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The marching orders for Mardi Gras are parades and house parties, late-night balls and gallivanting in the streets. It's no surprise that convenience and portability often trump all when it's time to eat. In fact, some people manage to sustain themselves for days on end with little more than cold fried chicken, king cake and pickled garnishes from Bloody Marys in go-cups. Others succumb to the lurid temptation of midway carny carts and add funnel cake and corn dogs to this diet of depravity.
But there are more and better eats on the streets if you just know where to look. Many restaurants near the parade routes prove surprisingly adept at accommodating the surging crowds. Some are simply good choices for refreshingly different takeout, others modify their business models during Mardi Gras with added grab-and-go options, and representatives of the nascent local food truck scene make a showing, too.
What follows is a scouting report for easy take-away food near the major New Orleans and Metairie parade routes this year. While by no means comprehensive, it hopefully will keep you on the right track and one step ahead of the carny carts.
To Start at the beginning, those who like to catch the Uptown parades by their common starting point on Napoleon Avenue will find something new nearby on Magazine Street. The building where people used to line up for pralines and pies from Tee-Eva's sweet shop has been transformed into the Turkish and Persian restaurant Courtyard Grill (4430 Magazine St., 875-4164; www.courtyardgrillnola.com). While the building renovation was dramatic, it retained an old walk-up service window which opens to the kitchen; from here Courtyard Grill serves kebab, falafel and gyros sandwiches on pita or house-made loaves.
"We'll serve them right there in the front for takeout only, so people can go back to the parade right away," owner Eddie Salmanian says.
A number of Carnival krewes (Druids, Muses, D'Etat and Morpheus) have moved their own starting point for the Uptown route farther upriver to Jefferson Avenue in recent years, and entrepreneurs out to feed the Mardi Gras masses have taken note. On days when parades line up at this newer starting point, look for the Taceaux Loceaux food truck parked along Jefferson Avenue between Magazine and Tchoupitoulas streets. Alex and Maribeth Del Castillo will sling their usual array of multi-ethnic tacos (try the "Seoul man" with Korean-style barbecue chicken or the new breakfast tacos, served anytime). Look for them as Thoth rolls in this vicinity too, while updates on other locations can be found by following their Twitter handle, @tlnola.
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Thoth time on Magazine Street may not be the best time to make groceries at Whole Foods Market (5600 Magazine St., 899-9119; www.wholefoodsmarket.com), but with its location directly on the Magazine Street parade route, the deli at this upscale supermarket is well provisioned for offbeat parade food. Pick up a whole rotisserie-cooked chicken and show it no mercy. The nearby outpost of Slice Pizzeria (5538 Magazine St., 897-4800; www.slicepizzeria.com) will serve its namesake product as well during parades.
Moving down the St. Charles Avenue parade route, the Delachaise (3442 St. Charles Ave., 895-0858; www.thedelachaise.com) is an obvious target for food, and chef R.J. Tsarov is ready for the onslaught. The Delachaise kitchen is well-known for its upscale bar food (frog legs with spicy remoulade, smoked salmon Johnny cakes, house-made pate). While this regular menu will be available at the bar during Mardi Gras, Tsarov also plans to serve takeout-only items designed for eating on the go.
"We'll be doing sliders, fish and chips, some maque choux for vegetarians," Tsarov says. "I'm doing a duck and andouille gumbo, which will be great if it's cold out there."
Just around the corner, August Moon (3635 Prytania St., 899-5129; www.augustmoonneworleans.com) will serve its normal menu of Chinese and Vietnamese dishes. In cold or mild weather, a takeout container of pho or egg drop soup and a clutch of fried egg rolls or fresh spring rolls could be a lifesaver on the route.
Across St. Charles Avenue, and a block up Louisiana Avenue, the scruffy but prodigious Louisiana Super Saver (1641 Louisiana Ave., 891-6670) lives up to its name with enormous po-boys that also live up to their names. Low on glamour, high on value, this crowded meat market specializes in 32-inch, whole-loaf po-boys for between $8 and $12. Haul one of these whoppers back to the parade route and you can easily feed four people. You might even need two people just to carry one.
As the Uptown parade route progresses farther downtown, the carny carts begin to materialize with greater frequency, but there's still much more homegrown food to find close at hand. Just off Canal Street, the hole-in-the-wall Cajun Mike's Pub (116 Baronne St., 566-0055; www.cajunmikes.com) has a small, speedy tavern kitchen kicking out such worthy take-away items as fried boudin balls and crawfish eggrolls. Pressed sandwiches like the traditional Cuban or a hot version of the muffuletta, compacted to a crisp, buttered shell, are durable enough to keep their form even if you're eating one while running after a parade.
The three-month-old downtown location of the Ruby Slipper Cafe (200 Magazine Street, 525-9355; www.therubyslippercafe.net) is new to the scene this year, but this creative diner is jumping into the fray with extended evening hours for parade dates and a takeout menu of chicken sausage kolaches and biscuit sandwiches stuffed with eggs and sausage. Co-owner Erich Weishaupt says customers can order these items to go directly from the bar.
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The Metairie parade route passes by a broad swath of eating options as it traverses the suburban shopper's paradise. You can quickly sate your hunger at either Bud's Broiler (2929 N. Causeway Blvd., Metairie, 833-3770; www.budsbroiler.com) or Lee's Hamburgers (3516 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 885-4291; www.leesburgers.com), two local chains serving similarly modest, manageable and widely beloved burgers topped with shredded cheddar.
Down the line a bit there's Byblos Market (2020 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 837-9777; www.byblosrestaurants.com), the grocery and deli related to the local chain of Middle Eastern restaurants. The deli at the rear of the market serves pita sandwiches twirled in foil for easy handling, and the house specialty is the chicken shawarma with garlic sauce.
Where Metairie parades turn onto Bonnabel Boulevard, look for the Zip Thru beverage store, which also is home to an outpost of Brooklyn Pizzeria (1809 Veterans Blvd., 834-1030; www.eatbrooklyn.net). This drive-through pizza shop normally serves only customers in vehicles, but while the surrounding streets are closed to traffic for the parades, pedestrians can step up for big, floppy, New York-style slices and orders of baked dough knots covered with garlic butter.
Only one parade passes through Mid-City these days, but it's the biggest of all Carnival processions in New Orleans. That's Endymion, of course, and it inspires a scene that resembles one gigantic, linear tailgating party for at least its first few miles.
Revelers fire up countless grills during the run-up to the parade, and this year Scot Craig, owner of Katie's Restaurant & Bar (3701 Iberville St., 488-6582; www.katiesinmidcity.com), is joining that number. While he plans to open the Katie's dining room as normal on Endymion Saturday, outside he'll have grills cooking char-grilled oysters and three-quarter-pound burgers along with Cajun-style cochon de lait, all for quick, take-away service.
"This way people who want to come in, sit down and have a meal can do that, but people who want to get something off the grill and get back to the route can do that too," Craig says.
The crew at Angelo Brocato Ice Cream (214 N. Carrollton Ave., 486-1465; www.angelobrocatoicecream.com) has worked out a different plan for its storefront, which is directly on the route. They convert the shop's front door into a takeout counter and serve their full array of gelato flavors (plus Italian cookies, cannoli and espresso drinks) during the day before the parade begins, then close down as the floats roll past.
This will be the first Endymion for Lemonade Parade (4709 S. Carrollton Ave., phone n.a.), a walk-up smoothie and juice stand in the same building that was once home to the legendary Manuel's Hot Tamales. Given that pedigree, it seems fitting that Lemonade Parade also serves bundles of spicy tamales. They're not Manuel's recipe, but they're in the same spirit and make indulgent, even nostalgic, parade food.
Kjean's Seafood (236 N. Carrollton Ave., 488-7503) is there to satisfy another perennial craving. Always takeout only, this boiled seafood joint is at its busiest for Endymion as people ferry bags and boxes of crawfish, crabs and shrimp back to their parade spots.
"The day is equivalent to, and sometimes greater than, Good Friday here, which is our other busiest day," Kjean's owner Kenan Buchert says. "When the parades are rolling, everyone is eating around here."