Known as the Zydeco Capital of the World, Opelousas is as culturally diverse as the music itself. Along with Creoles, the creators of zydeco music — Creoles was first used to describe descendants of European and Spanish settlers, then broadened to include a mix of Native Americans and African-Americans — this city’s diverse population of 16,500 also includes many Cajuns, who came here in the 18th century as French-speaking refugees from the Canadian maritime provinces. People from many other places and backgrounds live in Opelousas as well, making the city a cultural gumbo as interesting and spicy as the local cuisine.
To taste the local flavor, check on Soileau’s Dinner Club on North Main Street — or head a little left or right off Main on Landry Street to eat where the locals do at Back in Time, Mama’s Fried Chicken and Frank Po’ Boys.
The city’s motto is “Perfectly Seasoned,” a pun but perhaps also a salute to the late chef Paul Prudhomme, a native son of Opelousas who, in 1957 at age 17, opened his first restaurant in the city, a drive-in hamburger stand called Big Daddy O’s Patio. Today, Main Street intersects with Prudhomme Street (named after Michel, though not Paul) in a section of the city’s Historic District where you will find St. Landry Church, home of the Festival De La Grande Eglise. The church’s history and influence in the area dates back to the mid-1700s.
East of Main Street you’ll find Le Vieux Village, a historical park and museum, and the Louisiana Orphan Train Museum, a restored freight depot dedicated to the Orphan Train Riders, abandoned and homeless children from New York who traveled to Louisiana between 1873 and 1929.
On North Main is the Opelousas Museum & Interpretive Center, whose exhibits, covering prehistoric times to the present, include a room devoted the Civil War and the archives of the Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Music Festival. Each Labor Day, festival-goers can participate in traditional storytelling and learn about French, African and Caribbean cultural influences.
Opelousas has annual Mardi Gras festivities, many of which take place at the Civic Center near Main Street and feature the Half-Fast Krewe of Frank Mardi Gras Parade through the downtown area.
On the second Thursday in December, families gather on Main Street for the Opelousas Children’s Christmas Parade, featuring colorful floats, marching bands and, of course, Santa Claus.
A feast for the eye, ear and taste buds, Opelousas truly is the “Perfectly Seasoned” city.
All photos courtesy of the City of Opelousas, LA