Whether you've had the life-changing experience of attending Mardi Gras in New Orleans or have always dreamed of visiting, this is the perfect year to bring the famed party to the privacy of your own living room.
Since COVID-19 restrictions have canceled the city's elaborate street parades featuring outsized floats and the fancy dress balls of January and February, as well as the culminating Fat Tuesday celebration on Feb. 16, Mardi Gras 2021 is one for the imagination. Whether you live on the city's famed St. Charles Avenue or thousands of miles away, use this high-spirited guide for the best ways to bring the timeless party Gras into your home this year. And laissez les bon temps rouler!
Dig into New Orleans dishes
Mardi Gras season is the perfect excuse to indulge in traditional New Orleans cuisine. And the good news is that these specialty foods can be ordered from local purveyors and shipped to your home, allowing you to support an economy suffering from the cancellation of so many events. Get your Mardi Gras menu started with the following treats you can order today:
1. Shrimp and grits: This Creole classic is something you can certainly cook up on your own at home, but it would be more fun to order up from Commander's Palace, a dining institution that's been the site of celebrations since it opened in 1893. The restaurant's Wild Shrimp & Cognac with Creole Cream Cheese Grits ($89) serves two and is available via Goldbelly, a service that connects restaurants with patrons throughout the U.S. Order it here: Wild Shrimp & Cognac with Creole Cream Cheese Grits.
2. Po'boys and muffulettas: These two iconic sandwiches are the twin pillars of New Orleans casual eating. Said to have been invented during New Orleans’ 1929 streetcar strike, the po'boy is a hearty sandwich on a soft stretch of French bread that can feature any meat or seafood. Dig in to the roast beef and gravy with Swiss cheese from Parkway Bakery and Tavern for one of the earliest — and most delicious — versions ($99 for 4). Order it here: Roast Beef Po’ Boys for 4.
To experience the original muffuletta sandwich, head to where it was invented: Central Grocery & Deli, open in the French Quarter since 1906. The Sicilian owner's creation for farmers who wanted a hearty lunch of meats and cheeses, the historic sandwich layers ham, salami, mortadella, Swiss and provolone with a marinated olive salad on a round sesame loaf ($109 for a two-pack that serves 6-8). Order it here: Original Muffuletta Sandwich.
3. King cake: A ritual-linked food with roots that predate Mardi Gras, this breaded dough ring with brightly sugared vanilla icing is now practically the symbol of Mardi Gras season, and loads of New Orleans bakeries offer delicious variations. The confection has a small plastic baby tucked inside, and whoever gets the slice that contains it is said to receive good luck and is crowned the king or queen of the day. Here are three of the best king cake versions:
- The Traditional Mardi Gras King Cake from Caluda's ($55) is a hand-braided dough cake brushed with melted butter and cinnamon sugar, then topped with vanilla icing and sprinkled with the opulent purple, yellow and green sugars of the holiday. The Parade Cake package also includes a card describing the history of the king cake, a baby to tuck in before serving, a commemorative cup, plus beads and doubloons to summon the fun of the famed tosses from Mardi Gras floats. Order it here: Traditional Mardi Gras King Cake.
- Haydel's Bakery adds a jolt of local NOLA coffee to the party in its Da Parish King Cake package, which features the main event (30-35 one-inch servings), a scroll detailing the history of the king cake, a package of specialty Mardi Gras beads, and one pound of French Market Coffee, for $55. Order it here: Haydel's Bakery King Cake Package — Da Parish.
- For purists, the original French king cake — a round cake filled with almond paste — is a delicious alternative to the braided dough ring. Poupart Bakery — a traditional French bakery in Louisiana's Acadia region — offers a beautiful version of the French king cake for $59. (You can also order a traditional king cake at the same time.) Order it here: French King Cake.
4. Pralines: There's never a trip to New Orleans that isn't sweetened by a visit to Aunt Sally's Pralines, and the landmark shop has its Mardi Gras game on point. Order up themed cocktail napkins ($8.99), a table runner ($27.99), a platter ($48.99), or go all in with the Creole Crown Gift Basket ($100), which includes classic and creamy pralines, a pecan log, praline pecans and roasted pecans, along with keepsake wine goblet, tea towel, scarf and Mardi Gras beads. Order it here: Creole Crown Gift Basket.
If you like a cocktail, you will feel right at home in New Orleans, so make some plans to stir (or shake) up a celebratory drink in honor of Mardi Gras.
Here are three classics to consider:
5. Sazerac: The cocktail most linked with New Orleans, this boozy relative of the Manhattan with absinthe as its secret weapon is the ideal sipper during Mardi Gras. Get the recipe here.
6. Ojen frappé: Spirits expert (and NOLA resident) Wayne Curtis unearthed this very Mardi Gras cocktail that nearly disappeared when the sweet Spanish licorice liqueur that distinguished it ceased production (don't worry, it's back). Read all about it and get the recipe here.
7. Ramos gin fizz: According to cocktail guru Simon Difford, this foamy masterpiece invented in New Orleans in 1888 by Henry Ramos was originally named the New Orleans fizz and quickly became a popular drink in the city. In the 1930s, the outsize Louisiana governor Huey P. Long loved his gin fizzes so much, he sent a New Orleans bartender from the Fairmont Hotel to Manhattan's New Yorker Hotel to train the staff to make the drink for when Long was in town. Get the recipe here.
Celebrate Mardi Gras from your living room
Liven up your weekend and Fat Tuesday with some streamable, fun. Check out these five Big Easy ways to tune into the party from the comfort of your sofa.
8. Watch a NOLA film: According to Carnival historian Arthur Hardy, Mardi Gras has featured in more than 200 movies. These half dozen greats are all streaming now.
- Jezebel (1938), on Amazon Prime
- A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), on Amazon Prime
- King Creole (1958), on Amazon Prime
- The Big Easy (1987), on Amazon Prime
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), on YouTube
- The Princess and the Frog (2009), on Netflix
9. Check out Treme: David Simon and George Pelecanos’ heartfelt four-season drama takes place in the years immediately following Hurricane Katrina, and it's both masterwork and love letter to the city's singular character (and its music). Further, each season has its own very specific Mardi Gras episodes, so it's also a mini master class in the holiday. Watch it here: Treme, on HBO Max
10. Tour the house floats: When the parades were canceled for 2021, the people of New Orleans took that inimitable (and often iconoclastic) verve to their own homes, and the result has been a joyful eyeful of house exteriors done up like Mardi Gras parade floats. Get a brief tour of the splendor here, and follow this new Instagram account for photos and links to a map of the more than 1,000 house floats.
11. Attend a virtual Mardi Gras parade: Leave it to the inventive Krewe of Bacchus (one of the holiday's better-known clubs) to launch the Throw Me Something Bacchus! app. You'll be able to catch and collect virtual throws (a tradition during Mardi Gras where people throw everything from beads to doubloons and sparkly accessories) and trade them with other players. On Sunday, stream a live parade in the app, where more than 1,600 Bachus member will virtually toss throws. The free app is available for download for Apple and Android devices on the Apple App Store.
12. Tune in to Mardi Gras for All Y'all: Get a piece of some NOLA Mardi Gras magic by tuning into to this three-day virtual event from 9 p.m. ET Feb. 12 through 11 p.m. Feb. 14. The event will feature artists, chefs and personalities at famous NOLA spots including Mardi Gras World (where the floats are created), Antoine's, Dookie Chase's and more.
13. Catch the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band and celebrities like Emeril Lagasse, Hoda Kotb and Trombone Shorty. The action will be streaming on Facebook Live as well as on nola.com and YouTube.