Think ‘Louisiana,’ and New Orleans naturally springs to mind, but an hour north of the famed carnival hub lies Baton Rouge, a food and drink town in its own right where eager young chefs and restaurateurs are leading a gastronomic awakening. The birthplace of Slim Harpo and other blues legends, state capital Baton Rouge is a hub for the state’s movie industry and is home to LSU. Diners find a common thread on menus here: bold, engaging flavors that reinterpret the region’s meaningful Cajun and Creole heritage with inventive techniques. Here’s where to dine like a local in Baton Rouge. Bonus: Baton Rouge Restaurant Week kicks off today! Make a reservation.
City Pork Brasserie and Bar
City Pork Brasserie and Bar tips its hat to south Louisiana’s longtime love affair with the pig through a tempting menu rife with housemade charcuterie and tender-at-the-bone fare. The charcuterie board is a changing line-up of terrines, rillettes, pâtés and small batch smoked and cured meats alongside house-made pickles, breads, and spreads. This sleek and stylish spot, defined by rustic wood and exposed beams, is part of the fast-growing squad of Baton Rouge-based City Pork concepts that also includes casual City Pork Deli and plate lunch haven City Pork Kitchen and Pie. The company’s signature barbecue sandwiches, po’boys, and nachos are also found on the concession menus of LSU’s major sports arenas — where they play to the toughest crowds around.
The Brasserie pulses during lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. Award-winning chef Ryan André executes the changing menu, which includes small plates like the China Belly, fresh bacon with lemongrass ginger sauce, fried rice noodles, smoked peanut powder, and scallions, and the wild board flautas with smoked avocado cream. Create your own meat and cheese board with options like hog’s head cheese or house-cured andouille. The Big Pig and Cajun smoked brisket sandwiches, which built City Pork Deli, are also menu staples here.
What really makes the Brasserie shine, however, and the reason to come for a belt-loosening dinner, is new-spin-on-Cajun entrees like fried duck leg with smoked brie mashed potatoes and apricot gastrique, or the equally sinful shrimp and boudin, which pairs sautéed jumbo Gulf shrimp with uncased fresh-made boudin, an Old World sausage whose centuries-old Cajun preparation demands ground pork and liver, rice, aromatic vegetables, and spices. It’s topped with crispy onions and spicy red pepper aioli. “These kinds of dishes capture what the Brasserie is all about,” says general manager Stephen Hightower.
Another favorite is the rabbit and dumplings, whose modest description belies surprising nuance. The dish features hunks of roast rabbit as well as homemade gyoza dumplings stuffed with seasoned shredded pork served in a sweet-savory duck sauce and finished with cabbage slaw. “Nobody thought it would move when we first put it on the menu,” notes Hightower, “but it’s one of our top sellers.”
The restaurant is located in the Baton Rouge’s busy Bocage corridor and features patio dining in addition to the main dining room and bar. Weekend brunch is also available. Make a reservation at City Pork Brasserie and Bar.
Founded in 1905, Galatoire’s Restaurant in the French Quarter is beloved for its rigid delivery of the enduring New Orleans dining experience. The 100% à la carte menu served by edgy career waiters remains largely unchanged, and the idea that you’d see more Galatoire’s sprouting up nationwide would likely give Frenchman founder Jean Galatoire the vapors. But when Hurricane Katrina shut down the city for several months in 2005, the restaurant’s managing partners took a chance on a first-time outpost — in nearby Baton Rouge.
More than a decade later, the food scene is stronger than ever in New Orleans and revived Galatoire’s continues to wow diners on Bourbon Street. But the Baton Rouge location, Galatoire’s Bistro, has also been wildly successful with its energetic blend of old and new. “The goal here was to honor our past while blazing our own trail and coming up with an identity that is unique to Baton Rouge,” says general manager Blake Hernandez. “There’s no way to replicate the original, nor would we want to. But you’re going to find a lot of similarities and menu items.”
Indeed, the menu’s DNA hails from the mothership, shown in by-the-book favorites like Crabmeat Maison, a salad of impossibly fresh Gulf jumbo lump crabmeat, Creole mustard aioli, scallions, capers, and lemons, and Turtle Soup au Sherry, a deep brew of veal stock, mirepoix and roasted snapping turtle meat. Elsewhere, things get more relaxed. The à la carte culture of the original Galatoire’s, in which diners select every element of a dish, is superseded with fully formed options like fresh Gulf fish with famed Crabmeat Yvonne (jumbo lump crabmeat with artichoke hearts, and mushrooms), à la meunière, or pan-fried fish amandine. And, yes, you can still curate your meal entirely, says Hernandez.
Located minutes from LSU in the vibrant Perkins Road Overpass District, Galatoire’s Bistro is a hot spot also known for Prohibition-era craft cocktails and a breezy bar menu with changing pub fare, such as deviled eggs bejeweled with crabmeat, fried oysters with saffron aioli, and braised pork tacos. The restaurant’s large patio, perfect for the city’s mild weather, is a favorite spot for Sunday brunch. Diners without reservations park themselves there until doors open. As in New Orleans, eggs Sardou reigns supreme. Make a reservation at Galatoire’s Bistro.
Beausoleil Restaurant and Bar
“We try to be as playful as possible with traditional Southern and Louisiana cuisine,” says Beausoleil chef-owner Nathan Gresham. “I’d call what we do Southern and French Creole, and while I’ve done a lot of global interpretations in the past, now I’m really coming back to my roots.” Beausoleil opened in 2010, part of a new guard of small chef-driven eateries in Baton Rouge. Gresham works with several different local farmers including heritage pork producer Iverstine Farms and Fullness Organics. Fullness founder Grant Guidroz delivers Gresham a variety of greens, herbs and vegetables emerging from his fields sometimes twice a week. The laid-back Gresham has no trouble incorporating whatever shows up. “They bring us what they have,” says Gresham. “And we figure out how to use it.”
Gresham likes elevating traditional southern ingredients while staying true to the region’s rich culinary culture. Ahi tuna from the Gulf of Mexico is seared beautifully and served with scallion aioli and Brussels sprouts slaw. Melt-in-your-mouth foie gras loosens up with a homemade biscuit, seasonal chutney, and local honey gastrique. And a new menu item — fettucine with butter poached shrimp, lightly sea scallops, and andouille cream — shows the kitchen’s acumen with merging the delicate and the assertive.
Gresham offers at least a dozen entrees and specials at night, more than half of which are seafood. The rest include delectable interpretations of pork, duck, chicken and lamb and a single beef option. Gresham says he’s “one steak kind of chef.” That’s just fine because it’s hard to top his bone-in ribeye with seasonal sautéed mushrooms and garlic confit butter. Make a reservation at Beausoleil Restaurant and Bar.