Masked revelry, brilliant floats and electric merry-making sweep the streets and spirits of residents and visitors to Mobile, Alabama during Mardi Gras. With the country’s eye fixed squarely on her sister city, New Orleans, the celebrations in Mobile often pass swiftly under the radar—making them a somewhat Southern secret. Though, here’s a little trivia, Mobile is actually the birthplace of America’s carnival celebrations, and hosted the first ever in 1703—so don’t think for a moment this city plays second fiddle. From the parades to time-honored mystic-inspired traditions, it is a choice destination for those seeking fun, authenticity and yes, plenty of good bayou country cuisine.
Opportunities to start a culinary adventure in Mobile pop up at every corner during Mardi Gras—literally. Parade tailgaters line the streets and food vendors set up shop to sell their best fried offerings, nacho platters and even grilled steaks. After all, this is Fat Tuesday and indulging is the name of the game. Though don’t be surprised if you can’t find etouffee, it isn’t a main menu item here. In its place the people of Mobile feast on dishes featuring ruby red kidney beans and locally sourced sausage from the Conecuh Sausage Company.
Judi Gulledge of the Mobile Carnival Museum tells us no matter if you’re partying on the street or at one of Mobile’s many formal gatherings, “Conecuh sausage is sure to be part of the menu. Made in Evergreen, Alabama, Conecuh sausage is consumed by the hundreds of pounds by folks of all walks.” Conecuh Sausage’s most popular offering is a hickory smoked mild flavored pork sausage, though they also have a spicy and hot sausage that is particularly good in gumbo.
If freshly caught seafood is more of your thing, Mobile revelers also traditionally indulge with grilled oysters. On historical Dauphin Street street—the site of the country’s first Mardi Gras parade—Wintzell’s Oyster House is a great sit down dinner spot. They do their oysters up fancy with plenty of fun dressings and toppings. We’re particular fans of their Monterey Oysters topped with Jalapenos, hickory smoked bacon and melted cheddar cheese.
Finding dessert in Mobile is easy. King cakes abound, classic bread pudding is on most every restaurant’s menu and parade floats fling free sweets into the crowds. The signature sweet-fling? Moon Pies. “First thrown in 1962 by the Maids of Mirth [one of Mobile’s many mystic societies]…The ladies thought it would make a splendid throw as it was soft, yet had some weight,” Judi says. The original chocolate combo is what’s most likely to fly your way, but banana, peanut butter, chocolate and mint pies will also rain down.
Oh—and whatever you do, don’t forget the kids. Mobile’s Mardi Gras is heavily centered on family and doesn’t have the same adult edge as some of the New Orleans parades. “People come to Mobile Mardi Gras because it’s safe, affordable and family friendly—there may be partying in the streets, yet it is not raucous or offensive.” says Judi, “It is not uncommon to find three generations of a single family watching the parade in the same location their family has been “standing” in for years.”
If you’re planning a vacation to Mobile for Mardi Gras, here are some top stops and stays we recommend:
Can’t make it to Mardi Gras this season? Host your own celebration at home with the following recipes:
—By Emily Arno, Relish Multimedia Editor