In some early preparation of Mardi Gras on Feb. 9, I went to Big Daddy’s in Massapequa to find out how to celebrate what they call down in NOLA, Fat Tuesday. This Cajun/Creole/BBQ joint has a Mardi Gras flair all year long, but everything is amped up in the one week period before Ash Wednesday.
“Mardi Gras is an excuse to party at a time of year when there’s not a lot going on,” said Big Daddy’s manager Tommy Kurtz. “And whatever you’re going to give up, you go nuts with on Fat Tuesday.”
With New Orleans as one of the major food destinations of the world, there are many delicious choices—gumbo, jambalaya, muffuletta and catfish are some favorites. Rice is an ingredient in many of the traditional dishes. Gumbo, a heavily seasoned stew, originated in Louisiana during the 1800s and reflects the region’s African, Caribbean, Native American and Western European cultures. Okra, an African vegetable, thickens the gumbo as does file powder of the Choctaws that is made of dried and ground sassafras. Jambalaya is often described as a distant relative of paella. Muffuletta, the quintessential New Orleans sandwich of cured meats, cheeses and olive salad, is a legacy of the Italian immigrant who came to New Orleans.
The Hurricane is the drink of choice at Big Daddy’s. This rum and fruit cocktail originated at Pat O’Brien’s Bar in New Orleans and debuted at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. It is served in a glass that somewhat resembles a hurricane lamp. At Big Daddy’s, the Hurricane is made up of three kinds of rum and fruit flavors. The restaurant also sells a mix that they package.
Music creates the mood. Although fast-tempo zydeco, with its reliance on the accordion and washboard is the music that grew out of southwestern Louisiana, Big Daddy’s favors a more relaxed blues style music. Big Daddy’s regularly features local bands such as The King Cobras and Johnny Mac Band and during Mardi Gras week has live music every night.
Colored beads and trinkets
Purple, green and gold are the traditional Mardi Gras colors, a color scheme chosen by the 1872 King of Mardi Gras. Twenty years later, meaning was attached to the colors: purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power. These are the colors of the beaded necklaces tossed to onlookers during the parades. In the early days of Mardi Gras, in the 1840s, masqueraders in carriages tossed bonbons and sugar coated almonds to the onlookers.
King Cake is the way to end the meal. This rich yeast, Danish-like cake is colorfully decorated with Mardi Gras purple, green and gold sugar. Inside the cake is a little plastic baby, said to represent baby Jesus. Kurtz said that there’s a tradition that the person who gets the piece of cake with the baby is responsible for throwing the party the next year. At Big Daddy’s, you go home with a token of their appreciation.