Let the good times roll: Mardi Gras
To mark the last party before Lent, there's a big parade and street party on Fat Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras, in Dunedin's Pioneer Park at Main Street and Douglas Avenue starting at 4 p.m. And the Mardi Gras concert series at Universal Orlando gets under way Saturday with a concert by country hottie Hunter Hayes plus Big Easy bands and a parade. But who are we kidding? What we really love about Mardi Gras is the food. The sweet fried beignets that make doughnuts feel inadequate. The spicy jambalaya, shrimp creole and crawfish boils. We want it all, and the Tampa Bay area can laissez les bon temps rouler (let the good times roll) with the best of them at these popular Cajun cookeries. Here are some we can suggest:
Ricky P's Orleans Bistro
1113 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 821-4061
Rick Parsons started with a stall at the Saturday Morning Market in St. Petersburg — jambalaya and other NoLa lovelies — and now his space is spectacular: high, pressed-tin ceilings in a two-floor room, warm ochre walls, cozy booths and a new covered patio area in which live music can be heard on the weekends. And the menu is hearty portions of etouffee, jambalaya and the like.
Ricky P's will hold a weekend-long Mardi Gras party featuring live music, a crawfish boil, a costumed Second Line Parade, plenty of beads, beignets and king cake. The bistro kicks things off with a Louisiana crawfish boil and live music with Brian L. on Friday. Saturday brings a Second Line Parade through the Grand Central District at 4 p.m. and a party tent in the parking lot. A Mardi Gras costume contest takes place and the TBone Hamilton Band performs at 6 p.m. Saturday. Sunday's Jazz Brunch has live music and free beignets, and Fat Tuesday features drink and food specials all day and free king cake with purchase, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. rickyps.com.
4205 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 443-5255
No special Mardi Gras parties here, but the Creole/Cajun-inspired Roux from Suzanne and Roger Perry (Datz, Dough) is a gleaming space with a tight, one-page menu that splits between straight-up New Orleans standards and some more whimsical interpolations of the glories of the Big Easy. In that latter category, dishes like quail and waffles charm: Two moist, crisp-skinned birds recline against fluffy sweet-but-not-too-sweet sweet potato waffles, spicy praline pecans and a puddle of Barq's root beer reduction. And in the former there are two textbook gumbos that should silence any authenticity grumblers. rouxtampa.com.
Cajun Cafe on the Bayou
8101 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park; (727) 546-6732
This Cajun-Zydeco restaurant and bar has an outdoor deck overlooking Cross Bayou. Plus you'll find a 25- by 42-foot cypress dance floor, perfect for two-stepping to the live music that's often scheduled there. And the food? Let's just say that if you love crawfish, you'll love this place. The cafe cooks all of its food from scratch, including its whiskey bread pudding. If you can't get to New Orleans, this is a great substitute for some Cajun flavor. cajuncafeonthebayou.com.
Other Cajun or Creole restaurants or bars
Tace New Orleans Cuisine & Jazz, 14380 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; (813) 964-8223. tacelounge.com.
Chief's Creole Cafe, 901 22nd St. S, St. Petersburg; (727) 498-8979. chiefscreolecafe.com.
The Big Easy Bar & Grill, 1704 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City; (813) 248-3444. A crawfish boil will be held Saturday by chef "Big Baby" Jules beginning at 2 p.m.; zydeco band starts at 4.