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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

RAYNE, LOUISIANA--FROG CAPITAL OF THE WORLD!

Rayne, LA-Frog Capital of the World
Monsieur Jacques
He was left with unpainted skin to represent all mankind
On the plaque is a quotation from Corinthians:
"Not all flesh is the same but there is one kind for
human beings...."
I can safely say that Rayne, Louisiana is a city like no other we’ve visited.  In the 1800s, this small coastal prairie community was known as Pouppeville.  It renamed itself Rayne after the engineer who laid the tracks bringing the railroad to Pouppeville, and, by extension I guess, brought newly named Rayne into the world.  By the 1880s, a gourmet chef from this Cajun city was selling bullfrogs to the restaurants in New Orleans and making a name for himself and his town with his Rayne-raised frogs. 
Rayne, LA-Frog Capital of the World
The train station in Rayne, Louisiana

Enter three enterprising Parisians in the early 1900s who opened an export business shipping frogs’ legs to universities and premier restaurants around the country.  Thousands of frogs’ legs left Rayne each week for upscale restaurants. At one time even New York City’s world famous Sardis restaurant boasted frog legs from Rayne, Louisiana on its menu.  Rayne billed itself The Frog Capital of the World!

This smidge of history is not, however, why Rob and I drove 2.5 hours from Deridder, Louisiana to visit Rayne.  We headed there because Rayne is not only called The Frog Capital of the World but also because it is replete with frog statues and frog murals.  It takes a map to see them all.  How could we miss that!







Tiny Rayne (Rayne is under 4 square miles in size) is decorated with FROGS!   I’ll let you take a gander at a few of them.

Rayne, LA-Frog Capital of the World
Frogs represent different businesses;
Flower shop, Jewelry store, Dry Cleaners, Bank, Piggly Wiggley
Rayne, LA-Frog Capital of the World
That muscle frog sits outside the Rayne Boxing Club
There are skaters, policefrogs, newspaperfrogs,
and others.
Rayne, LA-Frog Capital of the World
Of all the murals around town, this one is my
favorite!
Rayne, LA-Frog Capital of the World
These are all painted on the backs of buildings.
Rayne is incredibly charming!

Rayne, LA-Frog Capital of the World
Rayne is also a City of Murals
There are frog murals throughout the town like this one in front
of the Rayne Acadian Tribune office.
While Rayne takes itself seriously as Frog Capital of the World, it also enjoys laughing at itself.  If you look at the city’s website you will see the column “Ribbiting News.”  Love it!

Rayne is also featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and not for frogs!  It’s for its cemetery.

St. Joseph’s cemetery is the only Christian cemetery facing north to south.  Christian cemeteries traditionally face east to west—east with the rising sun a metaphor for the beginning or life and west with the setting sun a metaphor for the end of life.  Several versions float around explaining St. Joseph’s unique deviation.  Whether it was a priest negligent in supervising ignorant workmen or whether the graves were originally mislaid and then the expense of digging and re-burying was so prohibitive that they continued to bury in that direction offer two possibilities.  Pick one that suits you.  Either way, it certainly is intriguing.

Now here Rob and I are deep in Cajun country with a big dose of Creole thrown in, and we are in the frog capital of the world, so how can we not stop to eat?  But where?

Rayne, LA-Frog Capital of the World
Definitely the real deal.
All the little items you need for your home were inside.
These stores have all but disappeared elsewhere.
In downtown Rayne simply because the exterior looks so interesting we make a stop in the Worthmore 5 & 10, and it is as authentic as can be.  If you remember the real Woolworths, you will recognize and be charmed by Worthmore. 

Inside we meet two totally charming local ladies who tend Worthmore.  We overhear one telling the other about a great meal she’d just had.  So we ask for her restaurant recommendation for authentic local cooking.  Without missing a beat, she sends us to Gabe’s Cajun Food.

Gabe’s is the place that locals go.  It is the place that people in the know leave the highway to visit.  It is crowded with people who are not tourists.  If you are looking for cloth napkins, go elsewhere.  This is homemade heaven, not fast food.  Peruse the menu, place your order, and have a seat.  You’ll get yours in a paper basket or a Styrofoam takeout container, but you’ll enjoy some great and inexpensive eats!
Gabes in Rayne, LA
We wanted to taste the region,
and Gabe's was a great place
to do just that!

In Lake Charles, Louisiana, Rob and I developed a taste for boudin sausage.  If you’re unfamiliar with boudin, read this:

“I figure that about 80 percent of the boudin purchased in Louisiana is consumed before the purchaser has left the parking lot, and most of the rest is polished off in the car. In other words, Cajun boudin not only doesn’t get outside the state; it usually doesn’t even get home.”
       Calvin Trillin, from his essay, “The Missing Links: In Praise of the Cajun Foodstuff That Doesn’t Get Around.”

We were going to have boudin balls no matter what we ordered.  Gabe’s were delicious.

The posted menu was too tempting for Rob who, if he had his druthers, would have had a little of everything.  I thought he’d go for the frog legs as we were in Rayne, but it was the shrimp as we were in Louisiana, and the etoufee as we were in Cajun country that caught his eye.  Served over rice with some fried shrimp and cole slaw as well, he was pleased with his Shrimp Etoufee.

I’m just too timid to try frogs’ legs.  I stuck to my fried chicken favorite, only here it was Cajun Fried Chicken.  I asked how hot it was, and the counter attendant said she didn’t know; it depended on who had made it in the morning!  OK  I played along, and the chicken was great.  Spicy but not really hot.  I also liked the dirty rice.

Lunch in Rayne was a happy time.  I doubt if Gabe’s is on the tour bus lunch-stop list.  But it should be.  It is a place like Gabe's that makes a road trip so super!

Visit Rayne’s website for some interesting Rayne facts.  Learn about the Frog Festival held over Labor Day Weekend.  I think it sounds grand.  Most of all, don’t overlook these special places that abound across the country.  They just might be real memory makers.


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