I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was invited to be a guest on a TABASCO Food Tour. I imagined an array of increasingly hot sauces burning my tongue and really couldn’t figure out how it would last for 3 hours. I like hot sauce, but even for me, that seemed extreme. Luckily, it was nothing like I imagined.
The tour began at the TABASCO General Store next to the factory at Avery Island. We boarded a van and were greeted by George, a friendly, knowledgeable man who took great pride in leading us to six New Iberia area establishments that tourists rarely frequent. Each offered us a sampling of foods from their menu that can be enhanced with TABASCO sauce. It was an afternoon of flavor sensations that I’ll never forget.
From the looks of it, you’d never guess it to be a fun, campy, restaurant so popular that it usually has a line out the door. We were served boiled crawfish and onion rings with a TABASCO dipping sauce that was out-of-this-world. I’m not a huge crawfish fan, but these were good. I could have eaten a whole bucketful – as long as the sauce doesn’t run out.
A tip for those visiting crawfish and shrimp establishments in the South: look for a place that has sinks. You’re meant to eat the Gulf’s bounty with your hands. It’s okay to get messy.
We walked in and the scent of onions, smoke and spices took filled our nostrils. Mr. Legnon escorted us into a small room to the side of the busy butcher counter. Here we were treated to boudin — a Cajun sausage mixed with rice. We saw this on the menu at several restaurants and tried it at one, but it was nothing like Legnon’s award-winning boudin that has won 18 years in a row.
We were served seafood boudin and a pork boudin, along with some fresh pork cracklins. Here’s where we made our first mistake: when he offered to bring out more after we devoured the first samplings, we eagerly gobbled up the second serving, too, and then realized that we still had 4 more establishments to visit. The second mistake we almost made was to leave there without buying some to go. Luckily, we caught ourselves. We bought a few links for breakfast the next day and added our sales among the 1200 lbs. that he sells each day.
This was a nice stop at America’s oldest working rice mill where we sampled Konriko Wild Pecan Rice. It was nice by itself, but even better when sprinkled with TABASCO sauce. 🙂 I also tried it with cane sugar, since so many things in Louisiana are flavored with this staple. It was thick and sweet. It was nice on rice and cooled my tongue after chomping down on a few rice crackers topped with their spicy Bay Island Secret Sauce.
I doubt you’d ever stop at this old, unobtrusive, tin shack if you didn’t know what was inside. It’s been listed in the Louisiana Visitor’s guide as one of the state’s top restaurant recommendations and their gumbo has won “Best of the Teche” — the Bayou Teche’s listing of all the top picks in the area.
We were served containers of seafood gumbo and chicken & sausage gumbo along with small containers of white rice and potato salad. It was up to us to mix our gumbo as we pleased. It’s suggested that you put a small heap of rice in your bowl, then pour the gumbo on top. You can add file powder if you like. I did. It’s an herb made from the ground leaves of the sassafras tree. It gave the gumbo a really nice undertone.
We were also encouraged to eat it the way the old-timer’s eat it. They add a nice dollop of potato salad to their gumbo. It seemed like such a strange combination. I would never associate potato salad with the bayou, and am not a big potato salad fan to begin with. But after I’d tried the gumbo without and then dropped in a spoonful of potato salad and stirred it up, the old-timer’s way made a believer out of me. I dumped in the rest of my potato salad and now can’t imagine eating gumbo any other way.
Stop #5: KK’s Café & Cakery
We might have tried KK’s award-winning gumbo soup if we hadn’t indulged in gumbo already. Or their Red Beans & Rice, which I’d like to go back for. Instead, we were served French Onion Soup and it was the best French onion soup I have ever had, including all the bowls I’ve tried in France. I’m not sure what the secret ingredient was. (Tabasco?) The yellow onions were caramelized and the chef used a beef stock as the base, but there was more to it than that. It’s driving me crazy that I can’t pinpoint the flavor that pushed it over the top.
The owner of KK’s cooked alongside Bob Blumer of Glutton for Punishment during the 2010 Gumbo cook-off in New Iberia, Louisiana which is dubbed “The Gumbo Capital of the World.” I’ll bet he learned a lot from her. She convinced me that I need to come back and experience the cook-off for myself. Wonder how I could become a judge?
Last stop: Clementine’s
Our last stop on the food tour didn’t include TABASCO, but did include another award-winning treat. We stopped at Clementine’s for a little slice of heaven in the form of a bread pudding with meringue. You would have thought that we’d be too full to put anything else in our mouths, but I don’t think anyone left even a smidgen on their plate. Clementine’s secret? Whiskey sauce instead of bourbon sauce. It was fantastic.
While we were there we let our food settle and perused the artwork of Clementine Hunter displayed on the walls. The restaurant is named for her, though she has no actual affiliation with the place. The owner is an admirer of her work. She became an artist at the age of 82 and continued painting until she died at the age of 102. Her folk art is hanging in the Smithsonian, but we had the chance to view a few pieces right there in New Iberia, Louisiana. It was the proverbial icing on the cake of our bread pudding ending.
The TABASCO Food Tour was a delight of the senses. I felt like I really had the chance to “put a little South in my mouth” courtesy of TABASCO and the New Iberia area. The town itself was such a surprise. A quaint little town on the edge of a bayou. Now that I know about it, I’d like to go back and experience more of the flavors we found there.
Words and pictures just can’t do these flavors justice. Which menu item(s) has your mouth watering?