Posted by: justnaturallyme | March 11, 2011

Louisiana’s Other Side


The Mardi Gras Media Tour began after disembarking in Shreveport. Pat Gill and Chris Jay representing Shreveport/Bossier met us and promptly took us to a late lunch at Crawdaddy’s Kitchen. Boy, what a blast of old Louisiana. The place was reminiscent of the most local-style Louisiana bayou eatery you have ever seen in those old movies. It was so real, I would not have been at all surprised if someone brought a alligator in to join us. The food was real and most of it was crawfish. You can’t get “real” crawfish very often in Florida. (or I suspect anywhere else except Louisiana) So I was in Hog Heaven. I tried several different items from the menu and all registered high on my Tasty Meter. In case any of you don’t know it I am originally from Louisiana and the food is still one thing I miss. Florida has a lot of good things but Louisiana wins on the food side.

Our wine tasting at On Cloud Wine

After good eats comes good drinks. That’s a Shreveport/Bossier rule I came to find out. Our next stop was a wine tasting at a neat little winery called On Cloud Wine.  This “cute as a button”  new winery is using grapes from elsewhere while waiting their first  Muscatine harvest. Owner/winemaker Debbie Keckler prepares all the vintages onsite in small batches. Currently there are 14 vintages and we got to sample most of them.  Penelope Peach and Bourbon St. Jazz competed for number one spot on my personal favorites list.

The shop has hundreds of adorable wine accessories for sale. For instance did you know a coozie for your wine is a woozie.  I learn something new every time I travel.

Then we checked in at our home away from home for three whole nights, The Courtyard by Marriott. Ah, the bliss of not packing up each night for a new nest! To add to the pleasure the rooms were super modern, bright and airy with all you could ask from a hotel. The staff was super friendly as well.

Artist, Scott Hove poses with one of his sculptures

Before dinner we had time to check out a new art venue just opening, The Cakeland Exhibits. Food that looked like art and art that looked like food. We got to meet the talented Scott Hove who created the exciting “look but don’t taste” art. There was a “Let Them Eat Cake” sculpture designed and decorated by Shreveport’s own Tanya Clark that tasted as good as it looked. Lots of other appetizers there so we would not get hungry on the way to dinner.

One of the floats being loaded

One more fantastic stop before we dined. We visited the Krewe of Centaur’s float loading party. This is a free family-fun event open to everyone that is held the night before the parade. It’s literally  “Hail hail, the gang’s all here.” The krewe are all busy hanging tons of beads and mountains of other throws, eating and drinking and getting ready for the parade. The townspeople are all wandering around among the floats taking pictures, begging beads–which are readily tossed–and eating and drinking and gearing up to see the parade tomorrow.

That's a really talented kid!

Dinner was at Bistro Byronz. The food was so varied that was sure to be something to please any palate. I was in the mood for down-home-soul food so I ordered the Pot Roast Creole. It was hot spicy and delicious. Music was in the air at Bistro Byrone too. The band consisted of a back-up guitar player and a soon to be singer/guitar player. This pint-sized wonder had just turned thirteen but had a really big voice. He is sure to go somewhere in the music field.

We also met someone who had already gone many places in the music world, Maggie Warwick. There will be more about Maggie a little later in this blog.

Making a king cake at Julie Anne's

Saturday morning we headed for Julia Anne’s Bakery and Café for a lesson in the art of making King Cakes. We all got to crowd into the kitchen in the small bakery that makes and ships king cakes anywhere in the world. It was so much fun to watch as the colorful cakes were created, each with a tiny plastic baby inside. The only part that was more fun than watching was eating the tasty concoctions. (There is going to be a lot more about the king cake tradition and the entire Shreveport/Bossier Mardi Gras celebration in the Spring 2011 issue of which should be online about the first week in April)

One of the many costumes on display

Next we got more into the Mardi Gras spirit at the Krewe of Gemini’s Mardi Gras Museum. Director Mary Louise Stansell proudly told us the stories behind the displays of elaborate costumes worn by the Gemini royalty for over a decade. Each costume is individually crafted of the finest materials in the most elaborate designs, worked on by craftspeople for months at great expense, and then worn only for that year’s parade and activities. The only comparison I can think of for these one of a kind treasures would be the coronation costumes of European royalty.

We learned the history of Gemini and other krewes. One interesting  fact for visitors is that you can be a member and take part in a parade for a very reasonable fee. We even got to try on one of the collars on display. 

Making our masks

Next stop took us to Barnwell Gardens and Art Center located on the banks of the Red River. From its plaza you can see the skylines of Shreveport and Bossier City and the famous neon-lighted Texas Street Bridge. We viewed their Mardi Gras display where we saw memorabilia and costumes from other krewes. Then we got to create our very own Mardi Gras masks.

The “Garden” part of the center is a domed tropical conservatory with a special fragrance garden for the visually impaired.

The Muffie

Lunch was a special treat. We visited Fertitta’s Delicatessen, home of  the “Muffie.” In case you have never heard of a Muffie, it is a close cousin to the famous New Orleans Muffelletta a huge structure composed of a loaf of round bread, countless meats and topped with a Greek salad. Fertitta’s differs in that the Greek salad in is Papa Fertitta’s special  Olive Mix, the recipe to which is a closely guarded family secret.

Papa , the inventor of the Muffie, was Sam R. Fertitta.  the current owner, Agatha Ferititta McCall, his daughter, carries on the family traditions: like continuing to make the world famous Muffie and continuing to live above the deli as her parents did. The building itself deserves respect as it was built in 1927 and has never been out of the hands of the original family. It is one of only a few restaurants in the state of Louisiana on the National Register of Historic Places.

Besides, it tastes darn good. As is the pizza. And the other sandwiches and I suspect everything that comes out of Agatha Fertitta’s kitchen. The decor is authentic as well filled with family mementoes, early signs and photographs of Papa.

Everything is bowling related here

Well fed and filled with Agatha’s family stories, we headed towards the Red River with a quick  stop at Holiday Lanes. It’s a bowling alley with a twist. The bar and almost everything in it is made from things in a bowling alley. The bar itself is made from the wood from an actual bowling lane.  And to make it family friendly, the bowling alley is smoke free.

As we were driving around, we did get chance to spot some of Bossier Citty’s murals. These are really huge works of art that depict events in the city’s history and culture.

Interesting old wreck on the bank

The parade was scheduled to proceed along Clyde Fant Parkway along the riverfront . We had time for a informative cruise down the river aboard Captain Sandy Jackson’s river cruiser. We journeyed into Cross Bayou and got a  crash course in river lore from our friendly captain.

Back on land again we were ushered into the celebrity tent for a pre-parade party. Out ticket gave us two passes for the overflowing buffet.  In case you haven’t figured it out our hosts, Chris and Pat, wanted to make sure none of us got hungry. (As if we hadn’t had enough Muffles to feed an army and knew there was a feast awaiting at supper) But who can pass good Louisiana food, Not any of us that’s for sure. We all bellied up to that buffet line like a thirsty man in a bar.

My brush with royalty

The music was hot zydeco numbers like “Don’t Mess With My Toot Toot” and “Jolie Blon” It got your toes tapping and your mouth humming along. Then we were honored by a visit from royalty. the King and Queen of Centaur stopped by for a few photo opps.

Then it was what we were all waiting for, the Centaur Parade. I found a wonderful spot on a crawfish wagon pulled by a pickup. The owners were kind enough to let me hang out with them and watch the parade. I sampled a few of the crawfish naturally. They were perfect, just the fight seasoning. I told one of the owners of an experience I had at a restaurant in Florida where the “chef” mingled a few real Louisiana Crawfish with some Chinese crawfish and passed the dish off as “Louisiana Crawfish.”

Steaming crawfish are hard to beat

The wagon owner stated that was something that was being done a lot and made him very mad. “They pay for some real crawfish and then buy a bunch of the other stuff at about half the price and pass them off as Louisiana Crawfish.”

My opinion is that restaurants that stoop to this should at least be honest and call their dish “Half Louisianan Crawfish Mixed With Cheap Stuff.” I doubt it would get much call for the dish if they were that honest sooo….

One of the colorful floats

We enjoyed about 40 or so floats and marching bands before we left just before the end to beat the crowd. I left with more than my share of beads even though I had spent more time taking pictures than yelling “Throw me something, Mister.”

After a short stop back at the hotel to change we went to dinner at Wine Country Bistro and Bottle Shop. The menu had many exotic elements and is a good choice for the adventurous diner. They offer a quaint dimly lit rear dining room where we dined, spacious patio for al fresco dining or an upbeat bistro/ wine bar.

Back at our hotel, I managed to stay on my feet long enough to go take a few pictures of the carrousel just outside the hotel, the Texas Street Bridge and the night skyline across the river. The hotel is strategically located in a wonderful outlet mall but I lacked the energy at this point to explore. That wonderfully comfortable bed was calling my name.

We got to sleep late. Yah! Brunch was at the Colombia Café located in the Highland section of the city. Owner Mathew Linn entertained us with tales of the Highland Neighborhood which even had its own parade. The omelet adorned with fresh fruit was incredible but the most unique feature of the restaurant is the bathroom! Yes. The bathroom. A picture is worth a thousand words so see for yourself.

I told you

you wouldn't believe it


Our next stop was very special to me.


It was like a dream of Hillbilly Heaven. I was walking in the footsteps of Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Sr., Johnny Cash and many of the other Country Music greats.  I was getting a backstage tour of the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium, former home of the Louisiana Hayride. The person reveling this wonderland of one of country music’s greatest shrines, was none other than Maggie Warwick. ( I told you we would get back to her)

When Maggie, then Margaret Lewis, first sought her slice of the country music pie in 1957 at the tender age of fifteen, she could have no idea that her career was to intertwine with most of the greats of country music.  The Louisiana Hayride at that time was an outlaw version of the Grand Ole Opry. It was the proving ground where many a young hopeful took his or her best shot at fame.  

Maggie tells about the Hayride backstage

For Maggie, the Hayride was where it all began. She met the greats of Country music there and moved on to a successful career as a singer/songwriter in Nashville.

Maggie made it all come alive for us with her stories. We stepped into the dressing room Elvis used. We stood on stage and experienced the magic of the old building. Maggie’s husband, Alton, pointed out a “no smoking” sign backstage. He explained that in the 50s, the sign was not prompted by health concerns as by the danger of fire. Of course, he said, all the entertainers mostly ignored the sign.

The building itself would deserve a visit just for the architecture even without the history. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of only two National Historic Landmark in the Shreveport/Bossier area. Naturally it has a entire range of resident ghosts.

Great for "kids" of all ages

This was one place I would have loved to continue exploring all day and into the night but there was more to see. The Sci-Port is a 92,000 square-foot science and entertainment center in Shreveport-Bossier, featuring over 290 science, space science, technology and math exhibits; daily changing programs, an IMAX Dome Theatre, open-access, interactive, laser Space Dome Planetarium, gift shop and cafe. Sci-Port is located on the downtown Shreveport Riverfront.

It is wonderful for kids but also can hold an adult’s interest. The Hubble Exhibit there is fascinating. Naturally, Chris and Pat didn’t want any of us to faint from hunger so they got us all a “Humphrey Yogart.” OMG!!! Those things are delicious! I can tell you what is in them: Yogurt topped with three fresh fruits, granola, and honey. I can’t even come close to describing the taste. You just have to go there and try one. The concession there is run  by Counter Culture so you may find one elsewhere but do find one. Soon.

Meadows Art Museum

Next we visited the Meadows Museum of Art, a branch of Centenary College of Louisiana The museum houses a large collections of works by Jean Despujols. A traveling exhibit, Visions and Visionaries, Works by David Holcombe was a bonus.

Now after leaving here, several members of our “krewe” threatened to mutiny if Chris didn’t take us for some drive-through daiquiri’s, Ever the gracious host, he complied. We got to sample drinks like “Pink Panties,”  “Motel Bound” and “Pimp Juice.” They were frozen and tasty.  Chris assured us the neighborhood was in sync with the drinks. We did not tarry at the stand.

The Pink Poodle

Our next treat was the whimsical Krewe of Barkus and Meoux Mardi Paws Parade. Mainly dogs, but some horses, cats and bunnies, in costume were the cutest thing ever. The humans threw beads. The pets simply marched on and stopped for regular petting sessions along the route. My personal favorite was a little pink poodle.

Last stop before heading to our home away from home, the Marriott, was the Robinson Film Center.  This is north Louisiana’s only venue for independent, international, and classic cinema. The theater has two theaters and three multi-use  showrooms where films can be shown or other events hosted. There is Abby Singer’s Bistro for dining before or after a film.

The entertainers for Oscar Night Party

As we were leaving we met a group of “characters” including Opra, Lady GaGa and Rooster Cogburn, who were entertaining at the Oscar Night Party being held there later.

Our farewell dinner that night was at Chianti’s Restaurant. Great Italian food. Very sophisticated and upscale.  My Lobster Alfredo was wonderful.

Next morning it was back home again. But the experience will stay with us all and, I am sure it will draw me back to Shreveport/ Bossier again. Louisiana’s Other Side is a very interesting side.

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