The countdown is on: 136 days to Mardi Gras.
Big Daddy's knows the date, the city, the food, the festivities. The corner joint delivers a bon-temps-rouler taste of New Orleans, with full-flavored Southern side trips, too. It's never too early to celebrate.
You might think that Cajun and Creole cooking went back-burner since the early 1980s, when blackened redfish set off smoke alarms in kitchens nationwide.
The devoted would stand in line for hours outside K-Paul's on Chartres Street in the Big Easy for a seat at a communal table. No reservations, no credit cards; sensational food, time well spent.
Locally, there have been a few New Orleans-style establishments over the years. Big Daddy's has outlasted most, with its fired-up combo of Cajun, Creole and Southern fare, along with first-class pit barbecue.
The dining room and bar are almost as colorful as the meal. Masks, beads, banners for LSU and the Saints, the sounds of Preservation Hall. Live music abounds. Quirkiness, too, down to the decorative plates immortalizing Elvis Presley movies. Cocktails and beers keep coming.
So does chef Craig Bedell's all-smiles cooking. The menu changes daily. But there are some regulars, such as the soulful andouille sausage-and-smoked pork gumbo and generous, savory crawfish étouffée, a wake-you-up saute.
"Baton Rouge broiled oysters" mean fat Blue Points with a savory horseradish-and-Gruyère crust. "Ghost wings" are smoked slowly and detonated with the Naga Jolokia chili, also known as the ghost pepper.
By now, pistachio-crusted swordfish seems mellow, even with a hint of Sichuan chili and chipotle peppers. The hearty Creole jambalaya kicks in with balanced heat, too. Both are fine. Likewise, "Crazy Aunt Barbara's" chicken-fried steak, here eye-of-round in sausage gravy, accompanied by garlic-Cheddar mashed potatoes.
The pastrami po'boy, festooned with slaw, Swiss cheese and jalapeño Russian dressing, is grandly overdone. Better are the pulled-pork and smoked beef-brisket varieties. The barbecued chicken is juicy; the baby back ribs, husky. The bracing muffuletta sandwich, an adaptation of the Central Grocery classic of cured meats, cheese and olive spread, will take care of tonight's dinner and tomorrow's lunch.
With these choices, no need to sample dull crabcakes and heavyweight blue-crab bisque, so-so chocolate-peanut butter bread pudding, or routine pecan pie.