Like it or not, Mardi Gras is falling in your lap. The parades are here and the excitement is high. Downtown Mobile and the Eastern Shore won’t be the same for weeks, but we consider it a good thing. My job, of course, is to speak on Mardi Gras as it pertains to food. No problem. You may be here looking to get down to booziness, and I won’t judge, but you aren’t going hungry at this parade. Not on my watch.
Mobile’s Carnival is food-rich, covering all the bases from trashy to elegant. Let’s start with the trash.
Well, there are moon pies. You’re looking to catch as many as you can, and unlike beads, you’re allowed to pick one off of the ground, provided it has not been stepped on. Don’t like moon pies, you say? Catch them anyway. You may find their value as an alternative form of currency at some point.
Moon pies aren’t the only food being thrown from the floating vessels. We are sure to see ramen noodles, bagged peanuts and the occasional pickle. I’ve even lost a pair of cheap sunglasses (and nearly my nose) to a giant container of cheese balls. There is one food item that takes the cake, so to speak, and that is the elusive box of Fudge Rounds. Sure, they aren’t as good as Oatmeal Cream Pies (my sister would argue otherwise), but the excitement is high when you nab the rarer treat.
Mobile is still riding the roach coach craze, saints be praised, but the traveling carnival stands are a separate entity. These guys strategically secure spots along the parade routes and semipermanently set up shop for the greater portion of February. Mobilians have their favorites and a few of us keep a mental ranking despite many of them being EXACTLY the same.
I allow myself one giant corn dog per season. The rest of the time is spent searching for a stand that strays a bit from the pack. My advice is to find a stand that has cheesesteak fries or any kind of fries with stuff piled on them. Most anything you get at one of these places will be food you eat with your fingers, so bring hand sanitizer by the gallons.
In the midst of all these, the jackpot is the local food truck. A lot of ours don’t head downtown during parades because of all the red tape and extra permits, but should you be visiting and see one of our hometown trucks, I urge you to try them out. We are a proud lot here in the Port City. Buy local!
I’ll not make a list for fear of leaving someone out, but there are so many amazing restaurants on or near the parade routes. I’m not just talking about Mobile. Main Street in Daphne is full of great eateries right now. Fairhope never disappoints with so many good spots that are walkable from Section and Church streets. Mobile stretches essentially from Dauphin to Royal, Canal to State.
The restaurant scene is another strategy. Some have full menus, others have limited items in order to remain expeditious. How can you use a restaurant to your advantage? If your dogs are barking, take refuge in one of our establishments and grab a drink and an appetizer. They will be near empty when the parade rolls by. Though you can’t just take up space, you can get some rest while you eat. Definitely buy something. You cannot dip in just to use the restroom. These are for paying customers, and I don’t blame these businesses for standing by that policy. Also remember you cannot bring your kid into a bar to pee. It’s illegal.
A lot of our finer dining establishments have something affordable, but most diners will be there for the experience. Don’t ruin it for them. I hate when I save up my money and take my best gal somewhere fancy with a jacket, and some jackleg in a backwards ball cap, drunk and loud, comes in sloppy and ruins the vibe. The drunk women are just as offensive. Respect all of the establishments, but handle yourself according to the ambience of the restaurant. Not all of us can afford to do this very often.
I know, the whole thing is a party. I’m talking about stepping away from the route and hanging with your friends. Find someone with the right house in the right spot. There are pregames in Midtown. Come-and-gos are all over downtown and the Oakleigh Garden District. It’s all a ballet of slightly more sophisticated tailgating. The Mobile Mardi Gras party is changing, but a few items will always remain necessities.
You must have a king cake. It must have a baby. There are too many good ones here to claim a best, but we have our favorites. They tend to be geographical.
If there’s no gumbo, then what are you doing here? Go to the next party. Mobile is gumbo-obsessed. Weddings, funerals, Wednesdays, whatever, you need gumbo for a real party. Chicken, sausage, seafood, all of the above. If you do a lot of gumbo, here’s a tip: Invest in a large rice cooker to make your life easier.
The West Indies salad may be the true Mobile contribution to the cookbooks of the world, but I associate grits and grillades with a Mardi Gras party. New Orleans may have made them famous, but we run a close second to our sister city. I have no idea why I don’t make them all year round. Don’t use the quick grits. Get the stone-ground this time.
You’ll have your drink of choice, but hard seltzer is the way to stay upright. You won’t feel as bloated as with beer. Play the long game.
Foosackly’s is always welcome at any party. The Mobile original qualifies as a new-school favorite. Embrace it!
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).