particular pig must have been named Buddha. His belly was a seemingly endless bounty.

I’m probably the wrong person to opine on the grilled cheese. I’d give a rave review to processed American cheese slices on Wonder bread, so of course I’m going to love three excellent cheeses (and bacon) on Texas Toast. But upon further review, every grilled cheese* needs to come on Texas Toast.

*Yes, I realize that many people believe the inclusion of meat makes this a melt and not a grilled cheese. I don’t care. I only get weird about what people deem to be barbecue.

If you’re not careful, you might not have room for either of these sandwiches. City Pork has a pair of appetizers that are designed for sharing but tasty enough to hoard. The pork rinds come with house-made pimento cheese and andouille pate for dipping. The “nachos” are house-made potato chips covered in mornay cheese sauce with jalapeños and chunks of smoked pork. If one of your tablemates heads outside to take a phone call, he’s likely to return to an empty plate.

But don’t fill up on the appetizers, no matter how difficult it may be to resist. That Pork Belly Bahn Mi is waiting to win your stomach and prove that it was the only choice all along.

Fleur de Lis Pizza

5655 Government St, Baton Rouge, LA 70806
This review of Fleur de Lis Pizza originally appeared Oct. 27, 2014. 

I finally got around to visiting Fleur de Lis Pizza. I’d wanted to visit this 68-year-old joint much earlier but just couldn’t seem to make it work. I’m glad I did.

Before we go any further, a word about me and pizza. While I’m a barbecue snob who parses the difference between pulled and chopped pork and asks what kind of wood is fueling the fire, my palate for pizza is far less refined. Of course I can tell the difference between generic chain pizza and the good stuff, but beyond that, it all tastes pretty good to me. I don’t favor New York over Chicago. In fact, I think of thin crust and deep dish as entirely separate and equally delicious entities.

So it didn’t bother me a bit that the pizzas at Fleur de Lis are rectangular. That’s how they’ve been making them since the original owners began cooking pies on cookie sheets in the 1940s. I actually loved that the crust was not quite as thin as you’d expect from a pizza made on a cookie sheet. It was just chewy enough to be interesting.

My pie had pepperoni, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, salami, mushrooms and hot banana peppers. The sauce had just enough bite, and the sausage was the star. It comes crumbled into tiny bits that wind up covering every square inch of the pie. That provides an even distribution of meat, cheese and sauce in every bite, and it made for a delicious pizza that you may not find nearly as delicious as I did. And that’s fine.

But don’t begrudge me my love for pizzas of every stripe. Life is too short to be a snob about every category of food.

Cou-Yon's

470 N Alexander Ave, Port Allen, LA 70767
This review of Cou-Yon's originally appeared April 3, 2017.

We’ve already discussed some of the surest ways to determine the quality of a barbecue joint before ever walking into the door. First, you should be able to smell the smoking meat from at least a quarter-mile away. Second, there should be a pile of wood somewhere in the vicinity.

Let’s add a third to that. Examine the quality of the vehicles in the parking lot. If they range from held-together-by-duct-tape beaters to price-of-a-small-house SUVs, you’ve found something special. In a society that Balkanizes itself online by creating echo chambers unfamiliar ideas can’t penetrate, great barbecue places still bring together people of every race, socioeconomic group and ideology. (Except vegetarians, I suppose.) The best way to get people to leave their respective bubbles and intermingle remains properly smoked meat.

Some of the offerings from Cou-Yon's in Port Allen, a short drive from Baton Rouge.

The parking lot at Cou-Yon's has that kind of range. Located in Port Allen, across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge (about a 15 minute drive) isn’t wealthy, but pricey rides sit alongside more modest modes of transportation because everyone who got behind the wheel came for the same thing: the best barbecue in the area.

When I visit a new barbecue place, I try to order the most diverse plate I can so I can taste as much as possible. Usually, this is a three meat plate. If the restaurant chooses to answer The Eternal Question (How much for one rib?) I’ll stick to the sliced, chopped or pulled meats and add a bone to the order. But CouYons has something even better.

The $26.99 pricetag for the sampler plate sounds quite steep until it comes out of the kitchen. It’s actually two plates piled with every meat Cou-Yon's makes in every style Cou-Yon's makes it. It includes slices of moist brisket, pork ribs, slices of lean brisket, piles of pulled pork and chopped brisket, slices of turkey, a quarter of a chicken and a sausage link. It also comes with two hefty sides. I chose green beans and cajun rice dressing.

The old Andy would have tried to power through this massive offering. The new (hopefully thinner) Andy got two meals and a snack out of it. Yet after thorough examination, I couldn’t choose a favorite meat. This isn’t because the meats were mediocre; far from it. If Cou-Yon's played in the NBA, it would average 10 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals and 1.5 blocks a game. That’s right, it’s a barbecue Glue Guy. No single meat is transcendent, but everything — especially the high-degree-of-difficulty chicken and turkey — is cooked with remarkable competence. I’d order any of these meats by themselves, but I’d much rather eat them all together.

And just as the Glue Guy’s contribution to a team is greater than the sum of his individual stats, Cou-Yon's has a dish that combines these flavors into something truly amazing. Remember those two sides I ordered? The green beans were great, but they were a mistake. I should have ordered two of the cajun rice dressing and another gallon of it to go. Why? Because the cooks at Cou-Yon's take all the juicy bits that remain after the meats are sliced and chopped and pulled and they stir them into soft, tender rice. This creates the world’s most beautiful dirty rice, and it brings people from everywhere. And even if none of them agree on anything else, they all know deep in their souls that they want another spoonful of that rice.

Pimanyoli's Sidewalk Cafe 

14241 Airline Hwy #105, Baton Rouge, La 70817
This review of Pimanyoli's Sidewalk Cafe originally appeared Nov. 10, 2014. 

Pimanyoli's doesn't make the world's greatest barbecue. It's good, but not Joe Flacco-on-sports talk-radio elite. But Pimanyoli's makes up for this by combining the barbecue with traditional Louisiana accoutrements and nearly flawless mac and cheese.

The brisket po boy from Pimanyoli's.
Andy Staples

While the brisket isn't perfect, it approaches perfection when smothered in Monterey Jack cheese and Louisiana Gold hot sauce and served Po Boy style on soft French bread. Add a side of the mac and cheese—thick with tangy cheese and tender pasta—and a half-dozen beef and pork tamales, and I was full and happy. 

Raising Cane's

3313 Highland Rd, Baton Rouge, LA 70802; Various locations
This review of Raising Cane's originally appeared Feb. 15, 2016

Several chains have emerged in the fight for your chicken finger dollar, but the best of these is Baton Rouge-based Raising Cane’s. The first store opened just outside one of the entrances to LSU in 1996, and Cane’s has been pleasing diners drunk and sober ever since. Why is Cane’s better than, say, Zaxby’s? The fingers, plain and simple. Cane’s marinates never-frozen chicken tenderloins for 24 hours before dropping it in the fryer. The result is a thick, juicy finger that is always perfectly seasoned. 

Cane’s has designs on opening stores throughout the world—it already has one in Kuwait—so it is the most likely candidate on this list to go truly nationwide. It has expanded out of Louisiana and into 17 other states. That’s great progress, but it still leaves 32 states with inferior chicken fingers. This will not stand.

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