While I have always advised my brilliant and talented daughter, Katie Walsh, to find something better to do, I have been secretly delighted at her progress as a food writer. Amazingly, she has lately put together enough freelance work to make a living at it. After watching her diligently photograph nearly everything we ate on a recent road trip for her blog on the Whisked Foodie website, I asked her to do a guest blog about the trip here.
Katie, and her sister Julia Walsh are in their early twenties. I was so broke during my early years as a freelance food writer that when Katie and Julia were young, our family vacations were mostly car trips to visit relatives. The kids were greatly amused when I would sometimes do a cooking lesson for my relatives’ friends and neighbors and autograph cookbooks I brought along. They thought I was a celebrity; I did it for the gas money. And while we skimped on hotels, a Walsh family road trip always involved lots of good eating.
The children of my second marriage, Ava and Joe Walsh are being indoctrinated into the road eating routine by their older sisters. Here’s Katie’s story:
by Katie Walsh
The Walshes recently returned from a road trip to Tyrone, Georgia for a family wedding, which was of course rife with good times and good eats. My sister Julia and I have been road tripping with Dad since we were tots, so this time was especially cool, being able to welcome our siblings Ava (6) and Joey (4) into the tradition.
We took I-10 from Houston to Mobile before turning north toward Atlanta. The Gulf coast portion of this route is one that Julia and I hold near and dear, after having done it countless times to go see our Nana in Florida. But it was new to the wee ones, which made it really fun and exciting to share.
Our first stop was in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, for boudin at the legendary meat market Poche’s. Here’s Julia teaching Ava and Joey how to squeeze the filling from a hot crawfish link.
Poche’s holds a special place in my heart. I ate my first taste of boudin on their little covered porch, and now there we were again, at the same picnic bench, while Ava and Joe got their first taste. They took it very seriously.
In years past, we’ve made a number of stops between Houston and Breaux Bridge. Right before you leave Texas is Rao’s Bakery in Beaumont, which is famous for King Cake, but which also makes damn good spicy sausage kolaches. Dad and I grabbed some a couple of years back, on a road trip to the Southern Foodways Symposium in Oxford, Miss.
That same year, we tried a couple of funky donut shops in Lake Charles, Louisiana that serve fusion kolaches filled with crawfish, shrimp and even pork boudin. If you’re in the area, check out Delicious Donuts and Happy Donut—they ain’t your fluffy sweet Texas kolaches. They even have unique spellings (“kalotchies” and “kolachees,” respectively) to denote the difference.
Truth be told, kolaches are kind of a Walsh road trip staple. On Highway 71 between Houston and Austin (where Julia and I live) we always stop at Weikels Bakery, which stuffs theirs with cheese, kraut, and sausage (along with all the good sweet flavors) or the newly remodeled Hruska’s. On I-35 to Dallas, where our Uncle Gordon lives, is another favorite, Czech Stop.
But this time we skipped right over all the kolaches and went for boudin. We usually stop over in Scott, either at Don’s Specialty Meats or at Best Stop—or both. Unfortunately, that particular exit off of the highway is kind of a mindf*ck. It’s like this weird loop-de-loop that you have to navigate just the right way, or else you end up back on the highway.
Which is exactly what happened on this trip, much to all of our hungry chagrin. But no matter, Poche’s was only a little ways farther, and worth the wait. Along with the boudin, we got a few sweet dough pies, a handful of cracklins and some old fashioned ginger cake. They’ve got tons of other goodies, too.
Poche’s is wonderful in many ways, but they can’t touch Don’s cracklins, so we had to stop to get some on the way back. “Want some bacon?” my dad asked, offering Ava and Joe a crispy chunk. Just look at these things. Drool.
And then, of course, there’s New Orleans. Where do I begin? We’ve eaten at so many fantastic joints all over NoLa over the years, it’s sometimes hard to keep them all straight. Was that Antoine’s that serves those planks of fried eggplant with powdered sugar and Tabasco? “No, that’s Galatoire’s,” Dad reminds me. “Antoine’s is the one where we toured that old historic dining room and ate Oysters Rockefeller.”
For a long time, Mother’s was our favorite stop for po’boys and Julia’s favorite, red beans and rice. I loved sitting at the counter with an order of pecan waffles and listening to the line cooks clown on each other at The Camellia Grill. We once had a beautiful brunch in the Jazz Bistro at Arnaud’s, where Julia sang Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight” with the band.
A few of our favorites have come and gone. Uglisech’s was so good we’d stand in line forever to place our order at their walk-up counter—although they closed shop with Katrina, it looks like they’re still catering. There was also this funky neighborhood breakfast joint where we found cala cakes, but the name escapes me—it was also taken with the storm.
On that Oxford trip a couple years back, Dad and I met up with our dear friend and N’awlins expert Pableaux Johnson for dinner at Liuzza’s, a New Orleans Sicilian joint that’s been around since the ‘40s and serves Abita Amber in big frosted schooners.
This year, Pableaux joined us once again, this time at Parkway Bakery & Tavern for po’boys. I was totally wowed to find an entire section of vegetarian options like golden fried sweet potato and Caprese.
The kiddos shared a turkey po’boy with fries, which was pretty comical to watch, seeing as though the thing was bigger than their collective heads.
The next morning, they got their first taste of Café du Monde beignets and hot cocoa, which of course were a huge hit. And not just with the wee ones. Pass the café au lait.
We almost stopped for a second breakfast at Stanley, which Dad and I discovered on our last trip, but decided against it. It was a tough decision too, what with the cornmeal-crusted oyster Benedict and Bananas Foster french toast we remembered so well from last time.
And last but never least, the Central Grocery muffuletta. This sandwich and I have a very special relationship. It has played a starring role throughout key moments in my life: teaching me to wait, welcoming me to womanhood, getting me into college. This year was the first time we’d crossed paths since I gave up meat, so I enjoyed mine with thick slices of a hard-boiled egg that I found in the cooler and gave my salami and mortadella to Dad.
Which brings up an important point—Pops always goes out of the way to make sure we have plentiful stores on top of the tasty stops. Essential to any properly equipped road trip vehicle is one large cooler (cold drinks, milk and cheese, deli meats, condiments) and at least one dry box (bread/baked goods, chips and crackers, plasticware, napkins, salt and pepper, produce).
That cooler comes in handy. Aside from stowing our muffuletta for the road, it also doubled as transport for the fresh shrimp we scored on our pitstop in Ocean Springs, Miss. on the way back from Georgia.
Our first evening wandering around in Ocean Springs, Dad spotted some shrimpers at the docks and arranged to meet them early the next morning. We bought a couple pounds of their 16-22’s right off the boat, and set off to make a pot of gumbo—another longstanding road trip tradition.
My earliest memories of beach trips to Port Aransas and South Padre involve big pots of Dad’s gumbo, the leftovers of which we’d haul home in empty milk jugs. It was all sweet and special that this year, we made it together.
The owners of the place we were renting lent us a couple of crab traps to use in the bayou out back, and while Ava and Kelly and I took a girls’ day to wander around the town square, the boys caught a sweetwater crab back at home, which we enjoyed with our gumbo.
Sadly, the shrimp were a little soft and mealy, which Dad said is a sign that they weren’t super fresh. After dinner, he suggested throwing the rest of the pot into the bayou to try and catch a couple more crabs, but I wasn’t having that. I went home with my milk jug of gumbo.
Julia and I have road tripped with Dad not only along this route, but also westbound—to Big Bend for winter holidays and California for New Years—and northbound—up along the East coast into upstate New York, and through Oregon and Washington into Vancouver.
Needless to say, there have been many, many great food finds along many a mile—and I consider it a Walshly duty and honor to pass our wayfaring, grub-seeking ways along to the next generation. May they go forth with empty coolers and curious minds.