By the time this article comes out on Ash Wednesday, Mardi Gras will officially be over. Down in New Orleans, the floats will be warehoused, the streets swept and hosed down, the police barricades and grandstands carted off to wherever they get stored until next year. The only remnants will be the beads hanging from the trees on the Uptown parade route.
But at Fincastle’s in downtown Greensboro, Mardi Gras is just starting. Chef and owner Jody Morphis rolled out his Throw Me Something Mister Mardi Gras Menu last week, and plans to run it through March 14.
And why the hell not? By New Orleans standards, everyone who lives north of Baton Rouge is a Yankee, and Mardi Gras Day anywhere else is just a Tuesday.
This means we can all enjoy Morphis’ authentic New Orleans cooking until it’s time to get ready for St. Patrick’s Day.
He learned most of what he knows about the cuisine at his mama’s knee in western Mississippi, where he grew up. The rest he picked up from Chef Duke LoCicero, who may run new-world Italian restaurant Giovanni’s near the foot of Canal Street but is still a born-and-bred New Orleans boy.
LoCicero, Morphis says, taught him the secret of properly darkening the roux for the gumbo.
“Get the oil good and hot first,” he says. I ran into this problem the last time I tried to make gumbo: I did not have the patience to properly darken the roux. I also could not for the life of me find any filé in Greensboro supermarkets. Filé is nothing but ground sassafras, but it’s harder to find than a whole sheep’s head around here, and gumbo just don’t taste right without it.
The gumbo on this menu comes in old-school seafood style or with chicken and andouille sausage, sausage that this year Morphis made himself.
It is smoky and firm, and he uses a liberal hand with the spices. It’s fabulous, and an excellent basis for my favorite New Orleans dish.
He also made his own boudin this year. Boudin, technically a blood sausage made from liver, rice and pork, is not for everyone. It’s meant to be stripped from the casing before consuming, so that eating boudin is a little bit like… well, never mind what it’s a little bit like. Just know it’s delicious, if you like that kind of thing.
If you’re of a mind I highly recommend the boudin balls, deep-fried until a thick crust forms on the outside. Paired with a sweet berry sauce and coarse Creole mustard, the dish transports me to the river parishes with just one bite.
Morphis is also making his own tasso these days, and even the ketchup comes from Fincastle’s kitchen.
I also sample seasonal egg rolls, one made with succulent duck and corn and another filled with crawfish tails and peppers. And while I’ve never been a big one for crawfish, I respect the tails.
Given the time and appetite, I would taste it all — the oysters en brochette, fried and wrapped in bacon; the po-boys of oyster, shrimp, and andouille; the crawfish etouffe [accent?]; the shrimp Creole; the red beans and rice; the barbecue shrimp.
In New Orleans, you can get this stuff everywhere — though I don’t recommend it during Mardi Gras, when drunken tourists overrun the city and restaurants skimp on quality and variety in order to engage in the time-honored tradition of gouging the Yankees. But as far as I know, you can only get this much authentic Crescent City fare in one place, and even then, only until March 14.
After that, there won’t even be beads hanging from the trees to remind us of Mardi Gras.
Fincastle’s 336.272.8968 215 S. Elm St., Greensboro www.fincastles.com