September 6, 2017 5:51:56 AM
In my former life, I worked as a high school sports writer for The News-Star in Monroe, Louisiana, a paper that stretches its coverage area as far west as Ruston, where this game will take place, and to the east almost all the way to the Louisiana-Mississippi border.
I hope this helps those of you make the trip for the game, and if it does, feel free circulate it around to others you know are making the trip. If you have any other questions about stuff to do in the area, hit me up on email (email@example.com), on Twitter (@Brett_Hudson) or on facebook.com/BrettHudsonSports.
Ruston is kind of small when it comes to college towns hosting SEC football games, so don't be surprised if the hotel options seem small when you search. Which is the root of what I did: I booked in the Monroe/West Monroe area. It's just half an hour away, straight down I-20. I booked in West Monroe right off the Interstate, so for those making the drive the day of the game: you drive, hop off the interstate, check in, drop off your stuff, get right back on the Interstate and finish the drive in a heartbeat. Then when you wake up Sunday morning, you've got a 30-minute head start home (assuming you live in Mississippi).
Before I do anything else, locals will tell you about this pizza place called Johnny's. DO. NOT. GO. THERE. It's trash. Remember when Kevin from The Office called one Scranton brand of pizza a, "hot circle of garbage"? That's Johnny's. If a local tells you it's good, you tell them they need to expand their horizons.
Unfortunately, I didn't do much eating in Ruston when I lived there, but two I did have are Ponchatoula's and Dawg House Sports Grill. Both are exactly what you think they are: Ponchatoula's is a solid Cajun/creole place and Dawg House is a classic sports bar-like place -- think of it as Ruston's version of Starkville's StaggerIn, just not quite as unique in their menu.
I did eat Cheeburger Cheeburger in Ruston several times because it was the first time I've lived near one, and I enjoyed it. The milkshakes are awesome and there are so many options in the build your own burger department that you can go back several times and have a wildly different experience each time. In the realm of chains not available in the greater Starkville-Columbus area, Ruston also has Whataburger and Raising Cane's, two of my favorites in the fast food department if you find yourself needing that for whatever reason.
Before I get to Monroe recommendations, one restaurant you'll find in both places that I highly recommend: Portico. I only went to the one in Monroe but I assume they're all the same: really good appetizers, a full bar that can sling anything from wine to signature cocktails and a good variety of entrees. My wife and I were eating it once every 10 days or so at one point.
In Monroe/West Monroe, one thing you need to Google the store hours to make sure you fit in your weekend: Miss Kay's Sweets and Eats. It's owned by Kay Robertson from the Duck Dynasty clan but a close personal friend is the head baker there and I will personally vouch for how much of a straight-up baller she, Rachel Marshall, is at what she does. Go there and thank me later on the social media platform of your choice. This is not a joke, you **need** to make this happen.
Speaking of that family, the best snow cone in America is at the Duck Dynasty compound in West Monroe. It's right in front of it, you can't miss it.
If you're getting into the Monroe/West Monroe area Friday night and looking for a nicer, high-dollar dinner, I suggest Warehouse No. 1 or Cotton. My wife and I had two wedding anniversaries while living there, went to Warehouse No. 1 both times and they treated us like kings. Cotton is owned by a guy named Cory Bahr that won the show Chopped and his menu is outstanding. If you're throwing on a button-down shirt and going somewhere decent, these are your two best options and it's not close.
For the average folk just kickin' it around Monroe/West Monroe, other than the previously suggested Portico: The Pickle Barrel was one my favorites, Rawz does excellent Asian, PieWorks does good pizza and BurgerGrind in West Monroe does a solid burger.
One more in West Monroe for those that are willing to go somewhere no one else you know is going to go: find the Get-N-Go on Facebook. I'm going to level with you: it's a family-run gas station with a diner attached to it (I know the family well, now three generations of Goldens running around) but the food is cheap, you're going to get more food than the price you pay for it and it's going to be good. If you happen to show up when they're doing a crawfish boil, you're in for a heck of a treat (but crawfish boils are more expensive than your average meal).
One more in Monroe: The Fieldhouse. Right next to ULM's campus on owned by a former ULM football player, so TVs and sports stuff everywhere. Good wings, good chicken tenders and friend of the blog Adam Hunsucker gets a salad there every time, so the pickings are good.
I'm going to quickly rank the area courses in order: Black Bear in Delhi (way out of town but on your way back to Mississippi), Squire Creek, Frenchmen's Bend and Chennault. (Notes: I never played Ruston Country Club but I heard great things; Bayou DeSiard is impeccable but you can't get on it; if I remember correctly Calvert Crossing is private.)
THINGS TO DO
Shoppers can hit the Pecanland Mall in Monroe and its surrounding shops. For wine drinkers, I highly recommend Landry's Vineyard. If you're a Duck Dynasty fan you can always go to their compound in West Monroe that's prominently featured on the show: it's actually not that far from the interstate and pretty easy to get off, go see it then get back on. Folks take pictures in front of there all the time, you won't be doing anything abnormal.
In Monroe, seriously, go check out ULM's campus. It's actually kind of cool: campus bumps into Bayou DeSiard, which hosts the school's national championship wakeboarding club team (you can see the ramp in the bayou and everything). Of course the bayou is closer to the athletic facilities part of campus which isn't all that impressive, but getting into the heart of campus has its redeeming qualities.