I've never been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and probably never will. It seems best done under the age of 30, before hangovers have really serious consequences. For my Mardi Gras celebration, I'll settle for New Orleans food in festive surroundings closer to home. Several local restaurants feature Louisiana cooking which fills the bill for the cuisine, but what about the rowdy fun — hurricanes, bare-bosomed maidens and gold doubloons? String on some beads (only in green, gold or purple, please), and let's take a look.
Since Mardi Gras is a weeknight (Fat Tuesday is Feb. 16 this year) and this is Cincinnati, after all, most festivities will happen this weekend.
Friday at 8 p.m. in Covington, the Krewe of Big Heads will parade from Jillian's on 12th Street down to Mainstrasse. Saturday night features the Grand Parade at the same time and route, and both will lead you right past Dee Felice's Cafe at Sixth and Main streets.
Here is an old favorite for folks who like New Orleans fare. You'll feel like you're in the Quarter as you settle back for dinner and a night of music.
Dixieland reigns Fridays and Saturdays, transporting you to Bourbon Street while you sample Creole- and Cajun-style cooking ($12.95-$21.95). For Mardi Gras, Dee Felice is offering New Orleans dinner specials and a front-row seat on the parade and the Mainstrasse celebration, which continues after the parade with music into the wee hours.
Across the river, the Main Street area in Over-the-Rhine will be alive and kicking with its own party on Saturday night. Main Street from Central Parkway to 12th Street will be blocked off from 7 p.m. until midnight; $6 buys admission for a beer and beads. Highlighting the festivities is a 9 p.m. parade featuring decorated shopping carts sponsored by local bars. This circumvents the Cincinnati city ordinance against throwing beads from motorized vehicles, so in the true spirit of entrepreneurship, shopping carts will do the job. Come on, City Council, loosen up and let those floats in.
Before you venture uptown, check out the food and fun at Redfish Looziana Roadhouse and Seafood Kitchen on Race Street downtown. Its noisy roadhouse atmosphere — posters, guitars and even stuffed fish share wall space over the narrow booths — generates a party mood. For Mardi Gras, Redfish has specials like Pecan Crusted Catfish with Crawfish Étoufée ($16.95), Blackened Sea Scallops ($8.95) and even Dessert Jambalaya ($5.95), a mix of various pies and puddings. Drink specials will also be featured, including hurricanes (a potent blend of rum and fruit juices), Cajun martinis and several New Orleans beers. Redfish is celebrating every night through Tuesday with the special menu and music in the bar and promises good times all the way to Ash Wednesday.
Skipping back across the river to Cold Spring in Campbell County, tap your toes to Zydeco at Knotty Pine on the Bayou while munching on succulent Fried Oysters ($9.95 a half dozen, a dozen for $15.95). Most of the menu is devoted to Louisiana favorites and, while there is nary an étoufée in sight, they do a mean Cajun Gumbo ($2.95, $4.95 and $7.95). Or try the Cajun Sampler ($15.95) and knock back a few Crimson VooDoos while sitting on the enclosed deck high over the Licking River. The folks at Knotty Pine are hosting their Mardi Gras party (complete with music, beads and hurricanes) on Tuesday.
Back across the river one more time to Allyn's Cafe in Columbia-Tusculum. While not exclusively a Louisiana restaurant, Allyn's serves enough Red Beans and Rice ($6.25), Jambalaya ($6.75) and "blackened thangs" — including Blackened Gator ($12.95) — to qualify for my Mardi Gras food fest. A popular neighborhood stop, Allyn's features live Zydeco and Blues most nights.
You might not encounter bare-breasted maidens begging for trinkets in these restaurants (maybe at the parades), but you'll find good food and enough atmosphere to create your own Mardi Gras. So instead of spending a bundle on a trip to the Big Easy, you can have a pretty good time — I'm not saying as good, but pretty good — here in town. And you don't even have to take a vacation day to do it, unless that hangover is really major. Stock up on some Tums, beware the hurricanes and laissez le bon temps rouler! ©