Sponsored ad

Gas Station Eats in No Man’s Land

Louisiana’s new foodie trail.

Story by Cheré Coen

It’s a foodie’s dream job: Develop a culinary trail to promote a unique region in Louisiana and then spend days sampling the food specialties in each town.

Kelli M. West, marketing and communications director at Natchitoches Area Convention & Visitors Bureau in Natchitoches, La., had the pleasure of enjoying numerous lunches and desserts to create the Gas Station Eats trail of “No Man’s Land,” the region situated on the western corner of the state bordering Texas. The delicious job required culinary fortitude.

No Man's Land - Foodie Travel USA

Photo Credit: No Man’s Land

“We started out with three stops in each location, so it was fair and manageable,” says West. “We selected spots where people would want to go and the food is amazing.”

The seven parishes (counties) encompassing “No Man’s Land” were lawless during a period of Louisiana history when Spain and the United States couldn’t settle on a boundary after signing the Louisiana Purchase. No Man’s Land was just that. For a few years, this slice of western Louisiana belonged to neither country while politicians argued over borders, so it attracted renegades and pirates who enjoyed free rein without the presence of law.

Sponsored ad

Today, the region that stretches north from Lake Charles to almost Shreveport and includes Toledo Bend Lake (the largest manmade body of water in the South), wears the moniker proudly. No Man’s Land, also called the “Neutral Strip,” just celebrated its 200th anniversary of the three years it existed without a mother country until a treaty in 1821 determined it was part of Louisiana.

A Culinary Exploration

As is true throughout Louisiana, food is a vital aspect of life in No Man’s Land. West and her associates realized that any good tourist promotion deserves a culinary trail; she enlisted a photographer and set out to discover the region’s unique culinary offerings.

“We were in 3Js Fourway in Natchitoches and there were guys in there ordering wings,” West says. “It’s like a working man’s lunch. They named other places for us to try and we went from there.”

No Man's Land - Foodie Travel USA

Photo Credit: Chere Coen

Since No Man’s Land covers seven parishes, foodways range from Cajun and seafood near the Gulf of Mexico to barbecue and more traditional Southern dishes in the region’s north. Such diversity makes the trail fun, West says, because visitors can enjoy tamales in Zwolle, Carnival king cakes in Glouster, and Mennonite baked goods in DeRidder.

“Each location has something different that other places don’t have,” West says.

The focus remains consistently on roadside stops like gas stations, convenience stores, and casual eateries. Although some establishments may offer tables for dine-in, most lean toward take-out.

Signage was created for each of the 21 participating stops so that drivers can easily spot a location. The website details the entire list of eateries; the ‘No Man’s Land Trip Planner’ app simplifies finding stops on mobile phones, in addition to listing attractions, tours, events, and more. New food listings will be added to the trail in the future, West says.

What’s on the Menu

Variety is what makes the 21 stops along the Gas Station Eats trail special for tourists. In Allen Parish, which is part of Cajun Country, visitors will find locals braking for boudin—a sausage made from pork, rice and seasonings. Boudin is a staple in Cajunland and there are many ways to enjoy it, such as squeezing the goodness out of the casings as a breakfast treat or indulging in deep-fried boudin balls for lunch.

No Man's Land - Foodie Travel USA

Photo Credit: No Man’s Land

“Jewel Quick Stop has the best boudin,” West says of the Allen Parish stop. “But be sure to get the boudin balls with melted cheese on top.”

Sabine Parish’s small town of Zwolle is known for its tamales; the community’s Spanish heritage is celebrated during the annual Tamale Festival in October. Lakefront Grocery serves up those famous hot tamales, plus daily specials, burgers and, for a twist, Philly cheesesteak sandwiches.

No Man's Land - Foodie Travel USA

Photo Credit: No Man’s Land

Chesson’s Grocery in Calcasieu Parish sits along the Creole Nature Trail in Bell City, an All-American Road that takes visitors through marshlands, near lakes and bayous and along the Gulf of Mexico beaches. Visitors may enjoy hamburgers and beer, or just stop for an ice cream treat.

Over in the quaint town of Natchitoches, meat pies are the trademark dish; one of the best places to find them is an unassuming gas station at the Interstate 49 exit. French Market Express, with lines of gas pumps out front, cooks up meat pies, cookies, gingerbread, and yam cakes back of the store. “It’s unique because they have a bakery and most gas stations don’t have bakeries,” West says.

In addition to entrées, many places offer unique dessert items, such as Back Home Collection in DeRidder, which offers baked goods in addition to its thousands of books, collectibles, home décor, and clothes. “Back Home Collection in DeRidder has some of the best peanut brittle I’ve ever had,” West says.

In No Man’s Land, visitors need not go hungry.

Plan A Trip

Cheré Coen

Contributor

Cheré Coen is a food and travel writer living in Lafayette, Louisiana. She writes mysteries involving a food and travel writer under the pen name of Cherie Claire.