The essence of the Mississippi River plays to an inherent vision of Louisiana life. New Orleans Plantation Country is full of stories that traverse history and culture, many of which including family, hard work and the essence of life coalesce into a specific cauldron of discussion and intention. Surrounding these many stories are also unique arenas of food and other landmarks that provide companion stories within a larger framework.
Destrahan Plantation This plantation, closer to New Orleans proper, in St. Charles Parish provides an interesting balance of story to places like Oak Alley, known for its striking pillars. Destrahan is specific in its intersecting political moves within French Loyalty. The family itself had ties (unofficially to Napoleon). The one true artifact in the house resides in an ornate Egyptian marble tub that supposedly was a gift from the Monarch. Also hidden within the house is original documents that bring to bear exactly why and how the Louisiana Purchase happened. There is also inherent stories of a family separated and broken in many ways by yellow fever which claimed two of patriarch’s children within weeks.
However also history that permeated this part of the river was the 1811 Slave Revolt which is highlighted in a separate exhibit post tour. The inherent strategy, politics and tenacity that is shown reflects both international politics but also the struggle that was going on beneath the surface, not just between black and whites but within the ranks of slaves. Its relation to the successful slave revolt in what now is modern day Haiti (formerly a French colony) emboldened the slaves to affect their plan. But the after effects were both telling but also lost to the track of time, only now being right brought to the surface as a perception of history that before was controlled by different forces of power.
St. Michael The Archangel Church & Cemetery This beautiful, Romantic era church sits on River Road alone in the texture of greenery with a grotto inlaid in its back structure with columns and a sense of peace within its walls. This area, effectively French Creole but also known as the German Coast was inherently Roman Catholic which was more a permeation of the law than anything else. Certain perceptions from Code Noir to the texture of the French government at the time used Catholicism as a method of control but it also, antithetically provided a sense of community. A cemetery reaches out behind its superstructure including both modern day residents towards the back while the entrance commemorates the first black mayor of the parish as well as numerous black Union soldiers which within a most at the time Confederate area shows the dynamics at play back and forth by those in power at the time.
Lunch Permutations On both sides of the river there is a distinct aspect of food with certain local places allowing for different aspects. The larger than possible Shrimp Po’Boy, optimizing fried shrimp with the inherent French bread with a side of beautiful onion rings at Connie’s Grill in Reserve fills the soul with a sense of fulfillment as storm clouds gather.
On the other side of the Mississippi, B&C Cajun Restaurant in Vecherie offers a similar idea but with a flair of different ideas. A few tables away the crunch of crawfish being cracked resounds, while a jambalaya, creamy with its essence of peas and andouille sausage within the rice swirls in congruence with cajun boudin balls and catfish dipped in a peach flavor sauce.
Dinner Community On the other side of the river in the city of Paulina, the local restaurants provide a sense of community. At the Creole House Cafe, the music plays into the night with a mostly retired crowd holding court. The bar draws accordingly. The Mardi Slaw is heavy and pleasing to the stomach with its ample portions but the shrimp and andouille sausage pasta with its thick sauce brings the house down in more ways than one, allowing for an almost coma like sleep.
By comparison, Nobile’s Restaurant, sitting right off the railroad tracks about a mile away in Lutcher, has a lumbering almost mysterious texture to its outside. Part old saloon and likely former brothel back in colony days, the inside bar and restaurant is both cozy and local. The chicken and andouille gumbo is thick but not overpowering while the main course of smothered cabbage with pork chop is both effective and unusual, an almost German infusion with the zest of Creole tendencies reasserting the areas multi-faceted roots.
Between the food, the structures and the inherent history of the area, stories and the people that lived them encompass every form of daily life allowing for both new discoveries and intrinsic history in the area known as New Orleans Plantation Country, barely 25 miles from its namesake.
By Tim Wassberg