LAKE CHARLES, La. -- Let's get one thing straight: I would never dissuade anyone from indulging in a beignet, or maybe two, first thing in the morning.
These sugary, powered, soft donuts -- which are a specialty down on the Bayou -- are simply too appetizing to walk by when you see a tray full of them. Rather, I would merely suggest it be a piece (or two) of a balanced, nutritious breakfast, including a banana or a piece of toast to help ensure the sugar spike doesn't hit you by the third hole.
It's pretty tough to not dive head first into the culinary scene when spending a long weekend in Lake Charles, in western Louisiana, which makes appetizing the adjective of the day when describing a trip down here. It seems the Cajun locals never caught something in the water they couldn't fit into a deep fryer. Should you catch something yourself out on the waters, such as a prized redfish, you can find a local seafood joint like the local institution Seafood Palace to bake it up for you.
The many water hazards around Lake Charles are staked with redfish.
Lake Charles has become a convenient playground of fishing and gaming, in particular, for the nearby Houston market. The main stay-and-play option is the L'Auberge Casino Resort Lake Charles, a 1,000-room casino and resort set along Contraband Bayou.
L'Auberge (which has a sister property in Baton Rouge) does far more than satisfy a basic gaming itch of residents whose state doesn't allow it. Guest rooms and common areas are stylish and modern, and Spa du Lac (set to be upgraded soon) oozes opulence. Outside, the outdoor pool area is a lush oasis with a lazy river, fire pits and adult's only pool. The summer months bring a nightly concert series to go with a common four-straight months of full occupancy.
For gaming, the casino floor, home to 1,600 slots and 70 table games, sits on a barge in the center of the hotel, but you'd never know you were on water as state laws mandate. It's a full-on, Vegas-style gaming experience including a live poker room, roulette and craps and an assortment of card games to go with complimentary drinks for players and a separate VIP lounge.
The signature restaurant at L'Auberge is Ember, which specializes in steaks (including a mighty "Tomohawk" cut, a 40 oz. ribeye for $99 that is cut table side and could probably be shared by a table of four). Or go more casual at Jack Daniel's Whiskey Grill, which turns into a lively bar late-night.
Where to golf in Lake Charles
Tom Fazio's Contraband Bayou winds around L'Auberge Resort in Lake Charles.
The golfing menu in Lake Charles begins at Contraband Bayou, the onsite championship course of L'Auberge, and was designed by Tom Fazio. Fazio is no stranger to high-end casino plays and its unique clientele of high-roller comps (including Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, Edgewood Tahoe in Lake Tahoe, Fallen Oak in Biloxi).
His layout here, which opened in 2004, has not only the gorgeous stylings of Fazio's signature bunkering, fairway contouring and greens, but in recent years, the golf operation has added other high-roller trimmings: new cart paths, touch-screen GPS and iced apples sitting in a barrel at the 10th tee box. Wooden bridges cross over small ponds littered throughout the property, and the course converted to Ultradwarf bermuda grass greens in 2010.
A worthy compliment to Contraband Bayou can be found downstream along the Calcasieu River at Gray Plantation. An upscale, semi-private facility, the course was in the Top 100 for, and is an original member of, the Audubon Golf Trail. Several holes play along the river, most notably the watery, short, par-3 sixth, whose tee and green is connected by a long, wooden bridge. With two drivable par 4s on the back nine, along with some reachable par 5s and short par 3s, the layout, while a stern 140 slope from the back tees, presents ample opportunities to catch a hot streak.
National Golf Club of Louisiana is one of two standout munis around Lake Charles.
There aren't enough golf courses in the Lake Charles area to call it a true "golf mecca," but there are a couple municipal courses worth a round if you want to expand your golf options beyond Contraband Bayou and Gray Plantation.
In Westlake, The National Golf Club of Louisiana is the area's newest course (until the Golden Nugget's course opens). The course is the centerpiece of a new 600-acre residential community (though few houses are visible from the course at this point). Challenge-wise, it holds its own with Contraband Bayou and Gray Plantation at more than 7,000 yards and interspersed with 14 water hazards (and could probably match the other courses's gator presence, too).
A more traditional layout can be found at Mallard Cove, located by the Chennault International Air Park, a former military base. The federal government gave the land to the city of Lake Charles to use for recreation, and it's become a local favorite but with enough interesting (albeit narrow) holes to make it a worthy option for the visitor. The large clubhouse -- rebuilt in 200, following Hurricane Rita's destruction -- certainly doesn't feel "muni."
A new course is also on the way. Just a chip shot away, a new casino property is being erected, the Golden Nugget, complete with a new 18-hole golf course designed by Todd Eckenrode (who has a casino course near San Diego at Barona Creek). The property is on schedule to open in mid-to-late 2014.