Natchitoches Meat Pies
Natchitoches’s savory hand pies are filled with a mixture of ground pork and beef in a seasoned gravy.
The Natchitoches meat pie is an empanada-like savory hand pie that has been associated with Louisiana’s oldest permanent European settlement since at least the mid-nineteenth century. The dish consists of a classic hand pie crust, filled with a mixture of ground pork and beef in a seasoned gravy; it is traditionally deep-fried but can also be baked. Though the Natchitoches meat pie has long been regarded as a regional delicacy, its commercial availability remained limited until the 1967 opening of Lasyone’s Meat Pie Kitchen and Restaurant. When several national media outlets published stories about Lasyone’s in the 1970s and 1980s, the resulting wave of public interest introduced the Natchitoches meat pie to consumers around the world.
The earliest known documentation of the Natchitoches meat pie occurs in Massachusetts-born missionary Timothy Flint’s travel journal, published in 1826, but the cultural roots of the dish likely stretch back much farther. One theory of its origin is that the Natchitoches meat pie is an adaptation of the empanada, introduced to the region in the eighteenth century by soldiers stationed nearby at the Spanish outpost Los Adaes. Another possible inspiration for the Natchitoches meat pie is the French Canadian tourtière. The founder of Natchitoches, a French-Canadian soldier and explorer named Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, may have brought along a taste for the pie-crusted, pork- and beef-filled tourtière when he arrived in the region in 1713. Whether or not the Natchitoches meat pie was directly inspired by another dish, the area’s meat pie-making tradition was almost certainly the product of intercultural borrowing between the many groups who intermingled there.
Among the groups whose labor contributed to the early popularity of the Natchitoches meat pie were the Creoles of color of Isle Brevelle, a community located approximately twelve miles south of Natchitoches on the Cane River. Creoles of color who were sought out for their meat pies included women like Ascher Rouqier—whose pies were so popular that the Natchitoches Enterprise ran a column lamenting her death in 1913—and Louise Sarpy, a pie maker who sold meat pies to tourists via classified ads in the 1950s and 1960s.
Lasyone’s and Natchitoches Tourism
While it was not uncommon for restaurants in Natchitoches to sell meat pies during the first half of the twentieth century, eateries like Poete’s Inn (1920s), T-Shoppe (1920s), Allday’s Coffee Shop (1930s), and Jimmy’s Lunch Room (1940s) could satisfy only a portion of the demand for Natchitoches meat pies. When travelers, business groups, or homemakers sought a large number of meat pies, they would need to track down a local piemaker—an inconvenient process that was out of step with the expectations of modern consumers. The daily availability of cooked-to-order Natchitoches meat pies improved in 1967 when butcher James Lasyone opened Lasyone’s Meat Pie Kitchen and Restaurant at 622 Second Street. The restaurant was a hit with customers and soon expanded to include two additional dining rooms capable of seating up to one hundred guests.
Lasyone’s found itself in the national spotlight in February 1974 when House Beautiful magazine published a story praising Natchitoches and its meat pies. The story generated a wave of media interest that led some of America’s most influential food and travel writers—including Craig Claiborne for the New York Times and Calvin Trillin for the New Yorker—to write about Natchitoches meat pies. Many other media outlets, including Good Morning America, Glamour, and Southern Living, followed with their own stories. As the tourism economy of Natchitoches grew, so did the popularity of their eponymous meat pie. In 2002 the New York Times reported that Lasyone’s served between four hundred and a thousand meat pies each day. James Lasyone died in 2015 at age 84, leaving behind a culinary legacy that changed the culture and economy of his hometown forever. His daughters Angela and Tina continue to operate the restaurant as of 2023.
Today the Natchitoches meat pie is sold not only in the Natchitoches region but at restaurants, bars, convenience stores, and festivals across Louisiana and the southeastern United States. In 2003 the Natchitoches meat pie was formally recognized as one of the official state foods of Louisiana. Natchitoches pays homage to the meat pie with annual events including the Natchitoches Meat Pie Festival, held each September, and the Meat Pie Tri, a meat pie-themed triathlon. The Natchitoches meat pie’s transformation from a rural delicacy into one of Louisiana’s most popular foods reflects the modernization of rural cultures and the changing nature of tradition along the Cane River.