Our family has lived in Lake Charles for over 11 years now, but we had never spent much time in one of Louisiana’s premier destinations, the venerable Natchitoches, which lays claim to being the oldest city in the state. Oh, we had attended a couple of football games at the Northwestern State campus there, to see our son Paul play, but we had never toured the shops on the river. Today my wife Cheryl & I remedied that with a post-Christmas day trip to Natchitoches!
This seemed to be a perfect time to visit (today is Wednesday, December 28th) as virtually everything was open. There were plenty of people around, but it was not too crowded at all. There was free parking to be found right off ofFront Street, which is brick-paved and parallels the river. It is also flanked by a plethora of shops of various kinds. I had spent some time online last evening to make sure that there were some of the kinds of shops we were interested in: primarily antique stores and used bookstores. There seemed to be several of each, so away we went this morning to Natchitoches.
Once we had parked we began to make our way along the “main drag.” The first place that caught my eye was “Dickens & Company” – an antique and novelty store. The “novelty” there that attracted me most was a little package of dark chocolate-covered caramels, which were dusted with sea salt. I passed it by at first, but came back to get it before we left – after all, it’s a holiday! Wow, I did NOT regret it – those were some of the best candies I have ever had. And the sea salt was the perfect added touch. I nibbled on those for the next few minutes as we shopped. We were off to a good start!
Next was one of the sites I had discovered on the internet the night before, “The Book Merchant.” It is an upscale used bookstore, with some special interest sections on Louisiana history and cooking. It is also guarded at the entrance by “Sam” – a huge yellow cat, who was perched atop the newspaper stand just inside the door, and who allowed me to take his picture before we left!
“Cane River Kitchen” was right down Cheryl’s alley: a kitchen specialty shop. Immediately upon entering, guests are invited to sample some free coffees, which I did. I am not a regular coffee drinker (I always say I will begin enjoying coffee when I grow up;) but I sampled the egg nog coffee. I am not a connoisseur of such things, but I couldn’t really taste the egg nog; but it was fun to try regardless. The store itself had hundreds of unique gadgets which one doesn’t see every day, such as a “mango slicer” and an “asparagus peeler”. Bet you don’t have THOSE in your kitchen right now?!
The Kaffie-Frederick Inc. General Mercantile was definitely a highlight. Billed as “the oldest general store inLouisiana”, it was a fun place to browse through. One is greeted by an old-fashioned freezer filled with iced down Cokes, in little green bottles – and during this season the bottles even sported Santa as well! We bought a couple of those and sipped on them while we looked around. Like Cane River Kitchen, Kaffie-Frederick had plenty of wares you don’t see every day. One of my “favorites” was an olive spoon. I wondered what in the world would distinguish it particularly as an “olive spoon”?! Cheryl pointed out to me that the bowl of the spoon had drain holes in it, so the juice could run out while you picked up the olive. Ingenious — if you are going to be serving olives, that is!
Another big hit was Gifts Galore – a two-story crafts mall which was featured crafts as well as flea-market/antique-type stuff. The “big prize” was waiting there for us on the second floor: no less than FOUR deviled egg platters – just what Cheryl has been looking for! But which to buy? Turned out, she got two different ones – one for spring and one for fall. “Now we are set for egg platters”, she said contentedly as we exited. Boy, will I rest better now! ;-)
Having made our way through most of the stores along the riverfront, we went just behind the main drag to Lasyone’s, which was rated as a “can’t miss” eating spot, famous for its meat pies, for which Natchitoches is renowned. The shop had that kind of a quaint, “hole-in-the-wall” feel that made for a neat experience, and it features several of the Creole/Cajun foods that Louisiana is known for, such as red beans & rice, and of course, meat pies. Cheryl & I both got the meat pies, which were indeed very good; just the right amount of spice. I was a bit disappointed with the red beans & rice; they were pretty bland – more like something I would have expected from Oklahoma, not from zesty Louisiana. They were “ok” but not spectacular. Cheryl had the mashed potatoes, which one reviewer had raved about – but after tasting them she was fairly certain they came out of a box! (I guess a review is only as good as the source!) The corn fritters with honey were very good – I ate those both as an appetizer and then again for dessert.
We had hit most of the shops before lunch, but afterwards we did make our way across the river to Sam’s used bookstore, which occupied a former house, with every room filled with books. “Non-members” (those who did not trade in books) pay half of retail list price for volumes, which is a bit steep for used bookstores, but they did not really hold to that formula. Cheryl got several nice older books for $5 each. I got a 1000-page hardback biography of Charles Dickens by Peter Ackroyd (I read his bio of Shakespeare a couple of years ago and it was excellent) for $10. Carrying that huge volume out made me feel quite Dickensian!
After the trip to Sam’s, we were ready for the two-hour drive home, with several packages of “goodies” in the trunk. The “Day Trip To Natchitoches” was a success – if you have never been there, don’t wait 11 years to try it!