Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday. The start of Lent. Call it what you want; it may not mean much to the rest of the world, but in New Orleans, it means everything.
I was lucky enough to be in New Orleans only a month ago today (Was that all??! Feels like so much more than a month has passed!), and the preparations were well underway. It’s an entity all it’s own over there; long days and sleepless night spent preparing culminate in a festival of parades, parties, music, costumes, and, of course, food. You can learn a little more about the history of Mardi Gras in New Orleans here; while I would love nothing more than to spend a Mardi Gras there one year, it wasn’t gonna happen in 2015. We were pretty lucky then that Melbourne hosted a little Mardi Gras event of its own in the form of the Fat Tuesday Southern Food & Music Festival!
Last night, Melbourne’s best NoLa representative joined forces to put on a Fat Tuesday session on our side of the world; Gumbo Kitchen, Girl With The Gris Gris, Abita Brewery, West Winds Gin and Bluebonnet BBQ brought the tastes of the south to Carlton. The Treme soundtrack blasted in the car on the way to set the mood, and I was excited to have a reminder of the city I fell so in love with so quickly…
… but alas, it was a bit of an anti-climax. Not sure if I was the only one who noticed the irony of holding this party next to a cemetery, given how important they are in New Orleans, but there ya go! The “party” itself though… I’m not sure I’d have called it a “food and music festival”… three food trucks does not a food festival make. It was insanely busy, the lines for food were mental and there was barely a patch of grass left to sit on by the time 6.45pm rolled around. The music sounded great, with the Horns of Leroy second line blaring as they made their way into Hardy Reserve just after 6pm. But the space was way too small, with many people walking away within minutes of arriving. Waiting over 30 minutes for food wasn’t ideal, and rumour has it the King Cake ran out around 6.30pm.
As for the food, I tried the andouille sausage po boy from Girl With The Gris Gris – tasty, great sausage, but it was no po boy. Sorry guys; I ate my weight in po boys last month, and this just didn’t taste like the ones I ate in New Orleans. I so wanted to like this place, because options of proper New Orleans cuisine in Melbourne are few and far between – still keen on trying some of their other offerings at their restaurant, though.
Bluebonnet BBQ, while not exactly New Orleans, was a standout winner for me. The brisket on the left was incredible, super tender, delicious charred bits around the edge and fatty bits that literally melted in my mouth. Top marks for that BBQ sauce, too. The pulled pork roll on the right, also amazing – the pork had crazy good flavour, and the slaw was perfect to balance out the rich meat. Worth the 30 minute wait, definitely keen on trying out their restaurant now!
By then, it was around 6.30pm. The crowd was absolutely mental, the lines for food at Gumbo Kitchen were ridiculous, and we couldn’t get a place to sit near the stage to enjoy the music. We gave up and drove to Smith Street for a cup of gumbo at Po Boy Quarter. Now that is some seriously good stuff, pretty damn close to the gumbo we had in New Orleans, and still the best place in Melbourne to get the most authentic food from the crescent city.
So, Fat Tuesday in Melbourne. Success? I guess it depends how you look at it. It was absolutely packed with people within an hour of starting. Food was selling out. Squishy standing room only for the live music. I guess that’d be considered a successful event. But when you look at where it was held; it was basically hosted on a nature strip. It’s a real shame, because this even had so much potential. Southern American food, particularly BBQ, is huge in Melbourne at the moment. Put on an event with good food and live music on a summer night, and Melbournians will turn out in force. But the venue choice was horrible, and detracted from the fun night it could have been. Whether the venue was chosen purposely or if it was more a matter of the inability to get a permit to hold it in a bigger space I don’t know. But hopefully next year they can get a bigger space and more than three eateries involved so people will hang around for longer than an hour and spend their time having fun and partying instead of complaining about the long wait for the food!