Mardi Gras in a Pandemic: Dine In, Take Out or Stay Home

Brennan's King Cake sets the mood.EXPAND
Brennan's King Cake sets the mood.
Photo by Kimberly Park
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On February 16 the 2021 version of Fat Tuesday will be here and though it may look a little different this year, there are still plenty of ways to get your Mardi Gras on. The parades may be canceled and the debauchery near non-existent (it is a semi-religious holiday, after all) but Houstonians and transplanted NOLA natives can still find plenty of ways to celebrate around town or from the comfort and safety of home.

Social media has lit up with photos of homes in New Orleans decorated as Mardi Gras floats. It's been termed "Yardi Gras"  and it shows just how resilient and creative humankind can be. While it may seem to some that celebrating during a time of crisis is taboo, for others it's a hopeful act of optimism.

Lent is a time of reflection for many people of faith but the end of winter is a good time for all human beings to find some inner peace and look forward to a resurrection of our collective hope. As the old Cajun saying goes, " Lache pas la patate". It literally means "don't drop the potato" but its figurative meaning is "don't give up".

So, hold on tight to your potatoes, whisper fais-do-do to the little ones and grab a partner (preferably a member of your household or pandemic krewe) and dance a little zydeco. Here is a list of fun and frivolity for a somewhat hedonistic household party or a socially-distanced night out.

Drinking and Dining:

Acadian Coast has plenty of seafood for a festive Mardi Gras.
Acadian Coast has plenty of seafood for a festive Mardi Gras.
Photo by Content Haus

Acadian Coast
2929 Navigation

This restaurant sits in the Second Ward of Houston and its menu reflects the bounty of the Gulf Coast with Louisiana-inspired dishes like Alligator Grillades, blackened and served with grits or one of its seafood platters such as the Lagniappe which has catfish, fried shrimp, fried gator and a soft shell crab. The sides available would satisfy any Cajun's envie with collard greens, dirty rice and red beans. For non-seafood types, there are steaks such as a ribeye and a sirloin, served with bordelaise. For dessert, it not only offers its Signature Beignet but also other versions such as a Berry Beignet, the Chicory Chocolate and, hold-onto-your-britches, a Bananas Foster Beignet.

For February 16, Acadian Coast will have live music on the patio with Bayou Roux, a Houston-based band originally from Lafayette, Louisiana. The music begins at 6 p.m. but happy hour begins at 3 p.m. for those who might want to take advantage of some great beer and wine prices plus $8 frozen Hurricanes. There are also several cocktails on tap for happy hour including the Acadian Sunset made with tequila, orange, grapefruit and grenadine. Some happy hour bites include boudin balls ($6) and gumbo ($5).

Acadian Coast will also be boiling up crawfish by the pound for Fat Tuesday. The mudbugs are $6 per pound on special or five pounds for $25.

B&B Butchers is partying for brunch.EXPAND
B&B Butchers is partying for brunch.
Photo by Carly Shuttlesworth

B&B Butchers
1814 Washington

Houstonians can get a head start on Mardi Gras February 13 at B&B Butchers Mardi Gras brunch. It runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will include face painting and dueling pianos. The performers will take requests. Specialty cocktails will be available from Beam Suntory and also some swag. Guests can order off the special Mardi Gras brunch menu or opt for B&B Butchers' favorites like Monkey Bread, Scotch Egg with Cajun hollandaise, Chilaquiles, Crab Louie Salad or one of its delicious Benedicts.

Elysian Nymph is a taste of heaven.EXPAND
Elysian Nymph is a taste of heaven.
Photo by Sabrina Miskelly

Brennan's of Houston
3300 Smith

It doesn't get much more New Orleans-inspired than Brennan's when it comes to celebrating Mardi Gras. For those who want an elegant Fat Tuesday celebration with a little jazz and pizazz, Brennan's is offering a Fat Tuesday Feast, February 16 with reserved seating from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Guests can enjoy a three-course menu with a variety of choices for each course. Regular patrons might opt for its famous Snapping Turtle Soup as a starter but there are a number of other first course options as well including the Muffaletta Salad, Crawfish Boudin, Louisiana Crawfish Pie and Wild Shrimp Remoulade. For entrees, guests can indulge in Gulf Fish Ponchartrain, Creole Mustard Crusted Lamb Chops, Wild Mushroom and Truffle Risotto or a Creole Spiced Filet.

Decisions get more difficult when it comes to the final and sweetest course which offers Vieux Carre Beignets, NOLA Praline Tres Leches Cake, Mardi Gras Mambo King Cake or Brennan's stunning Bananas Foster served flaming tableside.

For the month of February, its bar menu is filled with new cocktails such as the Smith Street Julep, New Orleans Sazerac, Corpse Reviver #2 and the Elysian Nymph, a siren cocktail of Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac, Grand Marnier, Champagne and lemon juice that calls to this writer.

The Feast and the new cocktails will be accompanied by live music from Vincent Trio Jazz Band and Sin City Drag. Expect beads and other festive touches.

Brennan's is also selling King Cakes with cinnamon-sugar filling for $24. They can be ordered online with a one day advance for pick-up.

Krewe de Plethora offers colorful cocktails in a Mardi Gras wonderland.EXPAND
Krewe de Plethora offers colorful cocktails in a Mardi Gras wonderland.
Photo by Cristobal Zelaya

Krewe de Plethora
711 Main

This Mardi Gras-themed pop-up is located in the former Bird Dog Saint space in downtown Houston. It comes from Plethora/Four44 Hospitality Group Inc.  and runs February 6 through February 28. It's a ticketed event and all attendees must be twenty-one years and up.

The $20 fee gets guests two floors of photo ops and photo booths, DJs spinning party music, plenty of beads, mask decorating and live music. Wednesdays are Jazz Nights and there are second-line performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Cajun specialties like po'boys are available at Krewe de Plethora.EXPAND
Cajun specialties like po'boys are available at Krewe de Plethora.
Photo by Cristobal Zelaya

Food and drink are available for an additional cost including cocktails served in yard glasses like Voodoo Queen, Mardi Gras Mambo and Plethora Punch. For non-alcoholic beverages, there's the Love Strut and Pardi Gras. There's Cajun food like gumbo and po'boys plus boiled crawfish on Saturday and Sunday.

The hospitality group has created previous pop-ups such as The Muggleless Bar, Jingled Up and Dunder Mupplen. Owner Asha Holloway said in a press release, " I know people, including myself, were so upset to hear that the famous Mardi Gras parade was cancelled this year due to the ongoing pandemic. I wanted to give Houstonians a place to celebrate together while staying safe and being mindful of Covid-19 precautions.”

There are a number of COVID-19 protocols in place including a 50 percent capacity limit, hand sanitizing stations, daily and nightly sterilizations of the space and temperature checks for all attendees. Masks are required for entry and while walking around, except for drinking, eating and photos.

French toast gets Cajun-fied at Max's.
French toast gets Cajun-fied at Max's.
Photo by Becca Wright Multimedia

Max's Wine Dive
214 Fairview, 713-528-9200
4720 Washington, 713-880-8737

This wine bar and restaurant is offering its King Cake French Toast all day through the end of February. Max's is known for its brunch and this sweet and colorful dish is made with its creme brulee French toast, cream cheese frosting and bourbon caramel sauce with a hint of cinnamon. It's $15 for a full order, which includes four half slices or $20 for three half slices and three fried chicken wings.

For a more elegant Mardi Gras, try Ouisie's Table.
For a more elegant Mardi Gras, try Ouisie's Table.
Photo by Grace DiAnne Henley

Ouisie's Table
3939 San Felipe

This Houston restaurant serves up American cuisine with a Southern touch and a little European flair that has appealed to Houston diners for more than four decades. For Fat Tuesday, it is offering a special deal that includes a bowl of its seafood and sausage jambalaya, a New Orleans Sazerac cocktail for sipping and two sugar-dusted beignets for a not-so-fat price of $30. The special is available for lunch and dinner.

Every day is Mardi Gras at Verna Mae's.
Every day is Mardi Gras at Verna Mae's.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Verna Mae's
16010 West Road

This family-owned seafood restaurant has a New Orleans vibe and plenty of boiled crawfish and other seafood to get your Cajun fix. Currently, it's offering crawfish at a reasonable $7.50 per pound or five pounds for $35. There's a selection of beer and wine plus frozen adult beverages like hurricanes and daiquiris, made with citrus alcohol. There isn't a full bar but guests are allowed to BYOB with a $4 charge for set-ups.

Frozen drinks are a must for Mardi Gras.
Frozen drinks are a must for Mardi Gras.
Photo by Susan Ballard

Verna Mae's will have live music from Shades of Gray February 13 and February 14 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. On Fat Tuesday, there will be either live music or a DJ. Check its Facebook page for updates.

The restaurant is currently selling Gambino's King Cakes from Louisiana. A whole cake is $35 for traditional or cream cheese. A slice is $4.99. Verna Mae's also uses bread from Gambino's for its muffalettas.

Take-Out and Take Home:

BB's Montrose is open late.
BB's Montrose is open late.
Photo by Kate Mclean

BB's Tex-Orleans
10 locations around Houston

There are ten locations in the Greater Houston area to order a to-go pack from BB's that will satisfy your krewe. For February 16, BB's is offering a To-Geaux Special that includes six pounds of boiled crawfish, one pound of boiled shrimp, a Garlic Sausage link, a Pineapple Sausage link, corn, potato and one pound of button mushrooms in a convenient BB's insulated boil bag. The cost is $69.99, much cheaper than a trip to NOLA.

If there are non-crawfish lovers, BB's has family packs to-go as well with items like Chicken Gumbo, Red Beans and Catfish and Shrimp or Chicken and Shrimp. Each family pack serves four to six people.

Fat Tuesday is a time to indulge before Ash Wednesday starts off Lent, so patrons can add some frozen cocktails to-go for some frosty pleasure. The frozen drinks like Bri Bri's Creed, Abita Rita and more are available in twenty-ounce to-go cups. However, for a true bayou experience, there's The Red-Headed Wompus Cat Hurricane pack for $29.99. It makes ten Hurricane cocktails.

Orleans has frozen Hurricanes and piles of crawfish to-go.EXPAND
Orleans has frozen Hurricanes and piles of crawfish to-go.
Photo by Becca Wright

Orleans Seafood Kitchen
20940 Katy Freeway

On February 16, this New Orleans-inspired seafood restaurant will offer a Fat Tuesday To-Go special which includes five pounds of boiled crawfish and a half gallon of frozen Hurricanes plus some beads for Mardi Gras flair for $60. Along with the to-go only crawfish special, the restaurant has a to-go menu with other Cajun faves like fried alligator, crawfish pistolettes and gumbo.

Orleans crawfish is ready to-geaux.EXPAND
Orleans crawfish is ready to-geaux.
Photo by Becca Wright

For those feeding a crowd (pod people, of course) the Mardi Gras Feast has 40 fried shrimp, one pound of fried crawfish, eight catfish filets, 30 chicken tenders and eight boudain balls. It comes with dirty rice and French fries for $136.50.That should be enough to keep you and your cher happy.  Very happy indeed.

King Cakes and Sweet Bakes:

The Bearded Baker
518 W. 11th

Baker and owner Allan Hursig is known for his beautifully decorated cookies and was even first runner-up in 2019 on the Food Network's Christmas Cookie Challenge. For Mardi Gras he has created personal sized King Cakelettes that are pretty substantial and could be shared with a partner if one is so-inclined. The regular King Cakelettes are $10 and perfect for an afternoon treat. However, for a true Bourbon Street indulgence, the Drunken King Cakelette is meant for grown-ups only. It's soaked with bourbon simple sugar with a bourbon cinnamon filling and bourbon-soaked raisins. It's topped with cream cheese frosting and even more bourbon-soaked raisins. The drunken version is only available Friday and Saturday. This weekend, the cakes will be made with bourbon from local Whitmeyers Distilling.  For $12.50, it's a cocktail and dessert in one.

Dessert Gallery has a more petite gateau for Mardi Gras.EXPAND
Dessert Gallery has a more petite gateau for Mardi Gras.
Photo by Dessert Gallery Bakery and Cafe

Dessert Gallery Bakery and Cafe

3600 Kirby

This pastry and cake shop offers easy online ordering and shipping, too. Its Mardi Gras offerings include decorated butter cookies, petit fours and even chocolate-covered Oreos, complete with crowns, masks and fleur de lis. Its King Cake is an elegant 8-inch beauty that comes in two flavors. The cinnamon-sugar is $19.95. The blueberry cream cheese is $22.95.

Mardi Gras in a Pandemic: Dine In, Take Out or Stay Home
Photo by Alan Montgomery

French Gourmet Bakery
2250 Westheimer

This bakery and pastry shop was founded in 1973 by Mary and Patrice Ramain. Today, daughter Lauren is at the helm making breads, desserts, pastries and cakes. Its traditional Mardi Gras King Cakes can be ordered in cinnamon, cream cheese and almond and come complete with baby, beads and coins. The cakes are $32.99. If you're just looking for a special King Cake of your very own, the Mini King Cake Roll is a perfect one-person treat for $4.99.

Step out of the box and have a pound cake for Mardi Gras.
Step out of the box and have a pound cake for Mardi Gras.
Photo by Andrea Spears

Not Jus' Donuts Bakery
2020 Emancipation

This Black and woman-owned bakery has a traditional version plus its own Texas-style King Cake. The traditional runs from $22 to $50 depending on flavors. Customers can choose from cinnamon, strawberry, pineapple, cream cheese or a mix of cream cheese and other flavors. The Texas-style is made with its signature Sock-It-To-Me pound cake with cinnamon streusel which is glazed and sprinkled with colored sugar. It runs from $36 to $38. All cakes come with a baby, coins and beads. Currently, the shop is doing curbside only so patrons must text 832-280-9606 when arriving for pick-up. All King Cake orders must be made a day in advance since the cakes are made from scratch.

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