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Dining En Route 

With the onset of Carnival comes a new schedule for local restaurants hoping to either take advantage of the crowds or some time off to enjoy the holiday.

It's a measure of how thoroughly New Orleanians embrace Mardi Gras that even in a city world renowned for its cuisine, it's difficult to find a restaurant beyond fast food and take-out that remains open when Fat Tuesday rolls around.

For the avid diner, visitor and local alike, Mardi Gras is the worst time of year to eat out. Only a hurricane closes more restaurants in New Orleans than Mardi Gras. But hardly anyone complains; even the most fussy gourmets seem content during Carnival to sustain themselves with jambalaya drying out in chaffing dishes or finger-dented finger sandwiches at parade parties, cold fried chicken on the neutral ground or even a steady diet of little more than bloody Mary garnishes and moon pies.

While mammoth parades and crowds make some restaurants inaccessible during the celebration, by Fat Tuesday many overworked restaurant owners and their crews all over town want nothing more than to keep the doors locked for the day and join the festivities.

"Most of the parade days, we'll be here, doing what we're not supposed to do, just tacos and canned beer instead of scallops and quail," says Guillermo Peters, chef-owner of Taqueros Coyoacan, the St. Charles Avenue restaurant serving high-end Mexican cuisine upstairs and more casual cantina fare downstairs. "But on Monday and on Mardi Gras I'm going to try my best to be closed. We'll need a break," he says.

Dickie Brennan usually opens his Bourbon House restaurant at the always-raucous corner of Bourbon and Iberville streets on Fat Tuesday, but decided to close it this year simply to give his staff a chance to participate in the holiday. "I thought my staff at first would want to work because that's a great money day, but everyone has thanked me for closing (on Tuesday)," says Brennan. "Everyone needs a stress reliever, and I think for New Orleans right now, Mardi Gras is going to be that stress reliever."

Brennan's other restaurant, the Palace CafŽ, will be closed as usual on Mardi Gras, but open for the days leading up to it -- the restaurant's dining rooms providing both singular vantage points to watch the parades roll along Canal Street and the normal menu of contemporary Creole fare to boot. Morton's Steakhouse will be serving its kingly portions of beef and other dishes in the newly reopened Shops at Canal Place just down the street.

Situated in another key parade location, Herbsaint planned to close after the redirected Endymion parade passed its broad windows facing St. Charles Avenue on Saturday and remain closed through Ash Wednesday. Next door, however, Gypsy's CafŽ will convert its cozy, art deco dining room into a hospitality station of sorts for people who rent spaces on its reviewing stands outside.

"We'll be open on Mardi Gras, especially on Mardi Gras," says Phil Nolan, who opened Gypsy's CafŽ last spring.

Also staying open for its first Mardi Gras is Vicky Bayley's new Asian-style tapas restaurant Ohi'a, which will use its location on Lee Circle at Hotel Le Cirque as a walk-up serving station for specialty drinks and parade food like jambalaya.

Elsewhere on the parade route, Slice will be serving pizza and drinks every day except Tuesday, when it will close, while down the avenue, Delachaise will follow a similar schedule with food from its recently expanded menu available until Tuesday. Superior Bar & Grill, which reopened earlier this month, will be serving drinks and Tex-Mex food both to-go on the route and at tables in its dining room.

The St. Charles Tavern isn't back to around-the-clock service yet but still stays open 21 hours a day (7 a.m. to 4 a.m.), including Tuesday when it will keep revelers fed with a buffet of red beans, catfish, chicken and such. Also open every day is Igor's Bar-B-Q Mama, the new barbecue joint that replaced Igor's Garlic Clove adjacent to the related Igor's barroom and laundromat at Jackson Avenue. And, as usual, the Grocery sandwich shop will be open for every parade, serving pressed Cuban sandwiches, muffulettas and surprisingly tasty foot-long hot dogs from a temporary counter set up in its doorway at Sixth Street. Cannon's Restaurant will be open for people who want to reserve a package deal of reviewing stand seats and access to food, drink and the necessities they entail in the restaurant.

Though most downtown restaurants close for Fat Tuesday, people who find themselves in the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny have some good options for food on the go. For instance, those partaking in the always lively, unscripted Mardi Gras party that engulfs Frenchmen Street just off Esplanade Avenue will find the Praline Connection once again dishing out red beans, greens, po-boys and similar fare. Its hearty, hammy renditions of soul food classics, served from a take-out window on the street, can instantly rekindle a worn-out reveler for the rest of the day.

Scheduling demands and staff shortages have forced K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen to suspend its 12-year tradition of serving Cajun dishes out of its front windows this Fat Tuesday. But there are a few other new options nearby. The Sidebar CafŽ, which opened in January with a menu of fresh fish, burgers and salads, will be serving food in its small, airy dining room at the picturesque corner of Conti Street and Exchange Alley in the shadow of the massive Supreme Court building. Just up the street, the Little Kitchen hidden away by the back bar at the Erin Rose pub will serve its Greek specialties up to and including Tuesday. The pork loin souvlaki is especially excellent and, whether served on a pita or on skewers, it is easy to manage even for those encumbered by a costume or other Carnival influences.

click to enlarge Chef Colin Smith will be serving up his his Asian tapas for - parade goers during Carnival at Vicky Bayleys latest - endeavor, Ohia. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Cheryl Gerber
  • Chef Colin Smith will be serving up his his Asian tapas for parade goers during Carnival at Vicky Bayleys latest endeavor, Ohia.
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