Natchitoches meat pies and dirty rice at Lasyone's — Photo courtesy of Natchitoches CVB
Louisiana has its fair share of iconic dishes that make it such a culinary capital. There’s gumbo, beignets, boudin and po' boys, which you can find in much of the state. But the over 400-year-old city of Natchitoches (pronounced NACK-uh-tish), located northwest of New Orleans, has its own signature dish.
What is a Natchitoches meat pie?
As Louisiana’s oldest city, Natchitoches has a number of influences in its cuisine, including French, Spanish and Creole. The Natchitoches meat pie brings them all together, resembling an empanada like those found in Spain and Latin American countries, or even a Cornish pasty, made with a meat filling and deep-fried pastry shell.
The meat pie’s exact origins are unclear, but researchers have made connections to the Spanish soldiers stationed nearby in the 1700s. By the late 1800s, these meat pies were served at the plantations that lined the Cane River and on street corners, making them the state’s original “street food.” The African American community in particular carried on the pie-making tradition.
“My father, [the late] James Lasyone, he remembers when he was a little boy, the African American men peddling them in carts on the sidewalks. They were selling them for a nickel,” says Angela Lasyone, the second-generation owner of Lasyone's Meat Pie Restaurant.
Mini meat pies at Maglieaux's — Photo courtesy of Caroline Eubanks
At first, it was a matter of who you knew. If you didn't catch the street vendor in time or didn't know someone that made them, you didn't get any meat pies. But in the following century, they became a staple at community events like the circus and church fairs, eventually making their way onto the plates of traditional restaurants.
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The handheld nature of the dish made it an easy snack, as well as affordable to all income levels. In a state that loves to celebrate, the pies are the perfect festival food.
“You can walk around and eat one and have something to drink in the other hand, so they’re very versatile,” says Lasyone.
According to the official Natchitoches meat pie recipe, the pies contain beef, pork, garlic and part of the “holy trinity” of Louisiana cooking: bell pepper and onion. But you'll also find versions with crawfish or the vegetarian-friendly mushroom pie.
A 2003 bill made the Natchitoches meat pie the official meat pie of Louisiana. There's even a meat pie festival in the North Louisiana town.
Downtown Natchitoches — Photo courtesy of Caroline Eubanks
Not all Natchitoches meat pies are the same. Lasyone’s Restaurant is considered to be the original in town, open since 1967. James Lasyone made the pies in his butcher shop before expanding into a full restaurant, and the restaurant’s big break came when it was featured in House Beautiful magazine in the 1970s.
“We were the first ones to really sell the meat pies commercially in a restaurant type setting. Everybody would come to Natchitoches and come to Lasyone’s to get a meat pie. That’s kind of how the ‘Natchitoches meat pie’ ordeal began.”
Other companies popped up, offering their version of the pie, including one company that made them using a piece of machinery. But Lasyone’s still makes them the authentic way.
“They’re all handmade," says Lasyone, "we make anywhere from 450 to 1,500 a day by hand.”
Where to eat Natchitoches meat pies
Natchitoches Meat Pie Festival — Photo courtesy of Natchitoches CVB
As they have for generations, Natchitoches meat pies can be found both on menus at fine dining restaurants and at roadside stands. Recipes are passed down between family members and published in church cookbooks.
If you only have time to eat meat pies at one restaurant, make it Lasyone's Meat Pie Restaurant. Their version of the meat pie has 80% beef and 20% pork, and hundreds are made by hand daily. They’re mild in spice level, perfect for beginners to Louisianan flavors. The menu also has crawfish pie, a popular choice since debuting on the menu in 2002, and banana pudding with rum sauce. Their pies are available nationwide on Goldbelly.
Another favorite is Maglieaux’s, which has a patio that overlooks the Cane River. The menu includes a mix of Louisiana and Italian dishes, including po' boys and pasta, but the mini meat pies are the perfect way to start a meal.
Merci Beaucoup serves decadent Cajun-influenced dishes like crawfish etouffee and gumbo, along with offerings of traditional meat and crawfish pies.
But if you’re looking for a meat pie on the go, don’t skip the area’s gas stations and meat markets. French Market Express has regular meat pies, spicy versions and craw meat pies. Front Street Marketplace, located along the Cane River, is another option for a quick bite.
You’ll also find meat pies on offer at festivals around the country. Lasyone’s is usually found at the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans, feeding hungry revelers.
So if you get the chance to sample a real, authentic Natchitoches meat pie, don’t pass it up!