Every week, there's a cornucopia of Phoenix food news, features, and reviews to report here at Chow Bella. If you're like most people, you probably just don't have the time to get to all of it. It's kind of like those burgers at Old Town Whiskey; it just won't all fit in your mouth ... or in this case, your day. So, here's a recap of some of the top stories from the week that you may have missed.
We're usually looking for a reason to convince our more responsible friends to go out drinking on a Tuesday night, which is why Fat Tuesday is one of our favorite days of the year. As much as we wish we could pack our bags and hit Bourbon Street for authentic eats and Hurricanes, we'll be celebrating in the Valley of the Sun, which -- thankfully -- does not mean we have to sacrifice all of the Southern flair and fare we're craving.
Carnival may already be in its second week, but Mardi Gras fans in the Valley still have time to score one of the event's most popular traditions before Fat Tuesday, February 12: King Cake.
Akin to coffee cake, the ring-shaped creation is popular for its sugar toppings in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold as well as the tiny baby (usually plastic) placed inside the baked and braided Danish dough. Got the slice of cake with the baby? Congratulations, you get to hold the next King Cake party.
Recently, we featured Barb's Bakery as a spot to kick-off Carnival with a King Cake. Here are six more place to get your Mardi Gras cakes.
Mardi Gras is coming up quick. The fuel of Fat Tuesday's debauchery is, of course, freely flowing alcohol. (Yes, and beads, but this is a booze column.) While it's fun to slam down Hurricanes, Hand Grenades, and other massive sugar bombs, the next day's hangover will not be fun. Besides, New Orleans is a legendary drinking town. Some of the world's finest cocktails were created there.
The Sazerac is believed to be the first cocktail invented in the United States, dating back to before the Civil War. Until this point, a cocktail was simply a beverage including spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. You'll probably recognize that basic recipe as the basis for the Old-Fashioned, and you would be correct. The Sazerac is a cousin of the Old-Fashioned, only more specific with its ingredients and preparation.
New Orleans is a town with a storied past. Most tourists' tales are of rampant debauchery fueled by Pat O' Brien's famous Hurricanes. The problem with those Hurricanes is that they aren't anything like they used to be. These days, they're barely more than Kool-Aid heavily spiked with cheap rum. That said, a visit to New Orleans without at least one Hurricane is like going to Vegas and not putting at least a couple of dollars into a slot machine. So, when you go, hit Pat's first, get your obligatory business out of the way, and then go get a real drink.
An excellent place to go for that drink is the Carousel Bar, inside the Hotel Monteleone. The hotel itself is a landmark, but the bar is one-of-a-kind. It's a circular bar, and it revolves. Yes, at this place, the room spins before you've had a drink. It's a leisurely ride, at all of four revolutions per hour. Still, it's a little strange to get up to use the restroom, and then see your friends on the other side of the bar when you return.
Many moons ago, the head bartender at the bar, Walter Bergeron, crafted the Vieux Carré, which became quite the popular drink. Decades later, as vodka grew more popular, the drink almost went extinct. Until a few years ago, you could ask for one at its birthplace, and only get a puzzled stare in return. Thanks to the vintage cocktail renaissance we're enjoying, you can once more go to the Carousel and have yourself a Vieux Carré.
For much of the country, January 6 is just another day on the calendar. But on the streets of New Orleans and other cities along the Southern coast, the day marks the Twelfth Night after Christmas, the day Mardi Gras season begins. And for those that celebrate the tradition, that means one thing: King Cake.
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Although several Valley bakeries will offer King Cake closer to Fat Tuesday (February 12 this year), Barb's Bakery, the family-owned bakery in Central Phoenix in business for over 30 years, is offering four different kinds of King Cake now, at the start of Carnival, and throughout Mardi Gras. Here's how to get a jump on the celebration.