Tuesday, February 28, 2017.
Mardi Gras With Angela. Farewell To Steak.
It’s a warm, precipitation-free morning for the hailing of Zulu, the Jefferson City Buzzards, and finally Rex. And for looking at all the other characters on the streets of our unique city.
I begin my celebration at Gallier Hall, where for the twenty-fifth year I anchor the broadcast on WWL Radio. Angela Hill joined me for the the last five years at the point where Rex toasts the mayor. In previous years I flew solo for the last two hours. This year Angela volunteers to stay with me for all three hours. We agree that this was the most fun we’ve had with this assignment. Diane Newman takes it another step: she thinks this is the best Mardi Gras show the station has fielded during her long tenure as Boss Programming Lady.
The best part of having Angela on a microphone is that, what with her decades as Channel Four anchor, she knows everybody worth talking to. I kind of lose my place when, for example, a New Orleans councilman or councilwoman comes over to say a few words.
I think we can now call the visit from Archbishop Gregory Aymond a tradition. This is the third time he appears with us. I ask my usual question: are frog’s legs, alligator, and turtle permissible for Ash Wednesday in Lent? The archbishop says he has researched this question thoroughly, and indeed reptiles are fish as far as the Church is concerned.
At the end of it all, Angela says that we ought to launch a campaign to make costuming more prevalent on Mardi Gras. We see many great getups, but not enough general costumes. I say that wearing a tuxedo at noon breaks many rules of haberdashery. You’re not supposed to don formal wear until after five p.m. I am wearing wing-tip shoes, which are verboten with a tux. Finally, I have not one but two masks. They are my cufflinks.
The radio show ends at two, and I make a beeline to my car and from there to the Crescent City Steak House, where I have held court (in a very informal way) every Mardi Gras since around 1985. My fingers are crossed that owner Krasna Vojkovich and her family have a table waiting for me. But there is a new wrinkle this year. The Crescent City Steakhouse opened at eleven a.m., three hours before they did since Katrina. So I had to wait a few minutes for my table to become available.
The dining room is jammed with people waiting for tables. I don’t think any of those people were upset when they saw me walk in and get the first available table. When I started this tradition of mine thirty years ago, the place was nearly empty. I started writing and talking about it, and suddenly people discovered the 1934-vintage restaurant. While I stop short of claiming that I am responsible for the crowd, I think I can say that I turned a lot of people onto a modern approach to steak on Mardi Gras.
After all, the word “carnival” means “farewell to meat.” So it’s logical that on the day before Ash Wednesday, and in honor of Rex’s Boeuf Gras, the thing to eat is steak. And not just any steak, but a seriously large one of fine quality, which is certainly the story at the Crescent City.I get mine, in the company of anyone who cares to join me.
I see many people I know from past beef surfeits. But for a few minutes I am alone. Then a couple I don’t know asks the hostess whether I were there. She said yes, she checked with me, and I invite the couple to my open seats. They seem very entertained by the sheer number of people who come over to tell me hello.
Each of these visitors has a good story, the airing of which makes us just sit there for two hours before we finally give the server our order. Also along the way Krasna comes over with her famous tripe stew. I have to talk the visiting couple into trying it. I don’t think it will become a favorite dish for them.
I finally order the extra-cut sirloin strip with extra butter. The visiting couple has a ribeye and a filet mignon, with sides of au grating potatoes, broccoli, onion rings, and garlic bread. Same story as always: the steaks are perfect, the sides ordinary. But the low prices make up for that.
The one unpleasant aspect of this is a shortage of parking. Not only does the Crescent City draw dozens of cars and use every square inch of its several parking lots, but there’s another big party going on nearby. The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club is only three blocks from the Crescent City, and its membership has ballooned in recent years. One can hear the sounds of a major celebration from that direction. The neutral grounds on Broad and Orleans are full of cars. What can be done? A shuttle bus from City Park, perhaps?
I get home around seven, tuckered out, as one really should be after a well-spent Mardi Gras.