“Seat Yourself: The Best of South Louisiana’s Local Diners, Lunch Houses, and Roadside Stops” by Alex V. Cook, LSU Press, 128 pages, $19.95, paperback
Is there a better subject matter than the food of South Louisiana? No, there is not.
In “Seat Yourself: The Best of South Louisiana’s Local Diners, Lunch Houses, and Roadside Stops,” Alex V. Cook is like your own personal version of Guy Fieri, except he is warm and familiar instead of abrasive and obnoxious.
Cook takes you on a tour of some of the lesser known spots around the southern part of the state. Some of the restaurants will be familiar to those from Baton Rouge — Frank’s and Louie’s — and some are easily recognized as New Orleans landmarks — Parkway and Parasol’s — but my guess is that nearly everyone will find at least a couple new spots to add to their “Restaurants to try” list. What, you don’t have that list? You should.
To try to visit each of these restaurants too quickly would likely take several years off one’s life and add several inches to one’s waistline, so I’ll have to be choosy about where to go first.
I’ve never been to Middendorfs in Manchac, and the description of their catfish has me anxious to make a quick trip. Or maybe I should head to Fleur de Lis Pizza, a long-standing Baton Rouge establishment that I’m ashamed I’ve never visited. But I’ll be honest, Glenda’s Creole Kitchen in Breaux Bridge basically sounded like an ode to gravy, and that’s calling my name.
Cook draws the reader in very quickly, and his writing is personal, almost like he’s journaling, making it all the more enjoyable. The book goes beyond food to explore the deeper structure of Louisiana and what makes its people tick. Many of these locales’ foundations are home cooking, and their goal is still to serve you an honest plate of food.
Normally, I like my food photos in fancy full color, and when I first cracked this book open, I was a little surprised to see plain black and white snapshots. But as I read on, it seemed more and more appropriate that these images weren’t all gussied up and taken by a professional food stylist. Because that’s not what this book is about. It’s about picking up a roast beef poboy and having the juice run down both wrists, but committing to not putting the sandwich down. It’s not pretty, but it is worth it. It’s about trusting that locals are the experts and trusting that heading to any of these places is a safe bet.
The book is a love letter to all the diners out there that have devoted regulars but are still excited to serve a new face. They may not get recognition in major publications or visits from Fieri (God forbid), but Cook shines his spotlight on them. Everybody who lives in Louisiana and loves food (so everyone who lives in Louisiana) should grab a copy of “Seat Yourself.”
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna try to get in touch with Alex and see if he wants to grab a biscuit from Frank’s.