Thursday, May 1, 2008

12. New Iberia and Tabasco

A little deeper into southern Louisiana is the town of New Iberia, an early Cajun settlement that is proud of its many restored homes and a nationally recognized historic downtown. We decided to take a closer look at one of the first mansions. It was built along Bayou Teche and named Shadows on the Teche. This house was built by local plantation owner David Weeks in 1834. It’s officially listed as a “brick, 7-bay, colossal columnar Greek Revival plantation house.” The house has been mostly restored to reflect its early 1800s lifestyle. A similar house (the white one) was built next door in 1910 by a descendent of Mr. Weeks and fits neatly into the neighborhood character of New Iberia.

The Konriko Rice Mill is also in New Iberia. It's a family business and the oldest rice mill in the country. It has been operating with the same basic machinery that was installed in 1912. Still going strong with the old technology.

Ron enjoys the “spices” of life, so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tour the Tabasco factory a little farther down the road on Avery Island. This little island is actually the top of a massive salt dome that extends thousands of feet into the earth. The island grows lots of bright red Capsicum frutescens peppers for their pepper sauce, mines salt which is used in the process, and pumps the oil that is often found adjacent to major salt formations. It also maintains the wildlife sanctuary where the snowy egret was brought back from near extinction and the 200 acre Jungle Gardens full of plants, flowers and native creatures such as alligators, deer, nutria, raccoons and armadillo. The Tabasco factory is a big brick building but is close to the coast and was damaged by Hurricane Katrina. They are now building a higher levee to protect all their facilities from a category 5 hurricane.

We capped off our day in New Iberia with a crawfish dinner at the Seafood Connection. Locals recommended it, so it had to be good . . . and it was. The restaurant itself appeared to be an old converted 1950’s drive-in with a sit-down room addition made of cinder block with no windows or other features that might attract someone to stop there. The interior was also pretty plain, with tables lined up in rows, Bingo hall style. A big screen TV was playing a re-run of a Saturday night Cajun program up the road in Eunice, the center of Prairie Cajun. Everyone seems to be eating crawfish around here these days, so we both ordered the crawfish dinner. They came to us in big tin dishes, similar to oil change pans, with potatoes mixed in, a couple ears of corn-on-the-cob and a couple large sausages. It was a very messy hands-on dinner but fun and very tasty indeed.Seafood is everywhere, crawfish is king right now and there are also lots of oysters, shrimp, crab, catfish, seafood gumbo and jambalaya, andouille and boudin sausages, shrimp po-boy sandwiches and etouffees (pronounced “A-2-fay”). It’s really great!!! We'll miss the food, but will also miss the fun spirit of the local people, the music and the large swamps, bayous and unique wildlife that the state is trying hard to protect. As we head on down the road, we'll leave you with a picture of Bonnie at Bayou Teche.