Cajun Tales… Tall Tales After Dunk Hunting

After a successful duck hunt in South Louisiana, our group realized that we had worked up quite a hunger.  Brent, Brandon, Billy, P, and I took a ride to Cajun Tales Seafood Restaurant in Welsh, Louisiana to fill our empty stomachs with some comfort food.  P seemed to know everyone in the place, and the waitress brought him a tea that was half sweet and half unsweetened mixed together without even having to ask for him.  That was nice.   
Cajun Tales Seafood Restaurant in Welsh, La
I decided that my hunger warrented plenty of grub, and wanting to try an assortment of local fare, I ordered the fried seafood platter which also came with gumbo and salad.  The seafood gumbo had a rich and earthy roux that worked very well with the accompanying shrimp and oysters.  What a great way to start out any meal!  The green salad with honey mustard dressing was about as standard as it gets.  Chopped iceberg lettuce, check.  Honey mustard, check.  Call it a salad, check.  Moving on…
A Bowl of Seafood Gumbo and a Honey Mustard Salad
After I got the formality of the roughage scarfed down, the time came to turn my attention to the fried seafood platter that lurked in the shadows of the table.  The fried catfish, stuffed shrimp, fried oysters, hushpuppies, crab fingers, and sweet potato fries all stared back at me as though they knew their disposal would come in the form of my digestive system.  Oh yes, it was devouring time!
Fried Seafood Platter
All of the food on the plate was wondeful under the cirumstances.  I had an extreme hunger, and everything was certainly very edible.  However, the fried seafood did not blow me away.  I think they could use an upgrade to their badder and a change of cooking oil.  Likewise, the sweet potato fries were nothing that I’d die to go back for.  Of the meal, I thought that the fried catfish was probably the best item.  I still ate all I could and at the end of the meal left full and satisfied.  I suppose that is what really counts!
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C’est Bon, Indeed

During hunting season a group of us gathered at C’est Bon in Mermentau, near Jennings, Louisiana (Check the Bite and Booze Map and try to find it if you have no clue where that is!).  C’est Bon is a truly Cajun restaurant where you can find fantastically fresh boiled seafood and deep-fried morsels of various edible creatures.  The night before our duck hunt, Brent, Billy, P, Stanford, and I hit up this oasis of a dining experience in the middle of nowhere for some spicy and delightful treats.
C’est Bon in Mermentau, Louisiana
As with any good back woods restaurant, C’est Bon completes its ambiance with a selection mounted deer and ducks on the walls.  There is nothing like eating spicy crawfish and succulent shrimp under the watchful gaze stuffed wildlife!  I love getting out of the city!
One of the Dining Rooms at C’est Bon
I wanted to make sure to sample some variety at C’est Bon so I actually made two orders and was happy to share a taste of everything with the rest of the crew that were all eating boiled crawfish.  My first plate contained a half order of crawfish etoufee and a half order of fried oysters.  By half order, they clearly meant “half a plate.”  The golden fried oysters sat piled high on top of a mound of French fries while the etoufee was served over some Louisiana rice.  Both dishes had tremendous flavor and were excellently seasoned.  The oysters had that unique texture that I’ve only found in superbly fried Gulf oysters.  The crispy and delicious outside cracked open and released the delicate mollusk from within.  The crawfish etoufee was clearly cooked by a Cajun.  The dish featured a great blend of spices for a complex and comforting taste that is so unique to Louisiana.  If you are reading this from out-of-state, you really don’t know what you are missing.  I suggest you plan a trip soon!
Crawfish Etoufee and Fried Oysters
The second serving of food that I ordered featured a couple pounds of boiled shrimp along with some corn and potatoes.  Shrimp are another sea creature that I enjoy no matter how they are cooked, but sometimes using the simplest cooking methods is the best way to go.  These shrimp were boiled in just enough Cajun seasoning to give them a kick while still allowing the taste of the shrimp tails to be the highlight of each bite.  C’est Bon, indeed.
Boiled Shrimp with Corn and Potatoes
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Hammond Smokin’ Blues ‘n BBQ Challenge

On the final weekend of March, Travis, Eusebio, and I competed in the Smokin’ Blues ‘n BBQ Challenge in Hammond, La.  We entered the Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) sanctioned event, which means we were cooking against the big dogs.  Johnny Trigg from the TLC show Barbeque Pitmasters was there, as well as QUAU and Pellet Envy, the first and third ranked BBQ teams in the country according to KCBS.  It turns out that of the 50 teams doing competitive barbeque, we were the ONLY rookie team and seemingly the only team with chefs under the age of 40.  In fact, we are all 30 or younger, and every other team appeared to be full of wily veterans in their 50s and 60s.  We knew we were going to have our hands full to just not finish last in each category.

In KCBS contests, each team must enter all four meat categories: chicken, pork ribs, pork butt, and brisket.  Teams must have their meat inspected the day before the competition to ensure they were not pre-marinated, and then they have until noon the next day to prepare and cook the meats.  As with any true barbeque, the preferred cooking method is low and slow.  Barbeque pits infuse the meats with delicious smoky flavors while cooking them for a long time at a low temperature, leaving the finished product flavorful and tender.

The Monstrosity: Third Row Tailgaters’ Famous BBQ Pit and Smoker
For the majority of our cooking, we used the Third Row barbeque pit and smoker, which has been dubbed “The Monstrosity.”  We hand-crafted this pit back in 2002 or 2003.  It is made it an old full-barrel aluminum keg flipped on its side with a smoke stack connecting to a stainless steel keg that is used as the smoker.  It is a true thing of beauty, and I think easily got the most looks and brought up the most discussion of any pit in the KCBS challenge. 
Soaking Pecan Chunks
For some extra flavor, we used pecan chunks as a smoking wood.  I find that pecan gives a nice balanced smoke that adds sweetness and smoky flavor without overpowering the meat. 
I could go on with more text about the competition, but I think this video that I put together would sum it up a little better.  Enjoy!  Warning: it will make you hungry!
Thanks to Lauren for help with the video!  One thing for sure is that we had a good time.  The contest presented its challenges but was also a whole lot of fun, and we did cook some great food.  We ended up placing 39th overall, which really wasn’t too bad.  On our first attempt at competitive barbeque we beat out 11 teams that had been doing this for years!  Our chicken placed 23rd, which we were pretty proud of. To cook some chicken that finished in the top half exceed our expectations of anything we could do on a first attempt.  The pork finished tied for 31st and the ribs came in 34th.  The only really sad note for us was that our brisket came in 49th.  But hey, we weren’t last in anything, and we learned a lot about cooking in a KCBS contest.  I imagine we’ll do it again at some point, and we’ll only be better!  The barbeque circuit better look out!

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The Baton Rouge BuRger Scene

This article has been published in Town Favorites Magazine. You can visit the Town Favorites website at http://www.townfavorites.com/, follow them on Twitter @TownFavorites, and find their magazines at over 150 restaurants and businesses around Baton Rouge! Pick up a copy today!

The Baton Rouge BuRger Scene

by Jay D. Ducote

It’s not very difficult to find a great burger in Baton Rouge if you know where to look. While George’s and Brewbacher’s are staples of the Baton Rouge burger market, there are plenty of alternatives that keep the mouths of Red Stick carnivores salivating. With April being here, Lent being over, and Spring in full swing, when could there ever be a better time to dine on deliciously grilled beef?

I recently went on a mission to find the best burgers in Baton Rouge. My first stop brought me to Mason’s Grill on Jefferson at Tiger Bend. In 2009, Food Network Magazine named the top burger in all 50 states and the Cajun Shrimp Burger at Mason’s took home the prize from Louisiana. I knew I had to give this burger a try if I really wanted to experience Baton Rouge burgers, so I walked in to Mason’s where owner Mike Alfandre greeted me. Mike and his wife Shirley opened up The Daily Grind in 1998 but quickly outgrew the cozy location. The couple changed the name to Mason’s Grill and moved to their new location about six years ago, and the rest is history.

The Cajun Shrimp Burger at Mason’s Grill was named the best burger in Louisiana by the Food Network Magazine!
The Cajun Shrimp Burger itself is 8 ounces of fresh ground beef made to order into a jalapeño-stuffed patty. The burger is then flame-grilled to desired temperature while shrimp are sautéed with more jalapeños. When the shrimp are almost ready, the chef will add a cup and a half of jack cheese in with the crustaceans and peppers and let it all melt together. The cheesy mixture is then scooped up and piled high on the beef patty which is resting patiently on a sweet sourdough bun that is made specially for Mason’s Grill. This burger is absolutely incredible as the spices and flavors all mix together in one sensational bite after another. Mike told me that on a typical day he will go through about 50 Cajun Shrimp Burgers and well over 100 pounds of beef. If that doesn’t tell you how good they are, then I’m not sure what will!

Another classic stop on a Baton Rouge burger tour is Dearman’s on Jefferson at Corporate. Dearman’s is a classic burger and shake joint in mold of the old tradition. They claim to be “the original” place to get burgers, fries, and shakes in BR, and the place lives up to its hype. While the claim that they have the “best burger in Baton Rouge for over fifty years” doesn’t quite meet expectations, the overall vibe of the diner and quality of the burgers is worth noting. Dearman’s cooks up batches of fresh beef patties, grilling them all on a flattop. The burger is ready quickly after you order it, comes out dressed how you like it, and is certainly juicy and messy. I had mine with American cheese, grilled onions, and some other toppings, and at the least I will say that it was a pretty decent burger that is certainly a huge step up from fast food or frozen patties.

Fresh Beef Patties on the Grill at Dearman’s

My eyes and stomach focused on downtown for my next stop on the BuRger tour. Downtown offers delightful burgers at places like Riverside Patty, Downtown Seafood and Grill, and Capital City Grill. I’ve had those before and can recommend any of them, but this adventure took me to some place a little newer: Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar and Restaurant, where I’d take on a Juicy Lucy! I met the Executive Chef of Lucy’s, Michael Domenick, and asked him about the signature sandwich before placing my order. According to Chef Domenick, the Juicy Lucy has been on the menu for quite some time at the New Orleans restaurant which has now spread to Baton Rouge. He claimed that the opportunity came along to make the burger even juicier, so he worked on creating a half-pound burger patty which features 100% certified Angus chuck and a special spice blend. He told me that he wasn’t just going to make a good burger, be he “wants to make the best burger in Baton Rouge.” Chef Domenick went on to say that his goal is “not just to make a good burger, but change the way people in Baton Rouge eat burgers.” Needless to say, my excitement level peaked in anticipation.

Jay Ducote digs into a Juicy Lucy Burger

The Juicy Lucy has numerous topping options that fit the theme of the restaurant. Anything from sautéed portabellas to sprouts and guacamole to bacon can be added to the burger, as well as a selection of cheeses and a special sauce. The burger is served on an artisanal bun that is glazed with egg whites on the top to give it a shiny finish. I ordered my burger medium with Swiss cheese and guacamole. While it may not have been my absolute favorite burger of the journey, the Juicy Lucy left the largest trail of juice dripping down my forearm! Each and every bite tasted delicious and unique. By the time I polished off the burger my stomach was full and my appetite was satisfied, so this burger definitely gets my approval.

Seth Maggio flips giant burgers at Tramonte’s Meat and Seafood Market

My final stop came back on Jefferson just on the other side of Airline. I received a tip that Tramonte’s Meat and Seafood Market just may have the best burger in town, so I had to go have a taste. The market and restaurant has been open for around 8 years, and while they specialize in raw meats and seafood for customers to take home and cook themselves, Tramonte’s also has a few specialties up their sleeves. I ordered a regular cheeseburger, but this giant patty is far from ordinary. Tramonte’s uses a full pound of ground sirloin mixed with top secret ingredients and fresh vegetables and then formed into an enormous patty and flame-grilled to perfection. I asked for bacon-cheddar burger and owner Mike Tramonte obliged by throwing a patty on the grill and then chatting with me about his burgers. I couldn’t get him to tell me his secret ingredients, but the massive burger had a superb flavor throughout the patty and combined magnificently with the sesame seed bun on which it was served. This burger blew me away as I had never even heard of Tramonte’s before, but now that I have, I know for sure that I’ll be back!

The Bacon Cheeseburger at Tramonte’s. Mmmm… bacon cheeseburger… aghghagh!

The Baton Rouge BuRger Scene is alive and kicking. Restaurants all over town are cooking up delightful burgers that will tickle your taste buds. You can find a delicious burger at restaurants like Louie’s Café, home of the Big Cheesy Lou, which William Winters, a former employee, describes as “everything you love about cheeseburgers: meat and cheese, abundantly.” Delicious burgers can also be found at burger joints like Roul’s Deli, casual restaurants such as Bistro Byronz, and the Northshore-based Times Grill. Anywhere you look in this city you can find a tasty burger, so go ahead, Baton Rouge, dig in and enjoy!

Eric Ducote took all the pictures for this article. Thanks to Hunter Brown for the graphic design of the restaurant sign collage.
Mason's Grill on UrbanspoonDearman's on Urbanspoon
Lucy's Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant - BR on UrbanspoonTramonte's Meat & Seafood on Urbanspoon
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Cochon Butcher – New Orleans

After the ISAW South African wine tasting at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, the only logical thing for Eric, Brandon, Katie, and I to do was find some food to soak up the delightful wine in our stomachs.  Fortunately we were in downtown New Orleans, so there happened to be quite a few dining options for us to choose from.  I heard wonderful things from various sources about Cochon Butcher in the Warehouse District, so we decided to give it a try. 

The first thing we noticed after walking in the door was a sample of bacon pralines that were available for tasting.  Man, talk about great first impressions!  I could have eaten nothing but pralines and been totally satisfied.  They contained the essential balance of sweet, salty, and savory that any good sweet with bacon must attain.  Wow…. wow. 

Bacon Pralines at Butcher
After stuffing my face with bacon pralines, I noticed that the butcher shop/restaurant had a lovely meat counter matched by a beautifully delicious display of hanging smoked meats.  I’ve seen very few more appetizing sites in my days.
Assorted Smoked Meats Hanging on Display
I had no clue where to begin when trying to determine which appetizer or sandwich to order, but fortunately I bumped into the Chef Partner, Warren Stephens.  Chef Warren had a few recommendations for me based on what he would order at the time, but certainly noted that everything on the menu is tasty and nothing can be overlooked.  He informed me that Butcher has only been around since January of 2009 and is part of the Link Restaurant Group which also runs the neighboring Cochon and Nola’s famous Herbsaint and Calcasieu restaurants.  Butcher specializes in artisan meats and sausages that are made on the premises in the theme of an old world meat market.  I was ready to enjoy.
Jay, Katie, and Brandon Check Out Cochon Butcher
After a good discussion, Warren sold me on the Duck Pastrami Slider from the “Bar Food” menu and I opted to go with the Buckshot Bacon Melt from the “Sandwiches” list.  My excitement level peaked in anticipation of the flavors that were about to hit my lips!

The Menu Boards at Butcher: Bar Food, Specials, and Sandwiches.  They also have Wine and Cocktails!

The duck pastrami slider proved that simple can beat out complex any day of the week.  The sandwich contained delicate, thinly sliced duck pastrami and melted cheese on grilled slices of bread.  The flavor of the duck highlighted each bite and it was hard for me to share the remaining wedges with my friends!  Chef Warren also sent out some house-made boudin for our table to try, which tasted fantastic as well.

Duck Pastrami Sliders
Katie ordered the Cochon Muffaletta with tons of Butcher’s delicious meats, provolone cheese, pickled peppers and olives.  This take on a New Orleans special is one of the best Muffalettas that I’ve tasted in years.  I’m extremely happy that the sandwich was too large for Katie to finish on her own because that meant I got take a couple bites to realize how fantastic it is.  The meats were smoky and complex, tender, sweet, and just plain delightful.  I’m pretty sure that Chef Warren told me that the Muffaletta is one of their best selling sandwiches, and it’s easy to see why!
Cochon Muffaletta with Home Made Chips
Brandon ordered the barbequed pulled pork sandwich and Eric gave the Gambino a try.  Brandon’s pulled pork (in the background below) came served with potato salad.  It looked great and Brandon ate every bit of it, so I didn’t get a bite.  I also didn’t get a bite of the Gambino, but it looked like a sensational sandwich.  The French bread got stuffed with Italian-style meats like salami cotto, sopressata, and coppa along with a fresh herb vinaigrette.  Eric also tried a Black Chocolate Stout from the Brooklyn Brewery which tasted rich and delicious.  I caught a hint of espresso in with the chocolate.  I’d drink that stout again any day.
The Gambino Front and Center with a Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout
As Chef Warren recommended to me, I went with the Buckboard Bacon Melt.  Yet another simple but astonishingly delicious sandwich, the Buckboard consisted of thin slices of toasted white bread filled with beautifully cured bacon, Swiss cheese, collard greens, and pepper aioli.  Every bite made me think of how much I love bacon.  Each time I chewed and the flavors oozed onto my taste buds my mind rushed into thoughts about how much I enjoy sandwiches.  I do love a good sandwich.  And this, the Buckboard Bacon Melt at Cochon Butcher, is a great sandwich!  Simple yet complex, earthy yet sophisticated, this sandwich should appeal to everybody and leave nobody unsatisfied!
Buckboard Bacon Melt at Cochon Butcher
Not wanting to only explore the culinary aspects of Butcher, I also perused the custom cocktail list and stumbled upon a drink call the Haitian Dark and Stormy.  Thinking this was an interesting name for a drink, especially in post-Katrina New Orleans and after the earthquake in Haiti, I had to know more.  It turns out that proceeds from the drink go to the Red Cross for relief efforts in Haiti, so I thought I might as well do my part.  The drink is made from a mixture of Barbancourt Rum and ginger beer.  Barbancourt is a Haitian rum company that makes traditional Caribbean sugar cane rum in multiple varieties and flavors.  Their distillery is located just outside Port au Prince, where the earthquake hit the strongest.  The Haitian Dark and Stormy itself proved to be a rather interesting drink.  Overall it was little sweet for my tastes with the rum and ginger beer mixed together.  Still, the cocktail was refreshing and quite drinkable, and would have been perfect on a warm summer day on the beaches of Haiti (or walking around in the French Quarter, for that matter).
Haitian Dark and Stormy
My Cochon Butcher experience ended up being marvelous.  I’m sure it was only enhanced by being a little sauced already from the ISAW wine tasting.  I also enjoyed chatting with Chef Warren about the restaurant and the menu.  Still, it all really comes down to the food, and this food is top notch.  The meats were fresh, salty, and marvelous.  The work that gets put into the meats at Butcher is obvious, and should be appreciated properly.  And by appreciate, I mean eaten.  And by properly, I mean often. 
“Bon Appétit.  That’s French for good meal.” – Brandon Brown
Thanks to Eric Ducote of the BR Beer Scene for taking the pictures for this post.  Check out his beer and other beverage blog here.
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“Drink Well. Do Good.” Tour Coming to New Orleans

Last night I was invited to a wine tasting at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum in New Orleans that the International Society of Africans in Wine (ISAW) graciously hosted. ISAW is an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization with the mission of building sustainable communities through wine (best idea ever!).  They seek to reduce poverty in Africa through viticulture-based training. The South African wine industry is over 350 years old and helped put Cape Town on the map as a trading hub. The industry grew much like the cotton industry did in the United States: on the working backs of slave labor. Today, there are over 3,000 South African wineries in what amounts to a $3.5 billion industry.  However, only two South African wineries are black owned.  ISAW has been able to partner with the black owned wineries, as well as some white owned wineries that support their cause, to develop a Viticultural Training Center.  The center will function as a winery the enables workers to learn and participate in the entire process of managing and operating a winery, from farming to global export.  Workers will experience a vertically integrated education that will provide them with specialized skills to increase their earning potential and add value to prospective employers.  For some, it may even be a stimulus for entrepreneurship or cooperative ventures.

“Dawn,” a 2008 Seven Sisters Pinotage/Shiraz

So what does this have to do with my blog?  Well, as I said, last night I got to taste wines from the Western Cape of South Africa.  The tasting was set up by invitation-only for media and press to taste wines and get the word out about the upcoming ISAW 2010 Drink Well Do Good Tour.  The tour is a 14-city, month-and-a-half trek that starts in New Orleans on April 3rd and 4th.  It circles around the United States and into Canada before heading to South Africa right before the World Cup (I know, that must be rough!).  The festive tour will include African wines, cuisine, music, and art at each of their stops along the way.  So while “drinking well” and enjoying the food and culture, you’ll also be “doing good” by supporting the ISAW Foundation and contributing to the vision of the Viticultural Training Center.  It is a win/win situation for sure!

Stephen Satterfield and Jay Ducote Discuss the Wines While They Taste

At the tasting, Stephen Satterfield, founder of ISAW, poured my guests and I wine from both of the black owned South African wineries.  I brought along Eric, Brandon, and Katie to experience the event, taste the wines, and help get the word out around Baton Rouge and New Orleans.  We tried four wines from the Seven Sisters and M’hudi vineyards. 

The Four South African Wines from M’hudi and Seven Sisters

The first wine that we sampled was the M’hudi Sauvignon Blanc from 2008.  The wine tasted light and slightly acidic with hints of summertime fruits like honeydew and possibly pineapple.  The wine refreshed the palate but also left a little herbaceous tingle on the back of the tongue.

Next came the 2007 Seven Sisters Sauvignon Blanc, also named “Vivian”.  The winery’s origins come from a family that actually has seven biological sisters, and each of them has a different varietal named after them.  This wine had many of the same characteristics of the M’hudi Sauvignon Blanc but without quite as bold of flavors or the bite on the finish, in my opinion.

The third wine came from the Bukettraube grape.  The 2009 Seven Sisters “Odelia” is a sweet wine that tastes off-dry and fruity.  Canteloupe came to my mind, though it certainly wasn’t the only flavor as I heard other people say things like peach or pear.  The Bukettraube is a grape that originally came from Germany but is now grown almost exclusively in South Africa.  From what I hear, they have a relatively short shelf life and are best consumed quickly, rather than aging them in the bottle.  So I guess drinking the 2009 is a good thing!

Finally, we finished the evening with the only red wine.  I’m a huge fan of red wines, so this is the varietal that really had me excited.  “Dawn,” a 2008 Seven Sisters Pinotage/Shiraz, packed a medium-bodied but delicious punch.  Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault grapes, and is one of the classic grapes in South Africa.  “Dawn” presented a fragrant nose and a easy, yet complex taste that began with fruity flavors like plum or dark cherry and then finished with a smoky bite.  Stephen, the ISAW founder, swore he could taste bacon on the finish.  I caught it more with my nose than my tongue, but everyone’s tastes are different.

Jay Ducote and Brandon Brown Enjoy the ISAW Wine Tasting

We all thought every wine tasted great, so consumption continued until Liz Williams, the President of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, offered us to-go cups and politely suggested that the time had come to leave.  Only in New Orleans will a museum president give you a to-go cup for your unfinished wine at closing time!

I’d like to give a special thank you to ISAW, Stephen, Liz, and everyone else that helped put the wine tasting together.  I thoroughly enjoyed each wine, and especially love trying two previously never-before-tasted varietals.  If you are in New Orleans or anywhere in the vicinity, make sure to check out the ISAW 2010 Drink Well Do Good Tour.  The whole event kicks off in Nola on Easter weekend, and you should most certainly not miss it!

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Thanks to Eric Ducote of the BR Beer Scene for the pictures!

Random Bites and Boozes

Here are random and assorted Bites and Boozes that I’ve had over the past few months that didn’t really fit in with a full blog post.  Enjoy, and have a great weekend!

Fuller’s London Pride
Ribbit on a Stick – LSU Soccer
Blackened Drum with Crab Topping from Sammy’s Grill
Apple Cider Moonshine From Rev
Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breast by Dana
Elk Burger with Cheddar at the Deer Camp
Boudin Shop and Country Store, Gotta Love Louisiana
Bonefish Grill: Lobster topped Mahi Mahi
Carrabas Beef Brasato: melt in your mouth good!
Hunter’s Gumbo and Sweets
Jimmy Johns #9 Italian Sub, 10% off for saying Bite and Booze sent you, thanks for the promotion, Kyle
Wags on the Levee Shrimp and Andouille Stew
Waffle Cheese Fries from Walkons
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