Monique Evans is a serious foodie. Her smart phone is loaded with pictures of complex, technique-driven dishes she prepares at home. She gives cooking classes. She’s a frequent patron of the Red Stick Farmers Market and a Slow Food disciple. She travels extensively, eats out regularly, gets to know chefs and wants something delicious and inspiring at every meal.
For Evans, a Baton Rouge native, the last few years have been promising. A respectable farm-to-table movement has taken hold in the city. A growing fleet of food trucks has inspired loyal crowds and caught the attention of national food shows. Vegetarian and vegan cuisine is peering out amid a landscape long defined by fried seafood and old-school Southern cooking.
Evans says she relishes the emerging scene, but she juggles that with another emotion: impatience.
“I think we’re on the right track, but there’s a lot more to do, and it’s an uphill climb,” she says, puzzled about the continued proliferation of chain restaurants. “There’s a lot more I’d like to see here that you find in comparable cities.”
Evans’ wish list reads like a round-up of recent major culinary trends. She wants a true tapas restaurant with authentic small servings and reasonable prices, and a traditional Spanish restaurant with Old World wines and paella. More bars that create craft cocktails would be great, she adds. As would inventive breakfast spots to match our traditional ones, dog-friendly outdoor dining and farm-to-table restaurants that partner with local producers.
“I’d also love to have a true stand-alone cheese monger, and a brick-and-mortar patisserie and boulangerie,” Evans says. “Whole Foods has created an environment where people buy more cheeses and interesting foods, but it would be nice to have other choices.”
There are plenty of unexplored concepts that could work well in Baton Rouge, agrees Andy Blouin, outgoing president of the Baton Rouge Chapter of the Louisiana Restaurant Association and founder of Serranos Salsa Company and Boudreaux & Thibodeaux’s.
“Yes, there’s room for growth,” he says. “For example, we really haven’t seen many fusion restaurants like you see in other cities.”
Blouin also says he believes Cuban food could make it as a stand-alone eatery. Serranos’ Cuban side dishes, fried plantains and refried black beans, are among the restaurant’s most popular items. And the Cuban Connection, a new food truck featuring Cuban sandwiches, plantains, black bean soup and other fare, has developed a strong following.
The challenge for new concepts, says Blouin, is that they face a community traditionally conservative in its culinary views. That’s clearly loosening, but it’s been slower than other cities that have changing populations. Moreover, he adds, diners in Baton Rouge have
traditionally been driven by low prices and generous portions.
Determined foodies might be waiting for new trends to descend, but they’ve created workable, food-centric routines that ferret out the city’s best resources.
Daniel Kahn is a San Francisco native who moved to Baton Rouge in 2005 to teach middle school world history with Teach for America. He remained in the community to launch a non-profit that helps promising low-income students get into college, and he has embraced life in South Louisiana—including its regional foodways.
Kahn likes to eat fresh and local, so on Saturdays, he and his girlfriend, Euhbin Song, head to the Red Stick Farmers Market, where they select most of their weekly produce. Subsequent stops at Whole Foods and Oriental Market help them round out their shopping list. They spend the rest of the weekend prepping salads, salad dressings, soups, stews, pasta sauces, Korean specialties and other dishes. They eat out about 20 percent of the time, says Kahn.
Kahn says he believes the biggest culinary gap in Baton Rouge is “fast, fresh, spicy food that’s also healthy.” He’s thinking Asian dishes, he says.
“I think there’s incredible demand for quick, healthy food that could be served through food trucks, drive-throughs, or well-positioned places that allow you to get a sense of being full and that provide health-conscious eating,” Kahn says.
No matter which direction Baton Rouge next points its culinary compass, there are many cuisines we’ve yet to experience locally, and there is a growing fanbase of foodies ready to pull up to a new table and eat.
What new cuisine should Baton Rouge feast on next? Tell us at [email protected]