Mardi Gras cuisine wows Eating Adventurer
By Melissa Kahan, GLOB Correspondent
Once a year, crowds from all walks of life gather in historic New Orleans, LA, for good food and some good, maybe not-so-clean fun. The indulgence and festivities of Mardi Gras, or in English, Fat Tuesday, from elaborate parades to lively street performances and excessive amount of beads flying in the air, occur the day before Ash Wednesday, 47 days before Easter. Until then, the staple of the holiday is drink and food aplenty steeped in New Orleans culture.
As a first-time attendee of this wild party and your resident food adventurer, I could not help but broaden my food horizons amidst the shenanigans, especially since food is such a critical aspect of New Orleans, I felt the need to go down the line of popular foods the city is known for..
First up: po boys. A seven-hour driving excursion can sure work up an appetite. On the way to the Big Easy, at a stop in Mobile, AL, Felix's Fish Camp caught our eye, namely due to its ideal location on the water and close to the interstate. The restaurant reached capacity almost 30 minutes after its opening, which is pretty impressive and seemed promising in terms of food quality. The first thing that came to mind since I was in a New Orleans mindset was a big, hearty seafood po boy. My curiosity peaked at the idea of a shrimp AND oyster po boy, complete with lettuce and tomato across a fluffy, yet crunchy canvas of my favorite food item: bread. What really kept me lingering on every bite, though, was the spicy remoulade slathered across the bread that created a savory melding of creaminess, crunchy seafood, and refreshing vegetable in every bite.
The next day, on arrival in New Orleans itself, Café du Monde, a major tourist attraction known for its killer beignets covered in powdered sugar, was on the to-try list. A line around the block diminished surprisingly quickly on the brisk Monday morning, especially considering it was during Mardi Gras The six of us crowded around a small round table surrounded by dozens more tables of hungry customers salivating over a heaping plate of pastry goodness. Five orders of three beignets proved more than enough for six people, as the rich pastry consistency tucked into a fried, slightly crisp outer shell was a decadent experience. Not to mention the almost inch-thick topping of fresh white powdered sugar was enough to make even this sweets lover full to the brim. For those who are unfamiliar with the taste of beignets, they are comparable to funnel cakes.
As the day rolled on, strolling around the city's sites, flea markets and artistic hubs and pubs really worked up an appetite. My boyfriend and I, soon after our beignet binge, sought warmth in a steaming hot bowl of seafood and okra gumbo, complete with chunks of crawfish tails, shrimp and sausage with slices of okra floating in a sea of spices. That's another thing: In New Orleans, if it's not a dessert item, it's probably spicy, and I loved every minute of it!
When hunger pangs once again struck my group of six at lunch time, the New Orleans Hamburger & Seafood Co. was a nearby option appealing to our bigger-than-normal eyes. I was torn between a bowl of jambalaya and fried catfish, but in the end I opted for a non-fried option after the beignets: blackened catfish with with Tobasco Hollandaise Sauce and a side of jambalaya (right). Honestly, that creamy dreamy sauce and my love of jambalaya sealed the deal. The catfish, true to blackened-cooked form, was spiced and seasoned generously, with the sauce giving it that extra kick I expected, and the jambalaya provided a heartier side dish, complete with chicken, sausage, and flavorful rice..
My food coma overtook my tired body, and my satiated belly kept me full until a late dinner. By sundown, the wind chill whipped through our jackets, freezing our Florida-bred bodies to the bone. This called for a warm meal and a quick restaurant selection. Decatur Street proved a restaurant goldmine, so we scurried over to the first restaurant we found without a wait, as Mardi Gras goers were in abundant numbers at every turn. Café Maspero, boasting more than "40 years of New Orleans flavor," caught our eyes, the menu offering a diverse New Orleans selection. One thing I was feeling deprived of on this trip was a hearty sandwich. Myself and a few other compadres felt that a good old muffaletta would hit the spot. I was not fully prepared for the almost big-as-the-plate sandwich presented before me. Within a large sesame bun, as long as it was wide: Layers of salami, ham and pastrami heaped on and smothered in melted Swiss cheese and the famous olive salad that is so critical to the mufaletta experience. Needless to say, half of that sandwich and a few fries was extremely filling, and that is saying something when I typically have the appetite of a giant.
Among the twists and turns of the rowdy Mardi Gras streets and the pelting of vibrant beads from every angle, I discovered many food-lovers' gems. I also learned that moderation is key to every aspect of this celebration, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.t.