Neighborhood Dining Guide: Cajun Cooking

Plus: Mardi Gras events in the Bay area

Crawfish are a staple of Cajun cooking.

In celebration of Mardi Gras (which falls on March 8th this year), take your pick from one of these Cajun and Creole eateries in Tampa Bay to get a taste of 'Nawlins. And if all else fails and you can't make it to one of these spots, there's always Bourbon Street Grill at the local mall food courts.

CAJUN CAFE ON THE BAYOU 8101 Park Blvd. N, Pinellas Park, 727-546-6732, It's Mardi Gras year-round at this Cajun joint on Cross Bayou in Pinellas Park, serving a large menu of traditional dishes like Po' Boys, boiled crawfish, etoufeé and even alligator cooked in a myriad of methods. They also stock a huge array of craft beers on draft and in bottle.

CAJUN CORNER 2101 34th St. S, St. Pete, 727-329-8924, Cajun takeout — with a slight Asian twist — that won't break the bank. Serving classic dishes like gumbo and jambalaya, Cajun boils with your choice of crab, snow crab or shrimp, and fried gator, oysters, shrimp and more. Offering live Louisiana crawfish for sale by the pound.

GULF COAST PO' BOYS 312 W. Bay Drive, Largo, 727-584-3800. Popular with the locals, this small Cajun eatery not only does the standard fried oyster and shrimp Po' Boys, they also offer them topped with "Dirty Roast Beef" served "with debris" (I'll leave that to your imagination), Andouille sausage with Creole mustard and grilled pork sausage. Cajun fries, red beans and rice, and Southern-style cole slaw make up the sides. And the "Forbidden Bread Pudding" with whiskey sauce sounds divine.

MITCHELL'S FISH MARKET 204 Westshore Plaza, Tampa, 813-289-3663, 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 Drive NE, St. Pete, 727-258-8778, Get the feel of being in the French Quarter (minus the pigeon poop) at Nola's Hyde Park or Downtown St. Pete locations. 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 Fourth St. N, St. Pete, 727-525-2023, 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, 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. Seventh Ave, Tampa, 813-374-0192, 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. —BR

Mardi Gras Events:

CAJUN CAFE ON THE BAYOU is holding its annual Mardi Gras Celebration on Saturday, March 5, from 7-11 p.m. $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. Gate opens at 6 p.m. 8101 Park Blvd. N, Pinellas Park, 727-546-6732,

DOWNTOWN DUNEDIN is throwing its 20th annual Mardi Gras street party on Tuesday, March 8, from 5-11 p.m. 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! Downtown Dunedin: Main Street between Louden Avenue and Broadway.

KIWANIS CLUB OF GULF BEACHES will be celebrating with its 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. $25 admission. Call 727-398-1360 or visit more information. 5500 Shore Blvd. S, Gulfport.


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