Don't feel bad if you can't blast off to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.
North Texas bakeries, bars and restaurants are poised to please customers who want a taste of that Crescent City je ne sais quoi, so your krewe shouldn't have any problem lining up the ingredients for an impromptu Mardi Gras party Tuesday, or at least a Big Easy toast to the occasion.
Here, some ideas to have New Orleans-flavored Fat Tuesday fun closer to home before the clock strikes 12 and the season of Lent begins:
Go out on the town
Family fun: Lake Dallas' Mardi Gras celebration is a lot closer than New Orleans' -- and hey, it's even near water. Billing the event as the "greatest free event on earth" is a little hyperbolic, but it does feature a parade, costume contest, mask contest, music by the N'Awlins Gumbo Kings, kids' activities, crawdad-eating contest and more. The city-sponsored fete is slated to take place 5-9 p.m. Tuesday at 212 Main St. in Lake Dallas. www.lakedallas.com/mardigras.html.
Blues crews: Tuesday night, Ricki Derek's 15-piece big band is at Scat Jazz Lounge. It'll be busting out jazz standards, ragtime and a Rat Pack vibe 8:30 p.m.-2 a.m. Cover is $10. Scat's at 111 W. Fourth St. 817-870-9100; scatjazzlounge.com.
And if you can wait, good things come Wednesday, when Louisiana expat Adonis Rose and the Krewe of Swing play Scat.
Fat Tuesday feasts : Food is a Mardi Gras foundation, and you can count on crawfish at Mardi Gras Cafe in Arlington. The first year the proprietors put on a Mardi Gras crawfish boil, there were so many cars in the parking lot, other business owners had to direct traffic. The price will be $5.99 per pound, and owner Roosevelt Pierre promises at least one live-jazz trio. "We're good to go," he said.
Hours Tuesday: 2-8:30 p.m.; 2816 S. Cooper St., Arlington. 817-557-9990.
The area Razzoo's Cajun Cafes are also in the mix. The restaurant chain's Tarrant County stores plan to have DJs 7 p.m.-midnight, as well as drink specials, including a $3 frozen hurricane and boiled crawfish at $4.49 per pound, according to Pablo Resendez, general manager of the downtown Fort Worth location. Find locations: www.razzoos.com.
Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchens locations plan to offer boiled crawfish at $4.95 per pound. Regardless of the weather, they'll have an $8.99 Swampthing drink in a commemorative glass, Mardis Gras T-shirts, live music and enough beads and baubles to bring the Big Easy atmosphere here, according to spokeswoman Christina Pappas. Also: Kids can enjoy face painting and balloon artists.
But, Pappas said, "I'd get 'em out of there before nine. It is Mardi Gras."
Find locations: www.pappadeaux.com.
Cook like a Cajun: New Orleans chef and restaurateur Michael Copeland, a veteran of the renowned Court of the Two Sisters restaurant in the French Quarter, is scheduled to demonstrate his recipes and techniques at the Fort Worth Central Market for a limited-seating audience Tuesday night. Class size is 31; students will be tutored by the chef. He will prepare crawfish étouffée, oysters Bienville and other Acadian classics, including a traditional gumbo (see recipe, below left). Hours: 6:30-9 p.m.; $55. Registration is required. 817-377-9005; www.centralmarket.com.
Stay in and play
Don't forgo the Mardi Gras revelry just because you're not out and about. Make up a big bowl of gumbo and invite your friends over for cocktails and king cake. Whoever gets the baby in the cake throws next year's party (or at least coughs up the price of next year's cake).
Mood music: Check your brick-and-mortar retailers for CDs by artists associated with New Orleans: Neville Brothers, Fats Domino, the great Allen Toussaint, the Meters -- all a guaranteed bon temps. The Mardi Gras Records label has a mother lode of music to set the tone.
If you can't find what you want in stores, Mardi Gras Records has New Orleans Second Line Mardi Gras Party and Ultimate New Orleans, featuring Mr. Big Stuff by Marva Wright, Hell Yes I Cheated by Johnny Adams and Tell It Like It Is by Big Al Carson, plus others, as MP3 album downloads for $9.99 at www.mardigrasrecords.com. Or, you could hit folkmusic.about.com/od/toptens/a/MardiGrasSongs.htm for more downloads, including Iko Iko and When the Saints Go Marching In, starting at just 89 cents a pop.
Decor and costumes: Nothing says Fat Tuesday like some beads and baubles -- unless it's your own pair of Mardi Gras Drinking Suspenders. Dressier than the beer hat, the festive braces come with two shot glasses and are just $7.99 at Party City stores, which also stock sequined purple/green/gold jester hats, drink mixes, masks, beads and decorations. They have stores in Fort Worth, Euless and other area cities. www.partycity.com.
Korey Williams, owner of Harris Costumes in Fort Worth's Cultural District, said the area's many Louisiana expatriates help support a thriving market for Mardi Gras masks and costumes in Tarrant County. Mask prices range from $2.95 for the basic domino to $30 for fancy models.
"The transplanted New Orleaneans like to have their own private parties," Williams said, adding that apart from a mask, any kind of costume is appropriate. "We tell people that Mardi Gras is anything." It's at 1100 Norwood St. harriscostumes.net.
Cocktails: New Orleans didn't invent the cocktail, but folks there may well have worked as hard as anybody to perfect its many splendors. Specialties such as the Melpomene Daiquiri, the Sazerac and the French 75 are cultivated by pros who've honed their craft on loyal locals and an ever-changing horde of tourists who make finding the right blend of location and libation an important part of the day.
New Orleans drinking culture is so ingrained -- or evolved -- that the bar at places such as the Court of the Two Sisters have brass plaques engraved with patrons' names, and The Times-Picayune dispatches video-toting reporters to chronicle the mixologists who create the cocktails that help make the good times roll.
To get into the spirits and mix up a bit of history in a glass, check out the videos and recipes at www.museumoftheamericancocktail.org/Exhibit/Videos.
Or, consider Razzoo's Gator Punch. It's a party drink for four and is served at the restaurants over ice in a 1-gallon fish bowl.
2 ounces each of: vodka, rum, banana liqueur, grain vodka/Everclear, spiced rum, Southern Comfort
8 ounces grenadine
Equal parts sweet/sour and pineapple juice to fill the bowl
Mix alcohols and grenadine; pour over ice into a large bowl. Add sweet/sour and pineapple juice to fill the bowl. Garnish, if you'd like, with two lemon wedges; two lime wedges; four cherries; one toy gator; long straws
Chef Michael Copeland's gumbo
Makes 12 portions of 8-10 ounces each
1 pound Andouille sausage, cut into small quarter moons
2 to 3 pounds chicken, diced to 1/4 inch
11/2 cups flour, for dusting
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
3/4 cup celery
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup green bell pepper, chopped
1 pound butter
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon thyme
3 bay leaves
4 ounces tomato paste
3 tablespoons filé gumbo (see note)
3 quarts seafood or fish stock
2 cups okra, optional
2 cups cooked white rice
Handful of steamed shrimp, for garnish
1. Sauté the sausage over medium heat until sausage has been rendered. Remove from pot. Put diced chicken in same pot over high heat until light brown in color. Dust with 11/2 cups flour. Add garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper and remove from pan and set aside.
2. Sauté celery, onion, bell pepper and butter over high heat until vegetables starts to sweat; lower to low medium heat. Once the vegetables are soft, add the other 11/2 cups flour, paprika, thyme and bay leaves. Cook until roux is black. One to two hours on low heat minimum recommended time.
3. Add tomato paste and keep cooking until dark red in color. Add chicken and sausage back in. Add in filé, stir in quickly, then slowly add the stock, or use hot stock. Stir in okra just before service, and then put in rice at service time. Garnish with shrimp, if you'd like.
Note: Gumbo filé is a powdered seasoning made of the sassafras leaf. Look for Chef Paul Prudhomme's Magic Seasoning Blends brand in your grocery store.
JOHN AUSTIN, 817-390-7874