Despite being Long Island-born and -raised, I’m a New Orleanian at heart. As a Tulane grad that started her food writing career there, I can say for a fact that there’s something about the Crescent City that gets under your skin and into your blood. The thump of a talented middle school drumline that your pulse begins to echo, the resonant bellows of a sweetly pulled trombone that tugs at your heartstrings. A sense of abandon and laughter as a washboard scrapes and accordion wheezes, exhilaration and freedom when guitars start to wail.
My soul aches for these sounds year-round, but never more than this time of year: Carnival season. Once more, Mardi Gras is upon us, making the winter doldrums of the north that much duller.
But nevertheless, we Long Islanders persist! And many a stalwart restaurateur is doing their best to brighten up the winter blues and grays with ample splashes of purple, gold, and green. Here are a few venues that try to put their best, parade-marching feet toward laisser le bon temps rouler!
1. Mara’s Homemade
236 West Jericho Tpke. | Syosset 11791 | 516.682.9200
The deadline for ordering your own king cake from Mara’s has come and gone, but that’s not to say you might not be able to score some if you head there Fat Tuesday. If they’re out, you can console yourself with the massive list of Southern desserts that includes beignets, gluten-free Bananas Foster, and bluegrass pie. Expect drink specials, beads, and Cajun dishes in addition to their usual Deep South favorites like fried green tomatoes, hush puppies, char-grilled oysters, crawfish bread, gator bites, fried pickles, gumbo, po-boys with Crystal (oyster, shrimp, crawfish and catfish), redfish renditions, crawfish etoufee, jambalaya, red beans and rice and even an Abita-marinated strip steak.
70 West Main St. | Patchogue 11772 | 631.447.7744
For the seventh year, this BBQ joint is setting up to get you fat on Fat Tuesday. Live music from K.K. Gumbo & the Po Boys, featuring Kerry Kearney, is the headline act, but the real star will likely be guest chef Colleen McGrath, who has dreamed up a special Cajun (not to be confused with Creole) menu just for the 5 PM celebration. Crawfish hushpuppies, Drago’s-style charbroiled oysters, alligator sausage, red beans and rice (despite it being Tuesday), shrimp etouffee, seafood gumbo and jambalaya all appear on the menu, along with a classic shrimp and crawfish boil platter with potatoes, corn and sausage.
3. Café Joelle
25 Main St. | Sayville 11782 | 631.589.4600
They love creating special themed menus (think Oktoberfest, San Gennaro) here, and with a dining room that already harkens to the little shotgun restaurants in New Orleans, tin ceilings and all, it’s a matter of course that they get into Mardi Gras, too. Check out the Oysters Brennan, another famous cooked oyster rendition, and pecan-crusted Louisiana catfish. Crawfish appears on the seafood ravioli, and etouffee made with a roux, accents of real tasso ham in the Cajun Carbonara and Shrimp Diane dishes add authenticity to ingredients. Again, the menu is predominantly Cajun, but here, you can have yourself a Hurricane to temper all the blackening.
553 Main St. | Islip 11750 | 631.277.2008
Technically, this is a music venue and not a restaurant. But we did say “celebrating” NOLA, no? Right, so grab a ten-spot to go see Dave Clive’s Fat Tuesday Nawlins Funk Band at 7 PM on Tuesday. Come hungry if you really want to get into that New Orleans feel—their regular menu already offers their own version of a muffaletta (hint: sriracha happens!), gumbo with corn bread, and shrimp cocktail with Cajun spices. Six cocktails inspired by the City That Care Forgot—a Sazerac, absinthe frappe, and Hurricane among them—puts you in the right “spirit.”
43 Green St. | Huntington 11743 | 631.351.3446
When you name your restaurant after a city’s notorious red light district, its most prominent celebration is obviously going to be a big deal. They do it up with a strolling saxophone player, masks for all, and real king cake from Paul’s Pastry Shop in Picayune, just across Lake Pontchartrain. $34.95 will get you three courses here, with a generous list of choices. Turtle soup, gumbo, grits fries with Andouille, and even a cold seafood cocktail are options for apps. Notable entrees include red snapper with crawfish brandy sauce, bronzed “Hot Fanny” catfish and a seafood stew with crab, mussels, shrimp, catfish and Andouille. Their mild jambalaya and chicken and (fleur de lis-shaped!) waffles are also available, and included dessert ranges from bread pudding to praline cheesecake to—you guessed it!—king cake.
6. Big Daddy’s
1 Park Ln. | Massapequa 11758 | 516.799.8877
This party-hearty venue has a full slate of activities, from live music to food and drink specials and even BOGO oyster shooter specials and crawfish boils. A week of bon temps began the Wednesday preceding Fat Tuesday, but the big day is without a doubt the main event. Live lunchtime music by the Jack Morelli Trio begins at 12:30, and the Johnny Mac Band hits the stage at 8 PM. Tickets are only $35 in advance, and includes a buffet of New Orleans-style classics and entry as early as 5 PM. With a regular menu that includes gumbo with tasso and smoked turkey, blackened gator tails, Tulane (hey-o!) Fried Oysters, grillades and grits, catfish, pulled pork and waffles, jambalaya and toasted muffalettas, the spread is sure to please.
7. The Bayou
2823 Jerusalem Ave. | Bellmore 11710 | 516.785.9263
After 31 years, you’d best believe this Cajun joint has Mardi Gras down. Their celebrations began on February 23 this year and the live music, food and drink specials, and revels are daily until Fat Tuesday. You’ll find real-roux gumbo, jambalaya, cornbread with pepper jelly, blackened anything, fried catfish, shrimp and grits, etouffee and corn Maque Choux on catfish, chicken, crawfish or shrimp. Turn up with a Hurricane or—even better—the hard-to-find in the Northeast Abita beer and Dixie Brewing Co., including their Blackened Voodoo Lager.
8. Biscuits & Barbeque
106 East 2nd St. | Mineola 11501 | 516.493.9797
Good old-fashioned crawfish boils were kicked off the weekend before Mardi Gras, and continues through the end of March. Whether you want to down one pound or three of the mudbugs is entirely up to you, but that’s not the only New Orleans-inspired special they have on the menu for Mardi Gras. Think bacon-wrapped gator ribs, crawfish pie, fried oysters, crawfish etouffee, shrimp creole and hickory smoked beef brisket. King cake, made locally and with a coffee bean subbing in for the notorious baby, is the obvious dessert choice for this limited time. For the rest of the year, there’s always the warm muffaletta, jambalaya, Gulf shrimp and grits, southern catfish, alligator sausage, fried pickles and their namesake biscuits and real smoked BBQ.