Order a Guide
Foodies know the name and the face of John Besh, the chef who beat Mario Batali on the Food Network’s popular —Iron Chef” show and then very nearly joined the top cook pantheon on the —Next Iron Chef” series in the fall of ’07 (he came in runner-up to the Michael Symon). Besh has long been known around the New Orleans area as an excellent chef, the real deal, now operating four distinctly different restaurants, including the No. 1 Zagat-rated restaurant in New Orleans, Restaurant August, and the acclaimed and beloved La Provence in Lacombe on the Northshore. Besh grew up hunting in the forests and swamps of Louisiana and spent some time as a soldier in Operation Desert Storm; he also went to the Culinary Institute of America and earned his culinary skills in kitchens in France and Germany. The chef brings Louisiana sensibilities and ingredients to French culinary tradition to create some very tasty, and very sophisticated food. He’s been featured on NBC’S Today Show and on the Food Network and recently on the Sundance Channel’s —Iconoclasts” show, paired with Wynton Marsalis. A tall, handsome man’s man, he charms both genders with his wit and easy manner, but when it comes down to tasting time, it’s his food that wins everyone over.
It’s strange to think of a lot happening in a small town without even one traffic light, but Abita Springs has it going on. The quirky heart of the Northshore, Abita is home to a number of fun and oddball events, including the Krewe of Push Mow Mardi Gras parade, the Bicycle Festival and the Abita Springs Whole-Town Garage Sale and Flea Market. The beautiful Tammany Trace, a 31-mile-long rails-to-trails conversion bike trail, wends its way through the heart of the town, past the popular watering hole, the Abita Brew Pub (the original home of Abita Beer), and the wacky Abita Mystery House (see the next item) at the UCM Museum. The town just cut the ribbon on its new Abita Trailhead Museum, housed in the 1911 bachelor quarters of the town’s old Longbranch Hotel. The museum is the first in the state to host the Smithsonian’s traveling exhibition on roots music, —New Harmonies,” and will serve as a history museum, visitor center and trailhead for the Trace. The Abita Opry, which presents performances of Louisiana roots music in the town hall, is also hosting a series of —informances” – performances and Q&A by local musicians – on the stage behind the new museum. The museum is joined at the entrance to the town park by the historic 1888 pavilion, recently moved from the river banks closer to the Trace.
Redbean-eating turtles and fanciful dioramas depicting the eccentricities of Southern life are just a couple of the reasons to visit the Abita Mystery House at the UCM Museum, impresario John Preble’s fun and funky emporium in Abita Springs. Enter through an old converted gas station (now the gift shop) and wander the rambling buildings stuffed to the rafters with the flotsam and jetsam of so-called modern life – cell phones, paint-by-number art, bottle caps – reconstituted as whimsical outsider art. The Abita Mystery House works on multiple levels, and for all ages. Great gift shop, too.
The creative and quirky Preble is responsible for much of the positive energy and eccentric events that characterize tiny Abita. A talented artist, known for his haunting portraits of green-eyed Creole women, Preble is a true Southern character, eccentric, smart and a man of many interests. He has produced CDs for the even quirkier Bobby Lounge (praised in Rolling Stone magazine), is poised to release his own CD of Mardi Gras music, and spends much of his time dreaming up such creatures as the Dogigator – half dog, half gator – and the Bassigator, which is half bass, half … you know.
The Tammany Trace is a Northshore treasure, a 31-mile-long paved ribbon winding through St. Tammany Parish. Louisiana’s first rails-to-trails conversion, the asphalt path cuts through old-growth forests and beautiful green spaces to connect the historic communities of Covington, Abita Springs, Mandeville, Lacombe and Slidell. Casual cyclists and pedestrians can hop on the trail at any point, stop for lunch in quaint cafes, for a rest or a snowball, before continuing on. Serious cyclists ride the full length – and sometimes back – appreciating the chance to pedal traffic-free and nonstop through such great scenery.
Anyone who’s ever thought of camels as snarly, smelly creatures has never looked into the soft brown eyes of Aladdin the sweet-natured dromedary. Aladdin is one of the many animals to be met, fed, stroked at Folsom’s Global Wildlife Center, the largest reserve of its kind in the country. The center’s 3,000-plus animals roam 900 acres of savannah-like Northshore landscape. Riding large wagons, or better yet, the smaller Pinzgauer vehicles, kids squeal and grown-ups giggle like children when they experience Global’s upclose and special interaction with huge, wooly bison, delicate deer, giraffes, llamas and, of course, Aladdin.
Two birders recently reported sightings of the ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird that has achieved near mystical status since its believed extinction six decades ago, in the old-growth forests of the Pearl River Basin. The report once again sparked a heated debate, skepticism mixed with hope, about whether the birds really still exist on the planet. Birders are more sure of the red-cockaded woodpecker, a rare bird with confirmed sightings here, and of the Northshore’s status as a birding paradise. The area plays host to many migrating species who winter here and is home year-round to many more. It is not uncommon to see great white herons standing along the roadsides hunting frogs, to see falcons perched atop telephone poles or brown pelicans soaring above the waves of Lake Pontchartrain. The area hosts a popular bird festival each year and has 77,000 acres set aside as wildlife refuges, navigable on foot, by road and by kayak, all offering excellent opportunities to see rare species, and just maybe, an extinct one.
This historic structure was built in 1837 on Lake Pontchartrain near the mouth of the Tchefuncte River in Madisonville, intended to guide the high volume of boat traffic for the area’s early shipyards. Damaged in the Civil War, threatened by Hurricane Betsy in 1963, the lighthouse still stands today, but is only accessible by boat. A local organization has formed to protect the lighthouse, which is under increasing threat from the encroaching lake. The nearby Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum showcases the centuries of maritime history of the area in general and the Madisonville area in particular.
Imagine holding a baby alligator in your hand. They look so … cute. The reptiles don’t look quite so cuddly when you see them en masse in their holding tanks, though – even if you are throwing them marshmallows. John Price was a coach before becoming a gator rancher, scavenging for eggs, hatching gators, growing them to a certain size, then —harvesting” them – or returning them to the wild. Price turned a business, once aimed at boosting the state’s diminishing alligator population, into a Northshore attraction. Now tourists and school groups pay admission to see Price’s gators up close, learn about their habits and their habitats, even touch them. In August, they can watch a baby gator hatch in their hands at Insta-Gator, the only open-to-the-public gator ranch in the state.
High-res images available for most area attractions and restaurants.