Local Obsessions

Mardi Gras Unmasked

by Clare Crespo

Photo: Clare Crespo

Clare Crespo is a native New Orleanian living in Los Angeles. Every year around this time, Clare hangs up her YummyFun apron and makes the trek back home to pile on the beads. We asked her to put down the crawdads and pick up a pen — to write a list of Mardi Gras party essentials.

NEW ORLEANS – I am writing to you from the heart of Louisiana — in the midst of Carnival season! It's the time of year when giant, gorgeous, and elaborate floats sail down the streets. School is out, folks are off work, and everyone is in costume. (We refer to it as being masked.) Drinks are being poured, gumbo is being cooked, and music is everywhere. You are likely to be pelted by beads, and it will be thrilling. Here's what you need to get started.


Tony's Seafood. This place is deep. It's a big market and grocer in an old service station where there's more seafood than you could ever want and all the fixins to make it spicy and delicious. Look out for a huge pool of live catfish and guys in big rubber boots to scoop them up with nets at your request. Crawfish, my favorite crustaceans, come into season right about now. Figure you'll need two-to-three pounds of them. Per person. Boil them with corn and potatoes, then pour them out on a newspaper-covered table and work for your dinner. (You better invite me so I can show you how to peel them!) Don't forget the Abita beer.

Tony's can FedEx these little guys to your door nationwide. But it is a wild field trip, so go there if you can.


Colorful celebration cake, how I love you so. It's hard to walk around town without getting offered several slices of this cinnamon-swirled treat. Traditionally, it's slathered in purple, yellow, and green sugar icing. Sometimes it is filled with cream cheese or pralines or strawberry cream. It's delicious all ways. 

Gambino's, Haydel's, and Randazzo's are a few of the old-timey New Orleans bakeries that serve royal versions of this Mardi Gras staple. I am excited to try Sucre's on Magazine Street. It's gorgeous, gold, and supposedly the tastiest in town. All king cakes have a bean or plastic figurine (usually a baby) baked inside. Whoever finds the baby in their slice is responsible for making or buying next years' king cake.


Believe it or not, Popeyes Fried Chicken is traditional Mardi Gras fare. (It's local.) Spice and grease go well with parading and beer. A grilled shrimp po'boy and a bag of Zapp's potato chips from Guy's Food Store (5259 Magazine Street; +1-504-891-5025) will also hit the spot. You should really cook a pot of gumbo — or get someone's mamma to make you some. If you want to attempt your own, look for John Besh's photo-centric cookbooks. He is a local darling and has amazing restaurants around town.


I could write a book on this subject — and many folks already have — so I will focus on Tuesday's festivities.

Wake up early and go to Zulu. You owe it to yourself. It rolls at 8 a.m. (ouch, hangover), but if you go you might might catch a glitter-covered coconut. (If you do, you will have had a very successful day indeed). Next is Rex, King of Carnival. Expect ancient, over-the-top floats and classy beads and doubloons. Watch the parades on St. Charles Avenue. Steer clear of the French Quarter this time of year unless invited to a private house party.


You will want to be in costume. Or else it will feel like going to the Kentucky Derby without a hat. Sunday's Bacchus Parade calls for an ornate purple kaftan with a lot of gold embroidery. Tuesday calls for a rainbow dress I made with duct tape and a foam cloud. Get creative.


Tony's Seafood
5215 Plank Road
Baton Rouge, LA 70805

Gambino's Bakery
300 Lapalco Boulevard
Gretna, LA 70056

Haydel's Bakery
4037 Jefferson Highway
New Orleans, LA 70121

Manny Randazzo's King Cakes
3515 North Hullen Street
Metairie, LA 70002

3025 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA 70115

Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen
4041 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA 70115

Guy's Food Store
5259 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA 70195 

333 St. Charles Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70130

Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club
732 North Broad Street
New Orleans, LA 70119 

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