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Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival 2012 

  As the final weekend of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival approaches, the pretty bayou town of Breaux Bridge gears up for its biggest annual event, the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival (May 4-6, details at www.bbcrawfest.com).

  It might seem antithetical to depart for a Cajun food festival two hours down the highway just as the big show is happening right in our backyard. But it's still possible to do some of Jazz Fest here and some of the Crawfish Festival on different days, and the Crawfish Festival does have a special appeal for foodies. It occurs at the traditional peak of crawfish season and celebrates the harvest in all its red glory.

  Crawfish is prepared in dozens of different ways by festival vendors. There's a crawfish, shrimp and eggplant jambalaya topped with a crab patty, and a huge bowl of crab and shrimp etouffee over "atomic potatoes," a spicy, garlicky potato salad. The event also offers hot dogs and stadium-style nachos.

  My favorite foods here, though, come from the etouffee cook-off. Teams of friends and family enter the competition, and once the judges get their samples the teams start dishing out portions for the crowd. Visitors can sample a delicious range of customized, competition-driven variations of this iconic Cajun dish. Tastings start around noon on Sunday, May 6.

  To wash it all down, beer booths around the grounds pour tall, cold drafts of locally made brews for refreshingly low prices. For music, the festival features some 30 Cajun, zydeco and swamp pop acts on three stages.

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