On Saint Patrick’s Day, we’re Irish.
On Cinco de Mayo, we’re Mexican.
On Dyngus Day, we’re Polish.
The first opportunity in every year is to become a New Orleanian. Mardi Gras is celebrated in other places too, but that city in the Deep South calls to many, and the food, at least for one day, is part of what we do.
“People want to get involved,” said Phil Schreiber, owner of The Chicory Cafe in South Bend, one of three local restaurants that capitalize on Cajun or Creole culture year-round.
On Fat Tuesday, Chicory will have drink specials, including hurricanes for $5. Music is planned from 7 to 11:30 p.m. The place is already decorated. Everyone will get free beads. There may not be a parade in downtown South Bend this year, but at least there will be beignets.
And these are glorious beignets. Food doesn’t get much simpler than bits of fried dough dusted in powdered sugar. But the sweets made famous by Cafe Du Monde and replicated elsewhere aren’t always very good. These are light and amazing. You get about three for $2.50. I overheard one customer proclaim that she’d finished off an order. Then the order came and I took a bite and understood.
- RELATED: Vegetarians can participate in Mardi Gras indulgence, Feb. 16, 2015
For the last decade, Chicory has been serving coffee at 105 E. Jefferson, on the corner of South Michigan Street. There’s been a New Orleans flair to the place and Schreiber has only accentuated that since taking over three years ago.
Now he calls it a “New Orleans-style coffeehouse with Cajun food.”
The Chicory Cafe, 105 E. Jefferson, South Bend. The coffee shop has a Cajun menu and is planning festivities on Fat Tuesday, including live music.
Yat’s, 1251 N. Eddy St., South Bend. The location at Eddy Street Commons near Notre Dame is one of 13 in the state offering Lousiana cooking. Ettouffee, gumbo and jambalaya are all on the menu, which is served on foam plates after walk-up ordering and prices are simply $6.75 for a full order.
Fat Cam’s, 25020 May St., Edwardsburg, Mich. The restaurant is planning a Fat Tuesday dinner, but it’s sold out. A party is planned for Saturday, Feb. 6. It’s open for dinner seven days a week and Cajun dishes on the menu.
It’s got the coffeehouse vibe with meetings happening and people working at computers. There’s a chess club Monday nights, trivia on Wednesdays, open mic/comedy on Thursdays, live music on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons, and salsa dancing every other Saturday.
Even on weekends, this downtown location is busy. High school students are finding their way toward the sweeter coffee drinks, including the new Chewbacciatto that includes marshmallows harvested from Star Wars cereal.
The place has a fun vibe. It’s a nice place to sit and sip. In the fashion of the Big Easy, alcohol is available if you like it with your coffee, or instead of coffee.
The food is pretty good too, and Chicory offers a nice range of Cajun items. The po boys are nicely done. Blackened shrimp tacos are served with a cilantro lime slaw and a creamy Cajun sauce. The jambalaya sells well and there’s even a vegan hemp pesto pasta that Schreiber touts.
He’s also working to make the cafe a public gathering place and a venue for the likes of Gov. Mike Pence and a pride rally, though not there at the same time. “I want this to be your restaurant,” said Schreiber, sounding a little bit like a politician.
Yet it is, in many ways. It’s hosted a rehearsal dinner and on a recent Sunday afternoon, a 101-year-old woman played three songs on the piano because she wanted to and her son asked.
Main Street Coffee is gone in downtown South Bend and this is the local coffee shop. It happens to have pretty good food. Breakfast items start at $2.50. About a dozen lunch items start around $6 and range up to about $12.
- RELATED: Savor the last bit of pre-Lent indulgence with Pączki, Feb. 13, 2015
On Fat Tuesday, the day before the Lenten fast starts for some, there will be doughnuts called pączki (poonch-key) and king cakes with little plastic baby Jesus dolls baked inside. Some will celebrate the day with pancakes. It’s a day to feast before the fast. Enjoy.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.
Ettouffee: It means “to smother” and is a sauce made with a roux and sometimes other ingredients to put over rice.
Gumbo: A stew made with various meats after making a dark roux.
Roux: Flour and fat are stirred and darkened to give the thickness and color to Cajun dishes.
Cajun: Rustic cooking that tends to be the country food of southern Lousiana
Jambalaya: A rice-based dish that has meat, vegetables and is a bit like paella.