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LaPlace, Andouille and Hurricane Isaac

Ian McNulty checks in with sausagemakers in the andouille capitol

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Proprietor E.J. Bailey reopened Bailey's World Famous Andouille. - PHOTO BY IAN MCNULTY

A 60-mile round-trip to stock the fridge with sausage or find a seafood dinner might seem a bit excessive, especially when the trip starts in New Orleans, where sausage and seafood are always close at hand.

  But I've never regretted any such trip to LaPlace. Chalk that up to the extraordinary andouille sausage produced in the traditional smokehouses in downtown LaPlace, and to the quintessential Louisiana setting for seafood feasts at Frenier, a tiny lakefront hamlet just outside of town.

  Both were on my mind when it became clear just how hard LaPlace and nearby communities were hammered by Hurricane Isaac. Despite the damage, however, LaPlace is rebuilding and its food culture is holding strong, too.

  The recent rise of boudin notwithstanding, andouille is probably Louisiana's best-known sausage and the road trip-worthy andouille from LaPlace is its fullest expression. The links — or sticks, as they're called in LaPlace — are peppery, chunky, intensely smoky and large, with a silver-dollar diameter.

  LaPlace andouille makers say the local style comes from the cultural mixing of French and German neighbors in the colonial days of the River Parishes, also known as the German Coast. Today this heritage is maintained by three smokehouses in LaPlace, plus a few more in nearby towns. Practically next door to each other, there's Jacob's World Famous Andouille (505 W. Airline Hwy., LaPlace, 985-652-9080; www.cajunsausage.com) and Bailey's World Famous Andouille (513 W. Airline Hwy., LaPlace, 985-652-9090; www.baileysandouille.com). Neither flooded and both reopened days after Isaac.

  Two miles away, Isaac damaged Wayne Jacob's Smokehouse (769 W. 5th St., LaPlace, 985-652-9990; www.wjsmokehouse.-com), which, despite the name, is not affiliated with Jacob's World Famous. Storm winds scalped a portion of Wayne Jacob's roof, and much of the interior had to be gutted. But proprietor David Rauch expected his smokehouse to be back in business as soon as this week. Wayne Jacob's also doubles as a restaurant, where andouille is fashioned into burgers, bacon, gumbo and "chips," fried slices served with Creole mustard. The restaurant could reopen by month's end.

  The news is not as upbeat for another cluster of good eating here. Frenier juts into Lake Pontchartrain with a collection of camps, a boat launch and a pair of seafood restaurants that could have been sent from Louisiana central casting. There was the Crab Trap, charmingly ramshackle in every way, where buckets of beers and trays of crawfish or shrimp where dispatched at open-air tables. A few paces away, Frenier Landing Restaurant & Oyster Bar (113 Dottie Lane, LaPlace, 985-224-2178; www.-frenierlanding.com) is a much spiffier affair with a wrap-around porch, a long menu of grilled and fried seafood and the look of a high-dollar fishing camp.

  Frenier had no protection from Isaac's storm surge, and Crab Trap owner Louie Lipps says that spelled the end of his restaurant. He won't reopen. But Frenier Landing Restaurant was built on high pilings and designed to withstand hurricane-force winds. Owner Crystal Durand says it will reopen as early as Sept. 21.

  Hurricane recovery can be a long and unpredictable journey. But as LaPlace rebuilds, it's reassuring to still know some local food destinations still wait at the end of the road.

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