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.
Zea Rotisserie and Grill
Rotisserie meats and global flavors are the culinary threads at Zea, a restaurant developed by New Orleans-based chefs Gary Darling, Hans Limberg, and Greg Reggio. Diners throughout south Louisiana have come to love it for its impossibly juicy roast chicken, pork and other meats and sides like sweet potato soufflé and roasted corn grits. “We sell more grits than French fries here,” says director of marketing Nancy Jeansonne. “What we are to people is modern, inspired comfort food.”
Thirty years ago, acquaintances Darling, Limberg, and Reggio were coincidentally working a celebrity event in Hawaii. Between work, they hung out, and their conversation led to some freeform brainstorming. The three returned home with the intention to launch a collective culinary project. They branded the company The Taste Buds and began developing restaurant concepts that captured their range of culinary perspectives shaped by years of global cooking. Darling had worked in Mexico and South America. Limberg had grown up in The Netherlands and Indonesia. And Reggio had spent much of his career soaking up the culinary culture of New Orleans.
Zea first opened in New Orleans in 2005. The concept draws from the team’s interest in French open-flame rotisseries, which create a crispy, caramelize exterior on meats while securing their juices inside. The Baton Rouge location was opened in 2008 in Towne Center, a hub for shops and eateries. “Our menu really varies in terms of its cultural influences, but it comes back to one thing, comfort,” says Jeansonne.
Zea’s signature specialty is a half rotisserie chicken roasted on an open flame and seasoned with one of four different options — dry rub, sweet chili glaze, pineapple jalapeno glaze, or pesto with caramelized garlic. Each seafood dish features fish that has been sustainably sourced from local waterways and the Gulf coast, says Jeansonne. The red beans and rice are prepared with famed Louisiana Chef Paul Prudhomme’s andouille sausage. And the bar features four private label craft beers on draft that are brewed in-state at Covington Brewhouse. These include the Clearview Golden Lager, the Category 5 Pale Ale, the Amber Lager, and the Pontchartrain Porter.
Appetizer plates are served in two sizes: small, in case you feel stingy, and shareable if you’re up for a group nosh. The slow-roasted Thai Ribs Stack are a notable favorite; they’re tender, falling off the bone and lacquered with sweet spicy soy glaze. Make a reservation at Zea Rotisserie and Grill.
With two locations in Baton Rouge, Bistro Byronz is a beloved family-run neighborhood eatery with a French bistro atmosphere and a Louisiana-influenced menu. The restaurants’ charming black and white floor tiles, café chairs, and cheery bar make them appealing to a wide swath of locals and visitors, from couples and friends, to families and co-workers. You’re just as likely to see celebration dinners taking place as you are buddies at the bar watching the game.
One of the reasons why is an ample board of fare that offers French classics like cassoulet, steak frîtes, and chicken paillard along with entree salads, rib-sticking main courses, and plenty of sandwiches and burgers. A perennial favorite is the fork tender Creole pot roast served with gravy-doused mashed potatoes and crisp green beans and the Food Network-featured Poisson Acadiana — thin-cut fried catfish over fluffy rice ladled with crawfish étouffée.
The brainchild of the Baton Rouge-based Kantrow family, Bistro Byronz started out in the eighties as a straightforward sandwich shop with a small and tidy menu. The spot closed when the family pursued other interests. In 2005, it reopened with a widely expanded concept. A few beloved menu items from those early days carried over, like the Byronz Sandwich, which features ham, salami, Canadian bacon, melted cheddar, Swiss and mozzarella, black olives, lettuce, tomato, and a dressing of mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, and paprika. It’s served, like many of the sandwiches, on the restaurant’s own seven-grain bread. Another eighties-era classic remained: the Heavenly Chocolate Supreme, a cake disguised as a sundae that features vanilla ice cream, marshmallows, nuts, layers of fudge, cocoa powder, and chocolate and caramel sauces.
It’s hard not to order one of the signature burgers at this genial establishment; the egalitarian line-up will please fussy vegetarians, unrepentant carnivores, and those in-between. The veggie burger is a homemade amalgam of kidney beans, pecans, mushrooms, carrots, and zucchini topped with spinach, tomatoes and Asian mayo. Eager to create a veggie burger that went beyond drab punched-out patties, managing partner Emelie Alton had the kitchen play around with fresh vegetables, nuts and legumes until they hit on this winning formula.
Meanwhile, the impossibly juicy turkey burger blended with Gruyere delivers its own healthful decadence. For beef lovers, it’s hard to resist the sumptuous simplicity of the everyman Big Byronz burger. Bottomless pits will find joy in the Beaucoup Burger, which features bleu cheese crumbles, velouté sauce, spinach, and tomatoes served open-faced. Get your fork out. Patio dining is available. The restaurant is also a popular spot for weekend brunch. Make a reservation at Bistro Bryonz-Mid City. Make a reservation at Bistro Byronz-Willow Grove.
Maggie Heyn Richardson is a freelance journalist and the author of Hungry for Louisiana, An Omnivore’s Journey (LSU Press, 2015), which explores eight of the state’s most emblematic foods.