Food & Drink

What Locals Serve at Mardi Gras

New Orleans insiders reveal what’s really on their tables—and bars—during Carnival

Photo: Jeff Lipsky; Courtesy of Emeril's Homebase; Courtesy of Lolis Eric Elie; Courtesy of Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group; Craig Mulcahy; Courtesy of Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group

Clockwise from top left: Emeril Lagasse; his favorite Bloody Mary recipe; Lolis Eric Elie; Creole jambalaya; C. Morgan Babst; Brennan's milk punch.

Come Carnival season, king cake is a given in New Orleans, even for locals. “When I was in high school, some swim team members and I would stop on our way to practice at the only place you would get your king cake: McKenzie’s Bakery,” David Guas, the chef and TV host, recalls. “We each bought a small king cake and would compete to see who could finish the cake before getting to practice.” (Guas and his teammates likely weren’t the most buoyant on those days.) Beyond the requisite cinnamon-laced dessert, though, a rich food-and-drink tradition spans parties in New Orleans. Here, seven local insiders share their pre-Lenten spreads.


“The quintessential food is something large, and something made the day before—a big pan of jambalaya or gumbo that you can deposit on a stove or in an oven.”—Wayne Curtis, journalist and author


“Everybody eats fried chicken. And if you don’t, it’s just not Mardi Gras day.”—Simone Reggie, proprietor of Simone’s Market


“When I was a kid, we wandered the city on Carnival Day on a truck float with several other families. My mother tells me that on those chilly mornings, one of the women made calas, fried rice fritters. In New Orleans, we sometimes forget Mardi Gras’s connection to the Carnival traditions of our neighbors in the Caribbean. For several years, I hosted a Carnival party and served black beans and roast pork, in tribute to our Cuban cousins, as well as calas, in tribute to our own traditions.”—Lolis Eric Elie, writer and filmmaker


“I grew up on the parade route, so we had parties every Carnival whether we liked it or not. On our screen porch, there were always chili dogs and donuts—I learned to pump a keg when I was six. Now that I have my own house just off St. Charles, we feed the crowds red beans and rice and Popeye’s, and my husband batches Bloody Marys. But the key to Mardi Gras is to remember that it is a marathon, not a sprint. Start in the morning with a donut and a beer (pair Abita Purple Haze with a jelly donut or NOLA Brewing’s Black Strap Milk Stout with your chocolate glaze), and don’t stop until you’re ready for your afternoon nap.”—C. Morgan Babst, author


“One of my best friends lives along the Uptown parade route. Every first Sunday they have a big watch party. I always bring this Carnival Punch and turtle soup. Not only are they a favorite among guests each year, they’re both so easy to prepare and sit out well for the duration of the party and parades.”—Katy Casbarian, co-owner, Arnaud’s Restaurant and the French 75 Bar


Grillades and grits is a classic Creole dish that is perfect for a hearty meal either before or after you hit the parade route. It can be kept warm in a slow cooker all day, so if you’re having a party where people are coming in and out, it will keep! Of course, you can’t go wrong with a Bloody in the morning. Kicking them up with the extra spice will make sure you’re awake and ready for the day.”—Emeril Lagasse, chef and TV host


“Parade-going is an all day, all night, multi-generational affair, and my go-to foods are cultural touchstones like red beans and rice; jambalaya, cooked low and slow all day, perfectly paired with a brandy milk punch or my personal favorite, an Ojen cocktail. And king cake, king cake, and more king cake!”—Ralph Brennan, president, Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group (Brennan’s and Napoleon House, among others)

Get the recipes:

> Carnival Punch from Katy Casbarian
 > Bloody Mary from Emeril Lagasse
 > Jambalaya from Ralph Brennan
> Brandy milk punch from Ralph Brennan
 > Ojen cocktail from Ralph Brennan