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Where Y'Eat: Stopping For Fuel, Staying For Flavor

Ian McNulty
Fried catfish and boiled shrimp, found in a kitchen under an Exxon sign on the Louisiana highway.

Scoring prized road food finds hiding behind big corporate logos on the Louisiana highway.

Food is always top of mind on any road trip, at least for me. After all, getting there may be half the fun, but getting there with some stops for good food… that is serious business.

I've been traveling a lot this summer, trekking to destinations that have been on my own bucket list for a while and revisiting some old favorites. Along the way, I’ve been reminded of how often the most memorable meals on the road can sneak up on you, even for all the web-enabled pre-trip planning we might put into an outing. 

The classic mode of this, of course, is the ramshackle joint or the homey, unassuming eatery that ends up serving killer meals. This is so classic, in fact, that plenty of chains now ape the idea, designing eateries from the ground up to look like they’re falling apart or at least have always been there. They’re meant to fool you, or maybe conjure a notion that isn’t real.  

Around Louisiana, though there’s another wrinkle to the road food find, and it’s much harder to fake. It happens when delicious, regionally-relevant food turns 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, and from a small, walk-up counter here I made a lunch from a zip-top sandwich bag filled with 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 in the parking lot like small watchtowers and, sitting on the ice freezer outside, a bin of squash that looked like they had just been pulled from someone’s kitchen garden, available here for impulse purchases after you’ve topped off the Chevy.

A different trip in a different parish brought the same experience, this time under the big red-white-and-blue of the Citgo brand at a gas station on a country highway not far on Opelousas and on the way to Ville Platte. The local store behind the multinational brand in this case is the Cajun Boudin Stop, promising this most prized of Cajun country road food. Peppery boudin 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 deli cases filled with off-cuts butchered for highly specific Cajun recipes.

A little predictability can be a comfort when we’re traveling, which is part of the hook for the big gas station brands staking the American highway. But local flavor has its own brand appeal, and this summer I’ve been reassured to taste how it persists along the Louisiana road.

Cajun Boudin Stop (at the Citgo station)

1691 Hwy. 167, Opelousas, 337-826-5951

Feliciana Seafood Market & Deli (at the Exxon station)

7555 Hwy. 61, St. Francisville, 225-635-4279

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.

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