Every year at Carnival time, a new menu
Carnival Season officially begins on the 12th night after Christmas — Jan. 6, the Epiphany. But that doesn’t mean all that much to anyone around here but practicing Catholics and New Orleans expatriates.
Down in the Crescent City, the barricades have gone up along the parade routes; the hotels, bars and restaurants prepare for an influx of humans so great it can only be estimated by measuring the garbage they generate. The Mardi Gras crowds tend to obscure everything that makes New Orleans special — bars teem with drunken tourists, pushing out the regulars until after Fat Tuesday; restaurants streamline menus and jack up prices. It’s a terrible time to eat in one of the best food cities in the world.
Here in the Triad, we may not have Zulu coconuts and Mom’s Ball, but thanks to a fellow former New Orleanian, we can eat great New Orleans food during the Mardi Gras season.
Jody Morphis has been building the Throw Me Somethin’ Mister Mardi Gras Menu at Fincastle’s in downtown Greensboro for six years, tweaking and developing the slate so that it is always full of surprises. It’s something I look forward to every winter. If I can’t actually be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, at least I can eat like I am. And because of the aforementioned issues with dining during the city’s biggest party, I can actually eat better than I would if I were carousing through the Warehouse District.
I brought with me this year a crew of seasoned New Orleans foodies: my wife, whose shared passion for the cuisine fueled the early days of our romance, and our children, who spent an August trip to the city gorging themselves on po-boys and boudin.
Morphis makes his own boudin — that regional liver sausage that makes me swoon. His comes in the traditional form and also a crawfish boudin, a more gentle approach. At Fincastle’s, he peels the casings and deep-fries the breaded fillings in an appetizer called “Boudin Brothers.” My oldest son and I took down a plate of this in less than a minute.
He opted for one of his faves, an oyster po-boy, which he judged to be as authentic as the one he ate on the Westbank over the summer. His brother, enamored with the roast beef po-boy he tried at Tracey’s in the Garden District, found the Fincastle’s version just as delicious, though not nearly as messy.
The difference here is that Morphis genuinely cares about this menu, working on it all year for this short tenure. Much like Mardi Gras itself, a lot of planning goes into what for some might seem like an extravagance, but those who have experienced it know that it is well worth it.
My little girl, who possesses an adventurous palate, ordered barbecue shrimp, the dish made famous by Pascale’s Manale on Napoleon Avenue. The “barbecue” appellation is something of a misnomer — the whole shrimp are sautéed in a savory garlic sauce that goes well with a hunk of French bread. And my wife could not refuse the shrimp etouffee, a roux-based version of the dish that had, for her, the power to transcend time and space — from the first bite, her head was somewhere else.
Me, I like gumbo, and Morphis’ chicken and andouille version — with homemade andouille, natch — fits the bill nicely. I prefer it to seafood gumbo, though he makes that, too, with a roux so dark you’d think there’s chocolate in it. I also tried a new dish, the duck tamale, which owes more to his upbringing in western Mississippi than his time in the kitchens of New Orleans. A credible corn maque choux graced the husk, which contained delectable chunks of duck meat.
There’s more to be had: I must go back for the crawfish Rangoon and the bread pudding, which can be had as bananas foster or in a white chocolate and pecan version. I’d like to get a plate of barbecued shrimp for my very own. And I can never get enough gumbo. Never.
Fincastle’s Throw Me Somethin’ Mardi Gras Menu runs through Mardi Gras Day, which this year falls on Feb. 12. Just like Mardi Gras itself, it will go out with a bang.
Fincastle’s Downtown; 215 S. Elm St., Greensboro; 336.272.8968; fincastles.com