We were a little apprehensive on traveling to Norco. A friend lives in the community and has often bemoaned the fates that have led to his existence there.
But we love small towns, we love Fall festivals and we’re always looking for an excuse to travel through Louisiana eating po boys while listening to Nathan Abshire and counting the gators who dash for the swamps when our old Econoline comes rumbling down the track.
St Charles is the easternmost parish of Acadiana and comprises one third of the territory sometimes known as the German Coast. If there’s one thing the Cajuns and the Germans have in common it is a love of drink, dance and food so when we got wind of the River Parishes Fall Festival we knew it was time to finally visit Norco, Louisiana.
While plenty residents of Acadiana earn their living by raising cattle, sheep or pigs, others take a more agricultural tack via growing sugarcane or rice. By the looks of things the citizens around Norco work in the petroleum industry as there are giant smokestacks shooting flames towards the heavens and oil and petro signs abound.
Norco would make an excellent set for a Bauhaus video.
Walking onto the grounds of Sacred Heart of Jesus School we’re immediately carried back to our own days at Catholic school in Appalachia. The grounds are tidy, religious iconography is omnipresent and we keep a weather eye peeled to see if a nun may spring from the bushes to rap us across our knuckles or perhaps trip us to the ground.
We’re here for a Monster Soft Shell Crab Po Boy that we’ve gotten wind of and soon enough we find a man standing over a stainless steel sink trimming the gills off the beasts. They’re good-sized and when we inquire as to their provenance the prep cook responds that they come from “around here”
Muscling the location of his secret fishing hole would not be keeping with the joie de vivre of the event so we let the subject rest.
Two medium crabs are dredged in seasoned flour then cooked in pro-level fryolators before being tucked into low-grade French bread. Leidenheimer or Gendusa po boy loaves may not be available in Norco. The fry cook shows a deft hand and the breading is nicely seasoned with salt and pepper. A mysterious hot sauce brand called Shur-Fine is on offer but we abstain as it is not Crystal-the brand seasoned po boy eaters veer towards.
A beauty pageant has recently taken place and an emcee is auctioning off the rights to crown the queens (there are a few of them) bidding quickly soars upwards of $300; it’s mainly being done by fathers, brothers or boyfriends and we have little interest in driving the value of crowning rights evermore skyward so we merely watch the assemblage.
A cover band takes the stage and they begin tearing into Loverboy, subbing the trumpet for the guitar on the solos. It’s interesting much as though a train has left the nearby railroad tracks and is plowing through the festival grounds.
We take this as a sign it is time to quit Norco, it was not as fearsome as we had anticipated and while we won’t be settling down there anytime soon if the right occasion came along we’d be happy to pass an afternoon there again.
editor’s note: We’re eating 500 po boys across the New Orleans area.