South LA, MS & AL – all on a weekend trip

July 5, 2012 · 0 comments

in Best Road Trips

Greetings again friends, this is Bill Taylor writing about a road trip we enjoyed. This is a trip the AmericaRoadTrip gang of two loves to take. Drop us off anywhere from the Florida panhandle to the Neches River in east Texas, and we  are in familiar territory. South Louisiana, South Mississippi and South Alabama are as familiar to us as a path to the outhouse. I was born and reared in south MS, and our family lived here for 36 years until Katrina finally convinced me to throw in the towel. From Naples, FL to Brownsville, TX the Gulf Coast changes each 100 miles or so and never ceases to please even old-timers like me. Each section of the Gulf of Mexico yields its peculiar specie and flavor of fish, shrimp and oysters. The people here are of as divergent varieties as the seafood.

On a good Road Trip … the drive is half the fun!

As you drive south on I-55, just driving up miles and dialing up smiles, about three miles south of Hammond, LA, you enter a piece of the world unlike any other. The highway elevates and water appears on both sides of the road. You are driving on a dual span four lane highway, water is between, and on both sides of each span of road. These are the lowlands of south Louisiana. Swamp critters like alligator, snakes, turtles, Nutria, and folks like that crazy Turtle Man character from the History Channel who hunts critters for a thrill, a pastime and money; so they can buy boats, bullets and beer; so they can do it again, those are the only things that can thrive in this beautiful watery garden.

The scene doesn’t change much for 30 miles. There are 23 miles of this along I-55. As you turn east toward New Orleans, LA there are seven more miles. I love it! On a hot day you can gaze into the water and see half sunken logs, there may be 100 turtles lined up on each log, soaking up sun. Wherever there is enough land to build a one lane road, you see fishing or hunting camps. Some camps are only accessible by boat. Where a sure enough island appears, a small town like Manchac or Laplace appears.

God created this watery Eden with the slow movement of the Mississippi River through the low, flat lands. When the river arrives in south Louisiana it slows its forward pace into neutral. It seems to lose all its energy and becomes content to sprawl in all directions and only move in stride with the fun loving local Acadians who smile and say “Laissez les bons temps rouler,” or in english, “Let the good times roll.”

New Orleans is fun to visit in any season

le Pavillon Hotel New Orleans, LA

We had a room waiting at the LePavillon Hotel on Poydras St. in New Orleans for the night and wanted to check in before dark. The LePaviollon is ranked as one of the world’s best hotels. It is located down Poydras Street about 5 blocks from the Super Dome. Anywhere in New Orleans, LA is near some point of interest and some really good food. A few blocks away, on Poydras, is the famous “Mother’s” cafe. Great sandwiches, soups, gumbo etc. Eating at Mother’s is mandatory, at least once.

We hit rush hour traffic near New Orleans International Airport. Things slowed down dramatically. Driving through traffic could take an hour to reach the hotel, so we decided to get off the road, eat supper and drive after the rush.

We ate at Drago’s Seafood Restaurant  3232 N Arnoult Ave in Metairie, LA. It was close to our location on I-10. Drago’s is an all around good seafood restaurant, which has a specialty. My friend Dr Jim Dukes told me about this place. They grill oysters in the half-shell! This has been done  before, but these guys refined the art of cooking oysters. I’ve heard they sell over two thousand dozen oysters per week. Five men were busily opening oysters. Each had a large pile of shells before them … it was only 5 PM. The grilled oysters were so good we ordered a fried shrimp and oyster platter. Man alive, that is some good seafood. Drago’s has multiple locations. I suggest you look them up and enjoy an unusually good dining experience.

We have been to NOLA (New Orleans, LA), so many times we have almost worn a path through favorite spots. We park on Decatur St and walk through New Orlean’s famous French Quarter. We stop at the Cafe Du Monde for French Roast coffee and Beignets (French Donuts). The atmosphere is loud, but controlled. Everyone is having a good time. Street musicians play on the sidewalk, just outside the cafe.

New Orleans is a people–watcher’s paradise.

Mercedes Benz Superdome

We walked up one side of Decatur St and back down the other. When we got back to Jackson Square we turned north to Royal Street. Royal is a high traffic area, but is quieter than Decatur or Bourbon street. Small shops (not all are open at night)  line both sides of Royal, they don’t sell curios, the shops are art galleries, antique stores and a grocer. We heard two of the most fascinating street musicians imaginable. One was an oriental girl playing the violin. The other was a dark skinned girl, perhaps an islander, playing an acoustic guitar. I guarantee you, this wasn’t the first time these young ladies played together. The movement of their music was perfectly timed and artistically performed. They easily went from classical to jazz pieces without missing a beat. A large crowd stood about, threw money into their open instrument case, and clapped and cheered.

Saturday morning in New Orleans, LA

le Madeleine Country French Cafe

There’s more good places to eat in NOLA than any US city. Bring your pocketbook if you want to ‘eat-high’ every meal. But there are plenty of places where great food is inexpensive. Some breakfasts can cost a couple $50 or more. If that’s OK with you, go for it you won’t be disappointed. You sure get what you pay for. They call New Orleans “The city that care forgot,” that may be true, but it is surely that the city the gods of food focus on.

Street Cars on St Charles Ave

We drove out picturesque Saint Charles Avenue, to Carrollton Ave, and ate at a favorite bakery-deli restaurant called la Madeline Country French Cafe. This chain restaurant was once in the French Quarter on Jackson Square, but the neighborhood setting of the Garden District is a better fit for its food style. They make great salads, soups, sandwiches, quiches, desserts, cookies, muffins, breads … I’d better stop ’cause I can’t quote the menu. We have never ordered anything that wasn’t a treat. Most of the food is prepared with french cooking accents. I think you’ll love it. Try the “Croque Monsieur” with a soup or salad. It is a classic french twist on the ham and cheese sandwich, made with tender ham, warm Swiss cheese and savory garlic cream sauce.

It’s a short drive to the Mississippi Gulf Coast

I spent most of my life on the MS Gulf Coast. It is always good to be here, eat in some favorite restaurants like the White Cap Restaurant, on the beach in Gulfport, MS. It was a beautiful sunny day. Bay St Louis was holding its annual Crab Festival on the St Stanislaus High School grounds. There were lots of rides and loads of good seafood.

Miss Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo

Long Beach, my hometown, is host to Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo.  Until Hurricane Katrina this event was held in Gulfport, but the harbor there was so decimated by the storm, the Rodeo was moved. 2012 marks 64 years of continuous operation for The World’s Largest Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo.

We had an agenda on this trip. My old friend, Howard Rutland, owner of and singer in the Bibletones Quartet, was holding his Fortieth Annual Bibletones Homecoming Concert on Saturday night in Gulfport, MS. The quartet members are friends of ours and we fear, this  could be their final annual celebration. They aren’t quitting, but they’re gearing down. The featured group was The Florida Boys Quartet, from Pensacola, FL. These fellows basically came out of retirement, to join Howard in this concert.

Each group has lost a tad from their stellar, energetic youthful performance, but we enjoyed hearing them, visiting and telling some tall tales with them. I’m glad I was able to be there for what could be an historic occasion.

Bond Baptist Church in Stone County Mississippi 50th Anniversary Celebration

I was pastor of Bond Baptist Church, north of Wiggins, MS, from 1970 through 1975. My family was young, our youngest son was born while we were here. The church was only 8 years old when we began our ministry there. The loving relationships which we enjoyed while we ministered there, have continued through the years and the members seem more like family than friends.

Since we left, the church has had numerous wonderful men to serve as their pastor. Rev John Beuler, the pastor now, is doing an excellent job. The church is expanding their parking area in anticipation of building a larger, better auditorium.

DeanNash Baptist Children’s Home

Across the road from Bond Baptist Church, is the extant home of “Dizzy” Dean of baseball stardom and broadcasting fame. “Dizzy” and his wife Patricia, left the home to the Baptist Children’s Village and it now serves as the Deanash Campus of the Mississippi Baptist’s Children’s Village.

Both Dizzy and Pat died while I was pastor of Bond and I was privileged to conduct their funeral services. Quotes from my sermon were carried in Reader’s Digest. Dizzy and Pat were genuinely nice, honest and forthright people. What you saw … that’s what they were.

South Alabama always cheers me up. 

When we lived in south MS, we discovered the delicious produce of Baldwin County, Alabama to be some of the best. As onions taste sweeter in Vidalia, GA, the corn is sweeter and more flavorful from Baldwin County, AL.

We stayed in Daphne, AL at the Best Western Motel. It is the second time we stayed in this motel. This is a 3 1/2 star hotel. The room was comfortable, though not spacious. It has a refrigerator, microwave, coffee pot, a 42 inch flat screen TV and a complimentary continental breakfast is served near the lobby from six till nine am. The rate is reasonable for this area.

Drive 7 miles east of Daphne, AL, on I-10 you reach Alabama Hwy 59. Turn south on this famous parkway to reach the beaches of Gulf Shores, and Orange Beach. The road passes through several towns.

Piles of Produce @ Burris Market

The little town of Loxley, AL is home to the  Burris Farm Market. Burris’ has been in business since 1953. It is easy to spot, there are gobs of cars around this place. They specialize in produce grown in the area. If you enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, you can’t go wrong here. They also sell produce in bulk. We plan our early summertime trips so we don’t have to go ‘out-of-the-way’ to be here when the corn comes in.

We bought our annual supply of two bushels of Silver King Corn. We couldn’t get away without some fresh peaches, vine ripe tomatoes and some stuff to snack on while we drove home. It is a five hour drive to our house when we leave Loxley, we have to keep the corn in the back seat. If you do this, just carry some plastic along and cover the seats and floors to prevent any stains. Keep the car cool to prevent the corn from “going through a heat.” It is about 300 miles from Loxley, AL, to Ackerman, MS. You see lots of pretty countryside traveling up US 45, which is a 4 lanes divided highway after you leave Alabama into MS. Mississippi has the best highways in the south.

Farm Fresh Corn

We were back to our home base about dark-thirty it is always good to be back home. The whole family helped out. We shucked and silked the corn that night and Tuesday, Charlotte put it in the freezer. She has a simple method for keeping corn fresh and on the cob. I’m sure she’d be happy to share it if anyone wants to ask her how. We kept out about a dozen ears and she cooked that for supper. We’re gonna have a family get together on the 4th of July and some of this corn on the cob will no doubt be a hit.

On this is the fourth of July weekend I salute the men who bought freedom with their lives and blood. God bless America!

We are pulling over for a while, but you keep on rolling up miles and dialing up smiles.

Until next time,

Bill Taylor

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