Mardi Gras 2011: The Krewe of Lou [Food and dining]

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A New Orleans native, when I first moved to Louisville I introduced myself to the neighbors by throwing a traditional crawfish boil for Mardi Gras. What I knew about Kentucky was basketball, horses, bourbon, and Ashley Judd (clearly I knew almost nothing). My first guest took one look at the giant pot of live mudbugs and boasted, “I don’t eat bait,” so off he went to get hot dogs for the grill. My very first Louisville lesson: we may share the fleur de leis as a symbol but what you think you know about a place or culture is way more dangerous than what you do not.

In New Orleans, Mardi Gras is essentially a state holiday. Seriously. I left New Orleans and shocked my new employer by assuming I got the week off automatically as I had almost my entire life (I kept my job yet lost dignity).

Kentucky’s known for bourbon, so let’s distill some history/myths, traditions while deciding where to go here in Louisville for Mardi Gras which ends Tuesday, March 8th. I recently asked several friends locally what they knew about Mardi Gras, and the most common questions & misconceptions boiled down to these:

Is Mardi Gras really a religious holiday?

Yes, kinda. Mardi Gras (which means “Fat Tuesday”) always is celebrated the Tuesday before Catholic Lent begins. Modern people believe it’s because you get one day to purge yourself before giving it up before 40 days – not far from truth. The real history goes back to ancient Rome where they celebrated Lupercalia. When Rome embraced Christianity. The Church decided to if you can’t beat them, join them so they gave the Pagan’s a day to “get it out of their system” in trade. Thus the real spirit of Mardi Gras was born. End history lesson.

Why do women flash their breasts for beads?

The tradition of women flashing (made all the more popular by “Girls Gone Wild” videos and the like) for beads is no Mardi Gras tradition at all. The tradition of women getting what they want by showing flesh pre-dates even Roman standards.

Mardi Gras Drunkards: Are you really drunk for days?

It is no secret that there are no open container laws in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Much like the previous flashing myth, when you give someone a green Absenthe inch, they’ll walk the drunken mile. The spring break types descend on New Orleans and become such a nuisance to locals that houses are rented out and the natives seek parties outside of the Quarter to avoid it all together. Think of it as the infield during the Kentucky Derby and the last time you wanted to go back with your kids.

Mardi Gras is a celebration - but so can be a bachelorette party at 4th St. Live. Both can get out of control followed by unknown bills and regret (either way you will pay) but the true spirit should be enjoying time in the company of friends and family. It is true that in both instances you are given latitude to cut-loose more than normal, but try and keep it in moderation. Mardi Gras is about heritage, history, food, friends and fun. Now armed with a little background here are a few suggestions for this year’s Lou-religious experience: Laissez les bon temps rouler!!!

Saturday, March 5th:

2nd Annual Madi Gras Festival at Fourth Street Live!

(Downtown between Muhammad Ali Boulevard and Liberty Street) 4thstlive.com

Features bead giveaways, DJs on live stages, Mardi Gras costume contest, King Cake eating contest and the person with the most beads contest. The party starts at 9 PM. 21+. Sponsored by Bud Light, Cruzan Rum and Heitzman Bakery. FREE PARKING at the Fourth Street Live!/PARC garage nights and weekends!

Tuesday, March 8th:

Fat Tuesday at Bluegrass Brewing Company (three locations!)

BBC 4th St. at Theatre Square, 3rd and Main 4:00 p.m.-Midnight St. Matthews 6:00 p.m.-Midnight.  bbcbrew.com

Serving award-winning handcrafted beer and brewlicious food at three Louisville locations. BBC celebrates Mardi Gras this year with a raw bar featuring oysters and shrimp. There will be a gumbo contest, and they’re flying in live crawfish boiled by The SoCo Joe’s (and yours truly) in the square – come pinch the tail and suck some heads if you want to get some real Cajun on, mi cha!

Family fun and Creole hospitality at Joe’s OK Bayou

502-426-1320 9874 Linn Station Rd, 40299 joesokbayou.com 

Of course, every year during Mardi Gras, you can expect beads, King Cakes, live music, and HURRICANES making an appearance during the festivities at JOE’S OK BAYOU!!! Bring the kids and pass a good time as you enjoy live music in both dining rooms this year.

Photo: Courtesy www.mardigrasneworleans.com

About Kit Helton
Average single guy who has been able to lead an above average life. Originally from New Orleans and arrived in Louisville after 10 years via Chicago in 2005. Currently residing near Churchill Downs with my dog, Dixie. Owner of a catering company for over a decade and published cookbook author, I am lucky to return to the Food & Dining as well as Arts beats for Louisville.com.
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