Let the Good Times Roll!

I'm talking MARDI GRAS, the festival of indulgence that precedes the 40 days of Lent. You don't have to go to NOLA. There will be revelry aplenty in New Brunswick.

In Loo-zee-anna, they’ve been kicking out the jambs on Mardi Gras (literally, Fat Tuesday) since the 1700s. At the Old Bay in New Brunswick, they’ve been stomping up a storm on Mardi Gras since 1987, the year the restaurant opened.

You can join the fun this Fat Tuesday, March 4th, from 5 pm to 2 am.

The $20 admission includes a buffet served from 5 to 10 pm, featuring shrimp Creole, chicken and sausage jambalaya, fried chicken, spicy meatballs, red beans and rice, and jalapeno cornbread waffles.

“The biggest misconception about Cajun-Creole cuisine is that it is all hot and spicy,” says Old Bay’s general manager, Pat Pipi. “It’s not. It just has big, bold flavors that shouldn’t be intimidating.”

The meal wouldn’t be complete without a slice of classic king cake for dessert. This humble-looking cinnamon roll, iced with colorful frosting and often filled with cream cheese, praline or berries, was traditionally baked with a tiny trinket inside, thought to bestow good luck on whoever finds it.

Unless that person had the bad luck to bite into the trunket and break a molar or swallow the little thing and choke to death. Which is why restaurants don’t put trinkets in their king cakes anymore.

Old Bay owner Tony Tola renovated the restaurant in 2004, attracting young professionals for Happy Hour and families for dinner. After 10 pm, weeknight DJs and weekend live bands make the Old Bay a non-stop party all year.

Mardi Gras, March 4, kicks off this year at 5 pm with the New Brunswick Jazz Project playing "New Orleans high-horn jazz,” says Pipi. Later, for the 8th year in a row, The Old No. 7 Band takes the stage playing “blues, classic rock and upbeat R&B with a full horn section," he says. "You can just pay admission at the door and come in and join the party.”

The restaurant’s lively interior is all-Mardi Gras, all-the-time. Purple and green walls, with feathered masks and colorful artwork, are capped with shiny golden stamped metal ceilings. There are multiple levels and rooms, each with a different atmosphere. The mezzanine “has the wrought iron balcony feel of New Orleans,” says Pipi.

Mardi Gras “is our busiest, most exciting night of the year," he says. "We give out beads, we give out masks, and people just let loose!”

The Old Bay Restaurant
61-63 Church Street
New Brunswick


SUZANNE ZIMMER LOWERY is a food writer, pastry chef and culinary instructor at a number of New Jersey cooking schools. Find out more about her at suzannelowery.com.

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