Think of Taste of Soulard as a drier, more civilized rehearsal for Mardi Gras, with all the Cajun and Creole food anybody could want -- plus drinks and an art tour. Get up early on a Saturday and imbibe alcohol with every meal as practice for next weekend's Grand Parade and attendant chaos.
Because there won't be any Girls Gone Wild activity this weekend, there's no need to worry about gathering up beads. Instead, stuff a gut with Nadine's shrimp étouffée, 1860's Hard Shell Café & Saloon's crab cakes with Cajun cream sauce and Carson's sausage-and-chicken jambalaya. Want culture? Stop eating for a minute and visit some of the art galleries on the tour. Learn something. Trolleys will safely carry tasters to more than twenty restaurants and eight galleries, including one of our faves, the unique Mad Art Gallery. There, offerings from Missouri wineries will be available for swishing, swirling and tasting.
One of the highlights of the trolley tour is the house-decorating contest, in which Soulard residents compete for the title of most colorful digs. Whereas some folks merely hang pennants, others go all out with the purple, green and gold. "Without question, I would say there are more homes in the neighborhood that are decorated for Mardi Gras than there are for Christmas," says Mardi Gras organizer Mack Bradley. "I don't know exactly what that says about us."
It says that Soulardians love their Mardi Gras.
The reason for the season, Bradley reminds, is indulgence.
"Mardi Gras is really, in some ways, all about food," he says. "It's all about excess, because the day after Fat Tuesday, we're all supposed to start fasting. That's where it comes from. The food aspect of it is really an important part of the whole Mardi Gras concept. Most people don't think about it in those terms, in part because people are so focused on the parade."
So, please, for Bradley's sake, when you're gorging on corndogs and funnel cakes next weekend, take a moment to reminisce about the blackened-chicken Creole pizza from Joanie's. When you're stumbling through crowds and sloshing your Hurricane on revelers, remember that you walked gracefully down Russell Boulevard after a sampling of Johnny's red beans and rice.
Yes, this weekend will be somewhat different from next. Here's a final tip for those of you planning to spend time in St. Louis' French Quarter: Although the Taste takes place on both Saturday and Sunday, it might be best to step out on Saturday. The Mystic Krewe of Barkus Pet Parade (also known as the dog parade) and the Wiener Dog Derby take place Sunday.
Because the trolleys don't run, the krewes may find themselves stepping in something that's not part of the traditional tour. But if dogs and their "friends" aren't a bother, tread lightly. As they say in Soulard, "Let the good times rock & roll!"