Where even the alligators don’t interrupt the dancing and dining
In the brief peace of perfect spring between the retreat of Louisiana’s wet winter shudder and the advancing phalanx of humidity, it is mandatory that one make the most of this state’s bounty while it is still bountiful. That’s when I traveled the back way to Marrero on Highway 3127, which looked like it was cut from a wide swath of jungle, an impenetrability of trees contouring the road nearly the whole way. (What did people think when they first got here? Were they dumbstruck by spring’s massive green kiss or worn asunder by the summer’s bear hug? I guess it depends on when they got here.)
The Bayou Barn lets you know you’ve arrived with a mural depicting a pair of giant alligators playing accordion around a boiling pot. The rustic barn, set along Bayou Des Familles just outside the Jean Lafitte Barataria Preserve, overflows with promise. A rack of cheery yellow rental canoes sits to one side of the property, on the other is a sno-ball truck—all bases covered.
“My parents built it thirty-five years ago,” said chef and owner Tammy Friloux. “It was an empty lot, and I remember coming out here as a little girl, running around the trees, picking out the ones we wanted to keep and which would go.” The property now has an assortment of well-worn buildings. A gaggle of kids ran over a small bridge, looking for frogs underneath. An older couple rocked gently on a porch swing to the side. Everything was weathered wood, battered tin, and flowers against a wash of spring green.
We’d arrived with the promise of a meal and a canoe, starved for both. The steam trays were all lit when we pulled in and paid our $5 entry fee, but Bayou Des Familles was choked with an invasion of water hyacinths blown in from Barataria Preserve just downstream, with the Frilouxs’ abatement efforts stifled by state bureaucracy.
On this particular day, the hyacinths were keeping the alligators off the grounds of the facility. “They don’t ever bother anybody,” assured Friloux. “When we get the smokers going at our cochon de lait house here [they can accommodate two full hogs at once] the alligators really come out. We do those about once a week for events and have public ones on holidays.”
The water hyacinths kept us out of the water as well, though we watched heartier souls paddle through the morass. The bayou, choked with green and delicate purple flowers, looked magical from the pier. I listened closely for the throaty groan of an alligator, but the woods were alive with crickets and tree frogs alone.
Back in the barn, we dug into our jambalaya—juicy and curiously sweet with big chunks of green and gold pepper, contrasting with the earthiness of andouille—thinking, This jambalaya is better than it needs to be. What I mean by this is that there are an infinitude of Louisiana experiences within twenty minutes of New Orleans that will sate the cultural explorer. A bowl of gumbo or plate of crawfish (both found on the menu in addition to delectable honey grilled barbeque chicken) will satisfy, say, the table of Japanese tourists who sat a table away from us. But we could tell that Friloux puts a special touch on everything in her magical corner of the world.
The accordionist for the Can’t Hardly Playboys selected an instrument from the rainbow of accordions at his feet. The guitarist sported a glistening, custom-built guitar that rang with a monstrous tone. Turned out that the guitarist is local legend Steve Rodus (who also built that guitar), and on the accordions was Grammy-nominated Bourbon Street trooper Jimmy Thibodeaux. They tore through Cajun classics like “My Toot Toot” and “Jolie Blonde” as well as a heart-wrenching rendition of George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Crowd-pleasers, sure, but like the jambalaya, they transcended the average experience. As we walked about the grounds, Friloux explained that the atmosphere was all by design.
“We initially opened for canoe rentals, frozen yogurt, live plants and native plants, and sno-balls in 1971. We had a small building that we did everything out of. They used to rent canoes and launch them right off the property. One time we had extended family—my dad had five brothers and sisters—and we’d do a big cochon de lait under a wood fire and crawfish boils and backyard events, and someone said ‘Y’all ought to do this for a living.’ It blossomed into a business.” Now, in addition to weddings, reunions, and corporate events, Bayou Barn hosts public fais do-dos every other Sunday with a $5 admission.
Back on stage, the Can’t Hardly Playboys had the dance in full swing. Friloux said, “The roots of the word fais-do-do are that mothers would sing that to their babies to go to sleep so they could go dance with their husbands out in the barn because they don’t want their husbands to dance with another woman.”
Friloux said they sought to adhere to the traditional Cajun barn dance experience as much as possible. “When we were looking to build the pavilion, we went around looking at old Cajun barns where they would open the sides and let the wind come through. Our barn is built with the benches along the side, where people would bring their kids to go to sleep while the adults were at the dance.”
Friloux was whisked away as we entered the barn. The Can’t Hardly Playboys were tearing into a particularly inspired version of Tony Joe White’s “Poke Salad Annie”—equal parts menace and joyous twang. It got the dance floor bouncing on that perfect afternoon in the country. I considered one more plate of the exceptional jambalaya, but decided I could hold off until my next visit. h
Details. Details. Details.
7145 Barataria Boulevard
Public fais-do-dos are every other Sunday from 12 pm–6 pm with a $5 admission. Food and a cash bar are separate. They take credit cards but prefer cash.
Canoe rentals are $20/person; kayaks are $25/person.