SOUNDTRACK: Southern Louisiana

The best music will evoke the most cinematic qualities from any landscape. The musical gumbo of southern Louisiana is infused with a variety of cultures, including French, Spanish, English, and Afro-Caribbean, to name just a few. Rock and roll, jazz, zydeco, New Orleans rhythm and blues – each speaks to the syncopated rhythm of life in a particular time and place.

And so it was that, still haunted by the first season of the HBO series TRUE DETECTIVE, we fled the Crescent City for the swamplands of Iberia Parish, the brassy strut of urban jazz soon yielding to dusty folk rhythms and the lonesome twang of a blues guitar…

The New Orleans Bingo! Show – “New Orleans”


Huey “Piano” Smith & His Clowns – “Little Chickee Wah Wah”


Ernie K-Doe – “T’aint It the Truth”


Earl King – “Those Lonely, Lonely Nights”


Ike & Tina Turner – “Too Many Tears in My Eyes”


The Handsome Family – “Far From Any Road”


Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks – “Southern Love”


Brian Tyler – “The King’s Highway” (BUBBA HO-TEP soundtrack)


Trailer Bride – “Porch Song”


Luna – “Bonnie & Clyde” (Serge Gainsbourg cover)


John Lee Hooker – “Unfriendly Woman”


Jo-El Sonnier – “Evangeline Special”


Boozoo Chavis – “Paper in My Shoe”


James McMurtry – “Hurricane Party”


Ray Wylie Hubbard – “Snake Farm”


The Rock*A*Teens – “Never Really Had It”


Kris Kristofferson – “Casey’s Last Ride”


Dr. C.J. Johnson – “You Better Run to the City of Refuge”


Gary U.S. Bonds – “New Orleans”



Best Meals: Louisiana Smells like Rain and Tastes Like Potatoes

Louisiana offered up multiple variations of two of the things I like best: potatoes and spicy food. The start of the trip was a work conference and the banquet and luncheon meals were everything I’ve come to expect as a vegan who cannot eat wheat. Apparently, this translates to, “OMG, she has no tastebuds, let’s give her the lukewarm roasted sawdust special!” Thankfully the rest of the trip did not seek to deaden my senses.


Soufflé potatoes at Hermes Bar
Soufflé potatoes at Hermes Bar

At Hermes Bar, a local friend introduced me to soufflé potatoes and a new friend introduced me to Chartreuse. Chartreuse is both powerful and beautiful and the only color to be named after a drink. As for the soufflé potatoes, my friend inquired of our lovely, southern gentleman waiter as to the vegan status of the dish before we ordered:

Friend: Excuse me, where are the soufflé potatoes prepared?
Waiter: Why, in the kitchen, of course.*

It was the perfect answer. Upon further clarification, we learned that Hermes cooks them in peanut oil alone. Soufflé potatoes are sublime puffed potato pillows and three plates were devoured in a matter of minutes.

*May not be exactly verbatim, I had already had a Pimm’s Cup and a chartreuse.

In search of a decent dinner after a conference lunch of leaves and flavorless root vegetables, we found ourselves at 13 Bar and Restaurant. Their signature dishes include “tachos.” What are tachos you ask? They are the genius idea of tater tot nachos. They are served with or without cheese, vegan chili, jalapenos, and salsa. The red beans and rice was also vegan.


3 Potato 4
3 Potato 4

On our way out of New Orleans we stopped at 3 Potato 4, which I had read about online prior to the trip. All vegan, gluten-free, and devoted to potatoes. This was close to a religious experience. The menu offers three kinds of baked French fries and a bunch of all-vegan sauces. I tried the Garlic Ketchup, Garlic Pepper Mayo, and Wasabi Ginger Mayo, as well as the vegetable soup. I would have had some coconut ice cream had I not snarfed up all of my fries and some of Patrick’s. Highly recommended.


Cottage on the Bayou Teche
Cottage on the Bayou Teche

We bought a few supplies at Whole Foods in Metairie before we drove out to southwest Louisiana. Among the items was a jalapeno-cilantro nut-based pesto. Damn, that was good. We had dinner and listened to the sounds of live oaks swaying and birds going to bed. While no potatoes were directly involved in the pasta, I was noshing on Earth Balance Cheddar Kettle Chips and Patrick had Haunted Ghost Pepper Tortilla Chips that made him cry.


Singapore Slings at Thai Cuisine
Singapore Slings at Thai Cuisine

We drove 45 minutes in rush hour in the pouring rain and arrived at a most underwhelming strip mall in Lafayette, LA housing our destination: Thai Cuisine. I had found the place online and once we asked for the vegetarian menu we were set. The Singapore slings were perfect. The lemongrass soup was among the best I have ever had. They really know how to add heat without losing flavor. I know you are thinking, “Where are the potatoes???” Fear not, the garlic tofu came with several roasted potatoes that were cooked to perfection. The garlic tofu was somehow both moist and crispy. It was so good we went back the next day for lunch.

The Abita Mystery House

Abita Mystery House
Abita Mystery House – click for larger image

If, in the world of outsider art, Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) represents the hip urban neighborhood  where Chihuahuas sip their own six-dollar lattes, Louisiana’s Abita Mystery House is the somewhat sketchy part of town that still draws local creative-types for its cheap rents and lack of pretense.

Abita Mystery House
Abita Mystery House – click for larger image

Don’t get me wrong – I love AVAM; it’s a truly unique space in the art museum world that celebrates untrained artists whose work is generally born of very personal and singular obsessions, and a must-see for anyone visiting Baltimore.

But I can’t help saying it: in presentation and form, the Abita Mystery House is better than AVAM.

Abita Mystery House - click for larger image
Abita Mystery House – click for larger image

Situated in the hamlet of Abita Springs, a few miles north of Lake Pontchartrain and about a 45-minute ride from New Orleans, the Mystery House is a rough-hewn, meandering compound of buildings that include a century-old Creole cottage and vintage filling station, all packed with (and covered in) the work of local artist John Preble, utilizing recycled ephemera and cultural detritus drawn from just about every facet of modern existence. Road signs. Circuit

Abita Mystery House
Abita Mystery House – click for larger image

boards. An Airstream trailer. Here, visitors will also find the likes of a Feejee Mermaid; a two-player piano; a 32-foot alligator; a crashed flying saucer; and sundry animated miniature scenes, including one that depicts a New Orleans jazz funeral. (TIP: Bring quarters for the fortune-telling and souvenir-token machines.)

Abita Mystery House
Abita Mystery House – click for larger image

Yet, for all of this strangeness, there is certain sincerity evident in everything on display; nothing feels like it’s trying too hard – not too shiny, not too “forced”. Even Preble himself is not the overtly misanthropic and slightly deranged hermit one might expect to find behind the curtain, but rather a genuine, quite affable fellow as quick to strike up friendly conversation with visitors as hand them a leech (really).

Abita Mystery House
Abita Mystery House – click for larger image

And the gift shop is no less engrossing than the museum itself, stocked with everything from very cool screen-printed AMH t-shirts to reasonably priced matted prints of Preble’s incredibly detailed woodcuts depicting various animals (including a nutria); select quotes (“If there were no bad people, there would be no good lawyers.” – Charles Dickens); and blues legends like Slim Harpo and Bessie Smith.

Abita Mystery House
Abita Mystery House – click for larger image

Indeed, the Abita Mystery House is a lens through which visitors may vicariously view the world as seen by a most unique and talented artist, exemplifying wonderfully bizarre Americana in the tradition of such obsession-built roadside attractions as Rock City and Coral Castle. Like those places, AMH offers visitors an experience that will long outlive any chain restaurant meal or mass-produced trinket.


Abita Mystery House / UCM Museum
Address: 22275 Hwy 36, Abita Springs, LA 70420
Phone: 985-892-2624
Hours:  10 a.m. – 5 p.m. 7 days a week
Admission: $3

"Have your next wedding here"
“Have your next wedding here”

Welcome to Next Exit Travel!

Welcome to Next Exit Travel! If this is your first visit, you should know upfront that we are not a comprehensive travel site. Rather, we’re here to share the spots that other travel guides might miss or simple tips we’ve learned after decades of both broke and company-funded travel. We are very much about experiential travel. For example, did you know that you can sleep on a boat in Boston Harbor for about a 1/3 of what other area hotels cost? Or that Portland has a Passport for boozing? Or that some of the best snorkeling spots can be found just off shore? We go out of our way to go out of the way.

After almost 15 years of traveling together and for work, and writing about many of those travels independently, we decided it was time to finally launch this joint effort. You can go to the about page to read more about your travel curators.

For the first installments, we’ll share what we saw and experienced in Louisiana. As with many of the trips we will write about, this one started as a work trip and morphed into a short vacation. We tend to milk our waking hours for all that they are worth and often need a vacation from our vacations.

Thank you for joining us for the trip,


Culture, Nature, and the Strange