Thursday, August 1, 2013

“…We'd Drive Thru Hell, If Required,…

to get to Fant's!” wrote Lisa Brown at urbanspoon.com. Or, referencing another end-times destination, Frank Rizzo said, “If they serve seafood in Heaven then they must be getting take-out from Fant’s” (urbanspoon.com).

But let me back up a few days. Our friend John who lives on Maryland’s Eastern Shore has been a regular reader of this blog since its inception. And when he realized that our stay in Lafayette would be extended, he suggested that we be in touch with his brother Kevin, who lives up the road a-piece (about 100 miles) near Alexandria, LA. So we called and made arrangements to meet Kevin for lunch and a brief driving tour of Alexandria. So, at Kevin’s suggestion, we met one noon for lunch at Fant’s—a local “hole-in-the-wall type place that just knocks it out of the park” (Frank Rizzo at urbanspoon.com).

Fant’s is located in a former fried chicken place and is described as having “(a) great casual family atmosphere—but make sure to get there early or be prepared to wait. The building is very small, so it can't accommodate a large crowd at one time. However, the wait is worth it…” (Christie P. at yelp.com).
Chuck and I arrived just after opening (11:00) and within fifteen minutes the restaurant was full. Many of the diners were wearing full camo and must have come from a nearby military installation. Kevin soon arrived and we proceeded to order.
Like most Louisiana seafood restaurants, Fant’s menu relies heavily on fried items (Believe me, for us this is not a problem!) with a few grilled choices. Kevin suggested that we start with a local favorite—the fried duck appetizer. (Sorry. There is no photo of these.) The basket held four pieces of duck that might have resembled large chicken tenders if not for their darker color. These would convert anyone—like Chuck—who thinks that he or she doesn’t like duck. The duck was tender and juicy and, since they were pond-raised, had none of the strong gamey flavor associated with wild duck. (We so enjoyed the duck that Chuck and I ate three of the four pieces in the basket. Sorry about that Kevin.) And with them came a small cup of house-made remoulade that contained a good measure of Creole/Cajun seasoning.

We decided that one of us would order the fried shrimp platter and one the fried catfish platter. And we would get—as part of the meal—one side of fries and one of onion rings. The fried platters come in small, regular, and large sizes and it is a good thing that we asked the server before ordering the large. The large catfish platter comes with NINE pieces of fish. The regular of each it would be.

In true Louisiana style, the catfish (six pieces) had been coated with seasoned corn meal/flour and under the crisp coating lay moist, flakey, and sweet fish.
My nine very large shrimp—also beautifully cooked—had a lighter, but no less crispy, coating. The fries (hidden under my shrimp) were very good.
The onion rings (hidden under Chuck’s catfish) were wonderful—thin rings of sweet onion in a light beer batter. Just what we expect in Louisiana. Each plate came with a side of good chopped cole slaw with a thinnish sweet dressing, two onion studded hush puppies, and cups of great house-made peppery tartar sauce.

I am not sure if John gave Kevin a “heads up” on the type of restaurants we like, but Kevin couldn’t have made a better choice than this 5.0 eatery.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

After lunch, Kevin, taking time from his role in the preparation for his daughter’s wedding in three days, kindly consented to give us a brief tour of Alexandria. (The photos below were taken from a moving vehicle, so there may be some movement and reflections in the photos.)

We began with one of favorite scenes: the restoration of an historic hotel. The Hotel Bentley, built in 1908, as recently as 1980 had been the only four-star hotel in Louisiana outside of New Orleans. Closed since 2004, the hotel seemed nearing completion of its restoration. We want to return to see the re-birth of this beautiful hotel.
Another reminder of days-gone-by is the Weiss and Goldring water tower. The department store of the same name began in 1899 and now exists as a men's clothing store out at the Alexandria Mall.
It was unfortunate that we could not enter the St. Francis Xavier Cathedral to see “some of the most beautiful stained-glass windows in the state.”

The old parish church of Saint Francis, constructed in 1817, was the only building in Alexandria spared during the American Civil War. As the Union army pulled out of the town during the disastrous Red River Campaign, Father J. P. Bellier disguised his voice to impersonate that of General Nathaniel Banks, the Union commanding officer, and ordered the troops to spare the church. His plan succeeded and the building was saved.
The old building burned down in 1895, and the new Greek Revival style church, dedicated in 1899, was the first brick church in the city. In 1910, St. Francis Xavier Church was elevated to the rank of Cathedral.
The Rectory, first built in 1896, was extensively renovated in 1930.
The Coughlin-Saunders Performing Arts Center, opened in 2004, features a 615-seat state-of-the-art theater. It is the location of concerts, plays, recitals, ballets, dramas, musicals, Rapides Symphony Orchestra performances and a wide variety of cultural events and performing arts.
The artwork placed outside the River Oaks Arts Center indicated that this studio/gallery should be a definite stop when we have more time.
This piece of artwork, however, remains a mystery. I could not find information about this mural.
One of the most interesting signs in town is the iconic neon sign of the flying ghost (spirit) guiding patrons to the Hokus Pokus liquor store.
Bringhurst Field is one of the oldest parks still in use in professional baseball. Only a handful of structures remain from 1933 or earlier that are still actively used by any league.
For a four-year period several years ago, the San Diego Padres put a Double-A Texas League team in Alexandria.

Between 2003 and the present, periods of vacancy alternated with periods of an independent team operating in a league, and the city is once again fielding a team in the United League.
Then we came upon the Silver Dollar Pawn and Jewelry, home of one of my guilty pleasures—the pawn shop run by Jimmie “Big Daddy” DeRamus, hailed as a walking encyclopedia and frequently called upon across the country for his expertise.
And if his name doesn’t ring a bell, then the sign identifying this as the home of the History Channel's "Cajun Pawn Stars" must sound a loud bell. (Right?)
We took a short drive over the Red River on the vertical-lift bridge Gillis Long Bridge. The 1985 bridge connects Alexandria and Pineville.
The 1,360-mile Red River, or sometimes called the Red River of the South, is named for the red-bed country of its watershed. The Red River is the second-largest river basin in the southern Great Plains. It rises in two branches (forks) in the Texas Panhandle.

Here it bisects the sister cities of Alexandria and Pineville before spreading into the complex network of marshlands surrounding the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers and eventually flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
From the Pineville side of the river, we could see the amphitheater and park area on the Alexandria side.
A fine introduction to a very interesting—and must-visit-again—city.

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