I’ve been traveling a lot this summer in pursuit of our Down the Road daytrip series. Along the way, I’ve been reminded of how often the most memorable meal can sneak up on you.
The classic mode of this, of course, is the ramshackle joint or the homey, unassuming eatery that ends up serving killer meals. Another wrinkle, though, is the propensity for delicious, regionally-relevant food to turn up behind some of the biggest, most widely-marketed corporate brands in the world.
The latest example for me took the form of an Exxon station near St. Francisville’s circuit of plantation museums and bed and breakfasts. Cruise past at highway speed, and it looks like just another gas station with a convenience store attached. But this one doubles as Feliciana Seafood Market & Deli (7555 Hwy. 61, St. Francisville, 225-635-4279), and from its small, walk-up counter I made a lunch from a sandwich bag of boiled shrimp and a paper boat of thin, spicy, cornmeal-crusted catfish strips.
Beyond the big brands over the gas pumps, places like this tend to function like old-time general stores. So, in addition to the usual snack foods and cold drinks, the inventory here included bait crickets chirping in a screened box, deer hunting blinds arrayed like small watchtowers in the parking lot and, sitting on the ice freezer outside, a bin of squash that looked like they had just been pulled from someone’s kitchen garden.
A different trip in a different parish brought the same experience, with a big Citgo logo advertising gas prices along a country highway outside Opelousas and, attached to the store itself, the sign for the Cajun Boudin Stop (1691 Hwy. 167, Opelousas, 337-826-5951) promising this most prized of Cajun country road food. Peppery links waited by the cash register, beside homemade pies and brownies wrapped in wax paper. The aisles stretched on with cast iron skillets, child-sized shrimp boots and butcher cases filled with off-cuts and spice-soaked marinated meats.
A little predictability can be a comfort on the road, which is part of the hook of the big gas station brands. But local flavor has its own brand appeal, and it’s heartening to see how it persists along the Louisiana road.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.