As parades roll, the goal for some is to get as close to the floats as possible, the better to haul in beads. But when it’s time to eat, sometimes it pays to venture just a few blocks off the parade route.
In the days ahead, here are a few offbeat finds for food and drink, sometimes in clusters, sometimes with music and always offering a little break from the parades.
Guest chef gig, barbecue pit stops, chicken and crawfish
Eric Labouchere, chef at Martinique Bistro before that Uptown restaurant abruptly closed last month, is cooking at the Kingpin bar (1307 Lyons St., (504) 891-2373) during parades Thursday, Feb. 12, through Sunday, Feb. 15. Look for “mac and cheese cupcakes,” smoked pork Cuban sandwiches, turkey and chicken liver boudin pies, gumbo and, on Sunday, brats steamed in NOLA Brewing beer.
Just next-door, Zara’s Lil’ Giant Supermarket (4838 Prytania St., (504) 895-0581) sets up something of a tailgate site for the weekend parades. You can smell the barbecue aroma from about a block away, and you’ll find Joe Hamlin working the grill with some music playing and the banter flowing. Get burgers or slabs of ribs, chicken and sausage cooked in the style of a good second line barbecue — that is to say, grilled, charred here and there and vigorously slathered in thick, sweet sauce. A small collection of umbrella-topped patio tables awaits sore feet nearby. The stand is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 14, and Sunday, Feb.15.
For a chicken fix of a different sort, check out the Cluck Truck set up for the Uptown parade in front of the Milan Lounge (1312 Milan St., (504) 895-1836) one of the great, resilient Uptown dives that’s just a block and change off St. Charles Avenue. From a converted short bus, the Cluck Truck fries bone-in chicken and chicken tenders, and makes up baskets of cheese fries topped with fried chicken, among other items.
Once again this year, Coulis (3625 Prytania St., (504) 304-4265) becomes a take-away spot for boiled crawfish and barbecue po-boys after its breakfast and lunch shifts. On days with Uptown night parades, proprietor Heather Leeming and her crew serve 2-pound boxes of crawfish with fixings while NOLA-Q, a barbecue pop-up normally found at Coulis on Friday night, prepares pulled pork po-boys.
Not far away, Debbie Weathers has been running her pop-up Happy Eats intermittently from the tiny kitchen at Aline Street Beer Garden (1517 Aline St., (504) 891-5774). She’ll be there daily through Fat Tuesday serving her home-style plates of red beans and rice, shrimp and grits and crawfish jambalaya along with barbecue chicken sliders. Grab a spot at one of the long benches outside that do make the sidewalk here feel like a beer garden one block off the parade route.
Side note: After Carnival, Weathers will move over to the Red Bastille Lounge (4740 Rye St., (504) 455-9062; redbastillelounge.com), not far from the Clearview Mall, which has been revamped a bit under new ownership recently.
The bar Twelve Mile Limit (500 S. Telemachus St., (504) 488-8114) has built a reputation for good cocktails and smoky barbecue. It also has a habit of turning the adjacent vacant lot into a venue for periodic block parties.
For the Endymion edition this Saturday, Feb. 14, the food truck La Cocinita will serve its menu of Latin American street foods (tacos, arepas, tostones) along side Burgers Ya Heard, another food truck bringing some straight-up examples and custom burgers, including one that essentially turns the ubiquitous Brussels sprouts with bacon appetizer into a burger topping.
Burgers Ya Heard will also serve its “fat king burger,” which is very similar to the king cake burger that a different food truck, called Food Drunk, debuted last Carnival season. This year, Food Drunk is working private events during Carnival, but if you want to try a king-cake-meets-burger creation the Burgers Ya Heard rendition hits the same notes. Built on a brioche bun covered in king cake icing, its starts with a salty-savory-sweet appeal that gets a good bit funkier when you add tomatoes, red onion and pickle.
The Twelve Mile Limit party starts at 2 p.m. Bands play outside on either side of the parade time (the indie Louisiana rock band Sweet Crude at 3 p.m., the circus-styled brass-powered rock band Dirty Bourbon River Show at 7 p.m.).
A few blocks on the other side of Canal Street, Pearl Wine Co. (3700 Orleans Ave., (504) 483-6314) is seeing only its second Endymion since opening in 2013, but already the wine shop and bar has evolved something of its own Endymion rhythm. The Foodie Call food truck dishes out its burgers, tacos and specialty fries, while inside bands play throughout the day and inexpensive house wine flows, along with all the other libations. As at many other spots open for parades, a purchase gets you restroom access, but Pearl also fills ice chests for customers, an amenity tailored to the tailgate nature of the long pre-Endymion build-up.
To that point, MoPho (514 City Park Ave., (504) 482-6845), the modern Vietnamese restaurant near City Park, plans to deliver orders of its very popular, lemongrass and ginger chicken wings to Endymion fanatics encamped along the route the night before the Friday parade. Chef Mike Gulotta said his staff will dispatch deliveries via scooter to people within a mile of the restaurant. The next day, MoPho will have a scaled back menu (“mostly greatest hits,” Gulotta said), though that includes the whole roasted hog the restaurant usually prepares on Saturdays. They’ll serve portions of the cochon de lait style meat dressed with fish sauce and coconut milk as platters, in po-boys and as spring rolls.
More off-route food trucks
Some bars near the parade route that normally host food trucks continue to do so on parade days, but up the ante a bit with longer schedules.
For instance, Foodie Call and Burgers Ya Heard alternate nights through Monday at the Rusty Nail (1100 Constance St., (504) 525-5515), which finds itself a block off the route of super krewes Bacchus and Orpheus and otherwise serves as a way station for tides of people traversing the Warehouse District.
Nearby, the Courtyard Brewery (1020 Erato St.) marks its first Carnival this year with a unique approach to go-cups in its tap room and visits on Thursday, Feb. 12, and Saturday, Feb. 14, from St. Clair Wood Fried Pizza, which prepares beautiful Neapolitan style pizza in a vintage bus.
Courtyard, a tiny and very new brewery built into a garage space, will pour a selection of craft beers from around the country and, if production schedules allow, some of its own brews. For the parades, you can take them away in plastic 32-oz. growler jugs.
“We’re calling them go-rowlers,” said Lindsay Helliweg, who runs Courtyard with brewer Scott Wood. She said the taproom would be open through Mardi Gras, with early hours on Tuesday as parades roll nearby.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.