Mardi Gras sneaks up early this year; it's next Tuesday, Feb . 5. And just in time, Louisiana cooking is experiencing a boost in our area. In addition to the new Crawdaddy's Cajun Café (302 E. Main St., Carrboro, 932-5103), we have Papa Mojo's Roadhouse (5410-Y N.C. 55, Durham, 361-2222, www.papamojosroadhouse.com). The restaurant boasts "authentic Cajun cooking in founder Mel Melton's signature Creole style, using some of the freshest locally grown produce and imported food and drink from southern Louisiana."
Papa Mojo is Melton, known around here for playing zydeco harp and singing with his band, the Wicked Mojos. Melton absorbed a love of Acadiana's food and its music during a Louisiana sojourn back in the day. He's combined careers in music and food ever since. Diners at his restaurant, he says, "can expect some of the best traditional Cajun favorites like gumbo and jambalaya from this side of New Orleans." He claims his cochon de lait (Cajun barbecue) "is sure to convert even the most die-hard North Carolina barbecue connoisseur."
Other restaurants are getting in on the Mardi Gras fun, too, by featuring menus inspired by the holiday. I've heard from two: Watts Grocery (1116 Broad St., Durham, 416-5040, www.wattsgrocery.com) and Blu Seafood and Bar (2002 Hillsborough Road., Durham, 286-9777, www.bluseafoodandbar.com). On Tuesday, Watts plans to serve shrimp and sausage gumbo; mirliton (squash) pirogue gratinee stuffed with North Carolina shrimp, cochon de lait over dirty rice with turnip greens; chicken étoufée and stuffed brioche King Cake. Blu Chef Tim Lyons plans to serve crawfish étouffée, boudin and red beans and rice. But I'm sure there are more, so call around.
Of course, Chef Rameaux's School of Cooking & Louisiana Market (704 N. Person St., Raleigh, 834-2510, www.cheframeaux.com) has a full slate of events. At 10 a.m. on Saturday (and every Saturday, according to its Web site), there is a café au lait and beignet class for $7, and no reservations are required. But you do have to reserve a place at one of Rameaux's evening classes. Saturday's session begins at 7 p.m., and features a class on red beans and rice, gumbo, jambalaya, and bread pudding. (Either Mardi Gras costumes or formal wear are required, and there will be a great prize for the best costume.) Cost is $50 per person. Then, on Fat Tuesday itself, there's a class on shrimp and oyster gumbo, mini-muffaleta sandwiches, and chicken-and-andouille-sausage jambalaya. Cost is $45 per person.
I heard from two places that are making King Cakes: La Farm Bakery (4248 Cary Parkway, Cary, 657-0657, www.lafarmbakery.com) and Chapel Hill's Great Harvest Bread (29 S. Elliott Road., Chapel Hill, 932-1112, freshbakedbread.com).
If you need a family-friendly Mardi Gras party to attend, Chatham Marketplace Co-op (480 Hillsboro St./U.S. 15-501 North, Pittsboro, 542-2643, www.chathammarketplace.coop) is hosting one from 7 p.m. to midnight Saturday. It plans an evening of food, live music, dancing, zesty beverages, prizes, auction, karaoke and children's activities. Cost: $25 in advance, $30 at the door.
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