It was the 44th edition of the legendary Gheens Bon Mange Festival his past weekend. For the non-Francophones, bon mange means good eats, and that’s exactly what’s offered in the unincorporated community of Gheens, Louisiana.Rolling down LA-654 in southern Louisiana feels like coming home. The landscape is that of a prairie with sugar cane fields stretching as far as the eye can see. We always keep an eye out for gators when we’re in the hinterlands but are disappointed when none make an appearance. The rich soil and native plants of Lafourche supports a wide variety of wildlife with nearly a half a million acres of the parish being comprised of marshlands. Raccoons, otters, minks, nutria and swamp rabbits are plentiful in these parts and we’d love to eat them all, carefully cooked and stuffed into good po boy loaves.
Kentucky native Charles Gheens (b. 1878 d. 1861) is a legend in these parts. He owned both Koch’s Dairy Farm as well as the Golden Ranch Plantation and cut an impressive figure in Acadiana as a land baron and benefactor to the community. To this day his foundation bequeaths over $6 million annually.But we’re only in it for the po boys. Last year we dined lavishly at the Gheens Community Center when we happened upon a grillades po boy that in toto was one of the finest of our multi-year series.
But we were determined to branch out this year and with the close proximity of Des Allemands, the Catfish Capitol of the Universe, we reckoned we’d be well served with a fried catfish po boy.
The nice ladies standing in front of an array of crockpots are hustling. The crowd is hungry and it’s all they can do to keep up with the demands of the eaters. Finally we’re served.The fried catfish at Gheens Bon Mange is dredged in a lightly seasoned corn meal mix then given a quick trip through bubbling peanut oil. The sandwich would’ve benefited from being served piping hot. The bread is all soft with little crack to the crust. At a mere $8 there is some value to the sandwich but this po boy pales in comparison to that mighty one we had at the same venue just one year ago.
We sit back and fall into a meditative state as a cover band launches into an old Otis Day and the Knights song.
After resting a spell we retire out of doors and begin chatting with a group of Lafourche natives. Soon the conversation turns to the sad sight across the street from the community center. Bill’s Place, the old bar room with a 50+ year history has been bulldozed, the site scraped clean.
It’s regarded as a scandal hereabouts as the owner passed away and his heirs tore down the old beer joint with nary a look back. Nowadays you have to drive to Lockport to drink a cold beer at a bar.