A short French lesson: Mardi is Tuesday, and if you're gras you're a little chubs. Put them together and we're talking Fat Tuesday, the annual oh-geez-it's-almost-Ash-Wednesday frenzy of eating, drinking and Liberace-level bead wearing. Tampa Bay has a number of eminently reasonable places for pre-Lenten escapades.
Ricky P's is letting the good times roll with free king cake accompanying meals all day (don't gobble; it's bad luck to choke on the baby), and live blues, jazz and roots music by T-Bone Hamilton from 6 to 10 p.m. The restaurant is cooking up smoked boudin flown in from Krotz Springs, La. (a town of 1,200 with about a mile of notable boudin in its midst), and offering crawfish boil chowder, fried alligator bites and Abida Mardi Gras bock (like a German maibock only with more purple-and-gold Carnival ruckus). 1113 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 821-4061.
Longstanding fave Cajun Cafe on the Bayou (started in 1996 by Joe Thibodaux of Thibodaux, La.) is ordinarily not open Tuesdays, unless they are Fat ones. They don't do any Mardi Gras specials per se (beyond a whole lot of beads), but regulars and fair-weather friends flock to this bayouside craft beer smorgasbord (75 in bottle, 15 on tap), now run by Joe's daughter and son-in-law, Rebecca and Paul Unwin. 8101 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park; (727) 546-6732.
Tampa's hippest new outpost of NoLa eats, Roux, will be giving out masks and beads while supplies last, with a happy hour 5:30 to 7 p.m. featuring $1 oysters any style and half-price appetizers and drinks (Hurricanes, French 75s and Sazeracs). Oh, and there's king cake, with the baby finders getting a free drink. While all of the menu is Mardi Gras-appropriate, I'm most chuffed at the prospect of grilled cobia served with a crawfish and corn griddle cake and crispy fried beans and topped with piperade. 4205 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa, (813) 443-5255.
Have you had that crazy-good Italian olive salad at the Saturday Morning Market? Jerry Szkoruda has been selling it there for the past 12 years, with a little Jay's Marketplace shop on 49th Street that just expanded to include some seating, all the better to enjoy his truly authentic muffuletta, the traditional round breads imported from Leidenheimer in New Orleans. He's making 1,000 bottles of the olive salad (green Italian olives along with an assortment of chopped vegetables blended with olive oil) every week, so the sandwiches are a sideline gig, mostly takeout for now (perfect for your own Mardi Gras soiree). 3618 49th St. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 528-0707.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.