Mardi Gras

“Laissez les bon temps rouler.” A Cajun French phrase that is a translation of the English phrase, “Let the good times roll.” 

The celebration of Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, traditionally marks the last opportunity for Christians to make merry before enduring the solemn and penitential Lenten season

Mardi Gras, or Carnival (translated as “farewell to meat”), is celebrated in Catholic and Christian countries throughout the world.  Latin American countries like Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia have held celebrations since the 1700s, and European countries since the 1200s. But with the exception of New Orleans, Mardi Gras celebrations in the United States have become popular only in the past twenty years or so.

The appeal of Mardi Gras is easy to understand: this is one last opportunity to enjoy  yourself before enduring fasting, Lenten sacrifice, prayer and personal reflection.  Over the years, Mardi Gras has developed an air of mystery, with masked and costumed revelers parading the streets, enjoying music, dancing with strangers, eating rich foods and consuming large quantities of alcoholic beverages.  Mischief abounds as individuals expose themselves for shiny bead necklaces, and other individuals toss the beads from gaudy parade floats.  Fancy king cakes are eaten, and tradition says that if you find the plastic baby in your piece of cake, you purchase next year’s king cake. Mardi Gras societies or krewes, organize elaborate balls and parades and have done so in the Mississippi Delta states of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi since before statehood. 

Here in Benicia we can celebrate Fat Tuesday by visiting any friendly bar down on First Street or elsewhere in Benicia. 

Enjoy a fruity Hurricane made with both light and dark rum or a Ramos Gin Fizz that tastes like a creamy lemon meringue pie.  The official New Orleans cocktail is the Sazerac that contains cognac, whiskey and absinthe.  Dating from the mid 1800s, this powerful concoction features absinthe, an anise flavored, pale green liqueur that was banned in the United States from 1912 until 2007.  Absinthe is also featured in Death in the Afternoon, a champagne and absinthe concoction made famous by the renowned writer and imbiber, Ernest Hemingway.

Although many Benician restaurants feature one or two Cajun and/or Creole menu items, one restaurant specializes in this unique and tasty cuisine.  The Workshop offers a takeout lunch from 11:00-2:30 Tuesday through Friday and 8:00-2:30 on the weekends.  Several tables provide outside seating, but takeout is more popular.  There are three drawbacks to this restaurant, but they are easily overcome. First, no liquor is served.  There is only takeout, and they close at 2:30.  However, they do cater, or you can always take your food home and prepare a favorite drink.  The Workshop features a special each day: Wednesday is jambalaya with fresh cornbread, and Friday is authentic and delicious gumbo.  Po’Boy sandwiches are available every day and include brisket, fried shrimp or fried oysters. The Cajun chicken pot pie has had rave reviews, and there is talk of some special crab dishes and homemade bread pudding for Mardi Gras!  

Even though we might not be able to travel to New Orleans, Rio, or Venice, Italy to enjoy Mardi Gras this year, we can always celebrate here in Benicia and share a good time with friends.  Let the good times roll!