Christmas and New Year’s are barely behind us. Turkey and dressing, divinity and pecan pies have all fallen to the well-intended resolutions of January 1st as festive eaters who flirted with gluttony set their sights on a beach bod. But hold on, just a second. Mardi Gras is here and the party’s just beginning!
You can’t keep that skinny resolution with all this city has to offer this time of year. It’s a time for celebration. Bring on the food and drink because that’s what Mardi Gras is all about. And though we hold the bragging rights to the origin of this multiple weeks-long party, we do share and borrow some of the food ideas with our friends in the Crescent City, and we are proud to do so.
For a typical Mobile Mardi Gras spread, I consult my good friend Snake. Snake’s got the party down pat, be it weeknight drinks and snacks or an all-day Joe Cain affair.
I thought it would be a good idea to discuss the typical Saturday or Sunday as if our Yankee friends were in town and were dying to know just how we make a good time out of a day at the house and a parade or two.
Mimosas are the breakfast drink, though I prefer the poinsettia. Snake always has both. It’s not a great idea to chug a pot of chicory before hitting the pavement, so a mild libation is best. Our nod to the Big Easy is, of course, beignets. My kids always look like a particular scene from “Scarface” when they get near powdered sugar.
Breakfast during Mardi Gras is more about finger food. On cooler mornings sausage balls will always be a part of the spread. My favorite is the Mardi Gras pigs in a blanket made from andouille sausage wrapped in phyllo dough. Brushed with egg white before baking, the buttery puff pastry has that gorgeous shine. Homemade honey mustard is a great dipping sauce.
Grits and grillades are a must for a Southern Carnival breakfast. Snake keeps the grits rich with a little heavy cream.
Fresh fruit is always around, and you’ve got to have a strawberry with your mimosa, but for the sake of all that is holy keep the Bloody Mary to a tolerable level. This isn’t a meal, folks. A skewer of olives, a celery stick, Worcestershire sauce and a dash or two of Tabasco keeps it classy. I don’t mind a pickled pod of okra or a bean and cocktail onions, but when you have a half dozen shrimp and a slice of pizza protruding from the oversized glass, you’re begging to be made fun of. Let your drink be your drink.
Here is where it gets tricky. You don’t want to be so full you can’t enjoy the afternoon parade, and you probably have a big day of proving your drinking skills to your out of towners, so keep it fairly light. There’s a lot of hoofing it around here and you never know when you might have to walk from The Garage to The Haberdasher, all because someone in the group has a friend they need to see and everyone thinks it’s a great idea. Walking back is a less fun adventure.
At Snake’s we take it easy. One of the best ideas is an appetizer called dragon eyes. Perfect for MOT Saturday, dragon eyes are your everyday pimiento-stuffed olives wrapped in cream cheese, rolled in chopped pecans and sliced in half. They are a great salty snack to accompany a beer.
It wouldn’t be Mobile without West Indies salad, right? For those who don’t know, this is OUR dish. Created by Bill Bayley, this is basically crabmeat and onions in lemon juice and vinegar. It’s popular because it’s one of the most refreshing things to eat even in cooler months.
Chargrilled oysters are the new trend, and Snake likes them purple, green and gold. Of course the green is Rockefeller. Purple is similar but with red cabbage in place of spinach. Gold is butter, garlic and Parmesan.
You’ve got to show off your gumbo skills, so there is always a quart or two (made ahead of time) resting in a slow cooker next to a pot of rice. The second slow cooker is full of chili. This isn’t for bowls of chili, though you are welcome to go that route. This is our food on the go in the form of Frito chili pie.
Just before we walk out the door with a beer in each pocket or a Yeti cup full of a mixed drink, we open an individual bag of Fritos, pour in a half ladle of chili and top with shredded cheese. It’s the perfect travel snack. Not pretentious, very mobile, simple and delicious. But don’t be caught dead with canned chili. Your mama raised you better.
Retiring to the environs in which you woke that morning is usually a bit of a ballet. Most everyone is buzzed from the booze and starting to get those late-night munchies. It’s hard to get everyone home at the same time, but one thing that’s sure to bring the folks back promptly is the promise of Snake’s crawfish.
Leave the crowded bars, hop an Uber if you can’t walk it and get home to the mudbugs. Conecuh sausage seems to be twice as good in a stellar boil, and nowadays the pot has everything but the kitchen sink. Garlic heads, shredded cabbage, hot dogs and tons of onions are great but take a back seat to the almighty crawfish.
No one really cares about dessert at this party, but there’s always a King Cake or two.
If looking to entertain Port City style, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to follow Snake’s lead. It’s the best all-day affair I know of, so throw out the notion that you’re getting ready for bikini season. We’ve got some eating to do!