Mardi Gras is a time to pull out all the stops and laissez les bons temps rouler.
And, of course, there's no better place to experience it than in New Orleans, where the beads are flying, the parades are in full swing and menus are dripping with indulgences from beignets to rich gumbos and the like.
But if you can't make it to the Big Easy, you can take the short drive downtown to party like a Cajun at Blue Orleans Seafood Restaurant. At the same time, you'll be supporting the American Cancer Society's Mardi Gras gala, Mammo Gras, a fundraiser to be held Thursday evening for the Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk, set for Oct. 5 in Coolidge Park.
"Chef Michael Adams and his wife, Cherita, have planned a spectacular menu that is sure to capture the spirit of Mardi Gras right here in downtown Chattanooga," says Jill Woodruff, community events manager for the Cancer Society. And, she adds, the food spread says it all: jambalaya, 'Nawlins Chicken and Pasta, crawfish fritters with remoulade sauce and more.
Tickets may be purchased at the door, but Woodruff advises doing so in advance by calling 423-499-2600. VIP tickets are $75 per person and include a special happy hour from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. that will feature Hurricanes, King Cake shots and Abita beer. General tickets for the dinner only from 6:30 to 9 p.m. are $50 each.
If you want to increase your support of the American Cancer Society and further your fun, you can arrive at Blue Orleans in style on a "bicycle" built for 15. On the evening of Mammo Gras, you can board Pints and Pedals at StoneFort Inn on 10th Street and pedal your way directly to the doors of Blue Orleans at the corner of Main and Market streets.
If you have a group, the cost is $250 to rent the entire bike. Individuals can ride for $25 each. Pints and Pedals will donate 20 percent of the tour profits to the Cancer Society and will also have a booth at Mammo Gras where folks can make reservations for future trips. Pints and Pedals will donate 20 percent of profits to the Cancer Society from any bookings made at the event.
"We've done several charity-focused events in town," says Pints and Pedals co-owner Chris Brown. "Giving back to this community is important to us."
For hours and bookings, call 380-8359 or log onto pintsandpedalstn.com.
Mardi Gras fun continues through Fat Tuesday on March 4. Pints and Pedals will resume its regular schedule on Friday, which has always included stops at Urban Stack and Flying Squirrel. Now, however, Blue Orleans will be a tour stop, and through Mardi Gras, the restaurant will be offering free beignets and New Orleans-inspired drink specials for Pints and Pedals patrons.
And interestingly enough, enthusiasm for this open-air mode of transportation doesn't wane during the cold months of winter.
"We haven't slowed down, even with the colder weather," Brown says. "People are having so much fun that I even got a hug from several people after a recent tour, thanking us for the experience."
Things won't slow down at Blue Orleans, either.
Chef Adams will be serving specialty dishes, desserts and beers starting on Friday up to Fat Tuesday. For Mardi Gras week only, the restaurant will be open on Friday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. In true Louisiana fashion, alligator will play a starring role on the menu with dishes that include Gator Gumbo Ya-Ya, Gator Bites, Alligator and Black-Peppered Bacon Po-boy served with Cajun fries, Smoked Gouda and Gator Pasta, and Gator 'n Tabasco Grits.
If you never tasted alligator, it tastes just like chicken. Really it does ... and it's good for you too since it's high in protein and low in fat.
Special Abita beers also will be served, including Jackamo, Mardi Gras Bock, Purple Haze and Turbo Dog; and giveaways -- beads, bottle openers, T-shirts and more -- will be distributed throughout the crowd while supplies last.
Reservations are recommended. Call 757-0088 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you can't make any of the celebrations but want to add some Cajun flavor to your menu, try this recipe from Knorr that takes just minutes. It's not quite as flavorful as the real thing, which can take hours to prepare, but it's not bad for a quick rendition if you're short on time.
1/2 pound kielbasa, sliced
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 1/4 cups water
1 package Knorr garlic butter rice
1/2 pound uncooked medium shrimp
1 medium tomato, chopped
Brown kielbasa in 12-inch nonstick skillet; remove and set aside. Stir onion into same skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Add water and rice. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until rice is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in shrimp and cook until shrimp turn pink and rice is tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato and kielbasa; heat through. Garnish, if desired, with chopped parsley.
Contact Anne Braly at email@example.com.