MITCHELL'S FISH MARKET 204 Westshore Plaza, Tampa, 813-289-3663, mitchellsfishmarket.com. Though not typically known as a Cajun/Creole restaurant per se, Mitchell's does offer plenty of 'Nawlins classics, like gumbo and blackened fish. The menu can change daily, as the seafood is brought in fresh daily from all over the globe. Go for the Happy Hour Bar Menu from 4-7 p.m. and get New Orleans BBQ shrimp and other small plates for around $5 a pop.
NOLA CAFE & NEWS STAND 301 W Platt St, Tampa, 813-258-8778; 300 Beach Dr NE, St. Pete, 727-258-8778, nolacafe.com. With two Bay area locations, get the feel of being in the French Quarter (minus the pigeon poop) at the Tampa or Downtown St. Pete location. Savor the warm beignets covered in powdered sugar with a piping hot cafe au lait for breakfast. For lunch and dinner, try the jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish etouffee, Po'Boys, or any one of the many Cajun and Creole classics served here. And where else in Tampa Bay are you going to find turtle soup or an alligator burger?
RICKY P'S PO BOY SHOP 6521 4th St N, St. Pete, 727-525-2023, rickyps.com. For a po' boy joint, Ricky P's has a fairly expansive selection of non-po' sandwiches and hot dishes, including better than average gumbo based on a seriously expressive roux, beans and rice spiced by a prodigious amount of cayenne-infused Andouille sausage, and the best jambalaya I've had in the Bay area. Maybe that's not saying much, considering the lack of Big Easy eateries around town, but this moist, tomatoey rice would likely compete on equal footing with non-cheap options. -- Brian Ries
SAVANNAH'S CAFE 1113 Central Ave, St. Pete, 727-388-4371, savannahscafe.com. Serving Carolina low-country to Louisiana Cajun. Po' Boys, crab and crawfish with citrus remoulade and jambalaya are just some of their Louisiana-inspired dishes.
SHRIMP & CO. 2202 E 7th Ave, Tampa, 813-374-0192, shrimpandco.com. Order the tilapia blackened and you'll receive a slab of fish that will knock your taste buds for a loop, each bite a fiery blend of herb and spice that not only adds flavor to the dish but actually manages to enhance the subtle flavor of the fish. Here, tilapia is gifted with a newfound richness and depth that belies its low-end beginnings. There are other things at Shrimp & Co. worth returning for, like black gumbo built on a deeply-flavored roux and packed with a mess of sausage and shrimp, or baskets of simple fried fish and shellfish. It's all hearty fare, largely built on the Cajun and Creole culinary heritage, with a little of the Caribbean thrown in for good measure. -- Brian Ries
Mardi Gras Events:
Saturday, March 5: Cajun Cafe on the Bayou
Celebrate Cajun Cafes annual Mardi Gras Celebration. $15 admission gets you live Zydeco bands, a full Cajun meal and craft ales on draft. Door prizes: Cajun Cafe on the Bayou gift certificates and a 3-day admission for 2 at their 14th Annual Crawfish Festival. Costumes encouraged but not required. $15; 7-11 p.m. (gate opens at 6 p.m.) 8101 Park Blvd N, Pinellas Park, 727-546-6732, cajuncafeonthebayou.com.
Monday, March 7: Gulfport Casino
The Kiwanis Club of the Gulf Beaches will be celebrating with their annual Mardi Gras Ball on Monday, March 7, at the Gulfport Casino. Cajun food, live music, dancing, cash bar, a silent auction and an appearance by the Mardi Gras King and Queen, King Rick Vaughn, VP of Communications for the Tampa Bay Rays and his wife Sue. Ticket sales and a silent auction will benefit a variety of Kiwanis charities. Call 727-398-1360 or visit kiwanisgulfbeaches.com for more information. $25; 7-11 p.m. 5500 Shore Boulevard S, Gulfport.
Tuesday, March 8: Downtown Dunedin
Its Dunedins 20th annual Mardi Gras street party! Admission is free and there will be plenty of beer, wine, food and feathered masks. The main stage at Pioneer Park will feature two bands: Swamp Logic from 5:30-7 p.m. and headliner Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble from 8-11 p.m. The parade starts at 7:30 p.m. so be prepared to catch some beads! Free event; 5-11 p.m. Downtown Dunedin: Main Street between Louden Avenue and Broadway. delightfuldunedin.com
Tuesday, March 8: Donatello Italian Restaurant
Donatello Italian Restaurant will transform into a Venetian Carnival in celebration of Fat Tuesday. Just as Venetians have done for centuries, Donatello will recreate the lively festival held every year in the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy. Belly Dancers and magicians will perform and guests will have the chance to listen to live music while enjoying the authentic Italian cuisine offered by Donatellos Chef Luciano Visentin. Costumes and masks are encouraged. Call for more information. 6-11 p.m. 232 N Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa. 813-875-6660, donatellotampa.com
Image: Angela Rutherford via Flickr