Where to celebrate Fat Tuesday 2013
This Fat Tuesday, you don't have to be in the Big Easy to get your fill of fun. Forget snatching beads on Bourbon Street—Mardi Gras is all about the food. And when it comes to sumptuous Southern dishes and authentic Cajun flavors, Chicago doesn't disappoint. Here are the top Mardi Gras specials north of the Bayou.
Celebrate smartly at this favorite, where the menu is more interested in history than in current trends. The Mardi Gras menu—with specials such as a po' boy sandwich and barbeque shrimp—will be around all week. For a group, order the $25-per-person family dinner, dubbed "A Cajun Country Ramble, ca. 1955." The meal's grand finale? Cajun cane sugar cake and caramel corn. Feb 6–11, 5–9pm; Feb 12, 5–11pm, reservations recommended. 5347 N Clark St (773-275-5725).
Performers on stilts, live Samba music and festive beads galore: Would you really expect anything less from a restaurant that shares a name with Mardi Gras's parent holiday? While Mardi Gras lasts one day, Carnival means a month of elaborate costumes and mouth-watering meals. Start the celebration with smoked pork belly and finish with the apple cream cheese bread pudding, topped with bourbon vanilla sauce as a nod to New Orleans. Feb 12, 5–10pm, reservations recommended. 702 W Fulton St (312-850-5005).
Feast on gumbo and sip cabernet at this winery/concert hall's Mardi Gras extravaganza. The vibe promises to be old-timey, with acclaimed musicians the Foghorn Stringband playing southern country tunes. Feb 12, 8pm, $12. 1200 W Randolph St (312-733-9463).
Hand grenades, hurricanes and Scarlett O’Haras—at Henri? The Gage’s sister spot proves that a white-tablecloth restaurant can still tap into the party atmosphere of Bourbon Street. But don’t expect the traditional sugar bombs. Mixologist Clint Rogers has created dry takes of these Mardi Gras classics; for example, the hand grenade—typically light rum, gin, vodka and Midori—nixes the vodka and subs in a housemade melon liqueur for the Midori. “We basically Cryovaced a honeydew melon, cantaloupe and a little bit of cracked pepper with a neutral base spirit,” Rogers says. It’s all part of the Fat Tuesday Spirited Dinner, a five-course affair that also features fancy spins on classic New Orleans food. Redfish nigiri? Sounds a lot healthier than a paczki. Feb 12, 6pm. $100 per person. Call for reservations. 18 S Michigan Ave (312-578-0763).
It's five days of Samba lessons, Congo drums and jazz music at this Latin hotspot. The prix-fixe Carnival menu features creative and tasty tapas, tacos and empanadas. But forget about the food for a minute and focus on the fruity booze: blood orange caiparinhas, anyone? Feb 7–12: Mon–Thu 5:30–9:30pm, Fri–Sat 5:30–10:30pm. Dinner for $44.95 per person, with optional cocktail pairings for $27. 325 W Huron St (312-664-2727).
This Japanese/Brazilian/Peruvian fusion joint embraces a third of its genealogy with Carnaval festivities to rival Rio de Janeiro's. With drummers, DJs and dancers, there will be no shortage of music. You certainly won't find the "Carnaval roll"—a sushi roll of tuna, quinoa, avocado and spicy mayo—at any other Mardis Gras party. And just in case diners aren't fully culturally immersed, SUSHISAMBA will stream a livefeed of Brazil's street celebration. Feb 12, 8pm–midnight. 504 N Wells St (312-595-0532).
Toni Patisserie & Cafe
What's Mardi Gras without a king cake? The beloved bakery stays true to its French roots by whipping up the classic dessert. Normally, finding a plastic baby in your pastry would be a lawsuit in the making. But on Fat Tuesday, the trinket brings nothing but luck. Head to Toni's or call in an order for the French-style, almond version with puff pastry for $17.95 or the typical cinnamon and sugar glaze New Orleans treat for $16.95. Mon–Sat 8am–8pm, Sun 8am–5pm. 65 E Washington St (312-726-2020).
The modern-day speakeasy is going all out this year, offering a live brass band, masked waiters and two different menu items incorporating crawfish, the lobster-like crème de la crème of Louisiana seafood. Not craving fish? The night's third special is a chicken jambalaya, a Creole favorite. Feb 12, 4:30pm–1am, reservations recommended. 111 W Kinzie (312-880-1511).