Peachhead™ Approved Vacations: Shreveport, LA Mardi Gras
I was recently invited to Shreveport, Louisiana to celebrate Mardi Gras. Before arriving in Shreveport, the only thing I knew about Mardi Gras was that it was a big party with parades. After doing some research and learning from the “experts” on my trip, I have a much better understanding of this wonderful celebration. Mardi Gras, also known as Carnival, has been celebrated for centuries. South Louisana has been celebrating it for over 300 years and there were parades in Shreveport, Louisiana as early as 1867. The parades continued until the Great Depression. The first parade returned to Shreveport on Feburary 24, 1990 with The Krewe of Gemini parade. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday.” Mardi Gras season begins on January 6 and ends on Ash Wednesday. Purple, Green and Gold are the official colors of Mardi Gras. Each color has a meaning (Purple -- Justice, Green – Power, and Gold – Faith). Throwing treasures from the float began in 1871. Today they throw plastic cups, beads and small toys. The term Krewe is for a Mardi Gras organization and the CEO of the Krewe is called the “Captain.” Royalty of each Krewe are either appointed or elected and serve as goodwill ambassadors in the community. It is quite an honor to be a part of the Royal Party. During the Mardi Gras celebration there are masked balls. Long ago the masked balls allowed groups who were often segregated to mix together. Today masked balls are where the Krewe royalty is presented and “unmask” their identities for the first time that season. The two largest parades for Shreveport, LA are the Gemini and the Centaur and the parades are a great way of experiencing Mardi Gras in a more contained environment.
King Cakes are part of the Mardi Gras tradition so we visited Julie Ann’s Bakery . They are a full bakery with sandwiches, ice cream and pastries, but they are best known for their king cakes. Legend has it that the cakes were made in a circle to represent the circular routes that the Wise Men took to find Jesus, in order to confuse King Herod and foil his plans of killing the Christ Child. Early on, a coin or bean was hidden inside the cake. Bakers now put a small baby representing the Christ Child in the cake. If you are lucky enough to get the piece with the baby in it, you will have good luck the coming year and you are expected to host the next King Cake party. There are a number of different flavors, but we had the pralines and cream one and it was incredible. (I did not get the piece with the baby in it.) They sell between 20,000 – 30,000 King Cakes during the Mardi Gras celebration.
You are able to view the floats prior to the parade at the Krewe of Centaur float-loading party . I have seen many Rose Parade floats; however, I have never seen a float for Mardi Gras. The float-loading party is where you can walk around and see all of the floats being dressed in beads for the parade the following day. I am blown away by how many beaded necklaces are draped along the float ready to be thrown out to the crowd the next day. Here are photos from last year’s floats
Mardi Gras is such a big event that they even have a Krewe of Gemini Mardi Gras Museum, , home to the largest collection of Mardi Gras royalty costumes in the northern hemisphere. Costumes are on display that have been worn over the last 10 years. We saw the Krewe of Centaur Mardi Gras Parade and it was amazing to see the community come together for this grand event. There were 40 floats in the parade and as the floats passed you they would toss beaded necklaces, cups, and other various items. There are thousands of beaded necklaces decorating the floats and everyone goes wild (adults and kids) trying to get the riders on the float to toss them a necklace. There are a few different parades going on during the Mardi Gras period. The parade I really enjoyed was the Krewe of Barks and Meoux Mardi Paw Parade , where everyone brings their pets dressed up in great costumes to march along the parade. My favorite was a little dog wearing a Dorothy dress and the three kids were dressed as the scarecrow, the lion, and tin man. This is a great family event.
Louisana is known for their great food and I think I tried most of it. I left LAX at 7:00 AM and arrived in Shreveport at 1:35, just in time to go to lunch at Crawdaddy’s . What an experience this was. I saw how they make a huge pot of crawfish and then I actually ate fried crawfish, fried alligator, fried green tomatoes, pickled tomatoes, crab cake and etouffee, and the best Cajun garlic shrimp. Wow, what a meal. Everything tasted great. Dinners were my favorite meals in Shreveport. Our first night we ate at Bistro Byronz . The definition of a Louisiana Bistro (bistro: an unpretentious neighborhood restaurant where people gather day and night to relax, share conversation and enjoy good food at a reasonable price) is exactly what Bistro Byronz is. They have the largest selection of martinis I have ever seen. I had the Almond Joy martini and the watermelon martini. Loved them. There were so many wonderful items on the menu to choose from that I decided to share a number of appetizers and sides. We started out with the blue cheese chips (think nachos with blue cheese on fresh made potato chips), spinach and artichoke dip, bleu mac and cheese, and the sweet corn and crab soup. For dinner I had the grilled salmon served with au gratin potatoes (yes, more cheese). To top off the meal we shared the Heavenly Hash Supreme, a warm chocolate brownie topped with a number of different items. The following night we ate at Wine Country Bistro and Bottle Shop . This is a wonderful restaurant. They have a nice room that sells wine and cheese. The restaurant has a very nice ambience. We had a pre-set menu that consisted of roasted red tomato soup, cherry wood smoked salmon salad, fried green tomatoes, Low Country Shrimp 'n Grits and the most wonderful mascarpone crepe. Our final night was spent at Chianti Restaurant, a beautiful, elegant restaurant. The owner, Enrico, is from Italy and he brought his homeland cooking expertise to Shreveport. Everything from the appetizers to the pasta to the filet mignon was fantastic. We also visited quite a few great restaurants for breakfast and lunch. One morning we had brunch at the Columbia Café . This was a condemned building in the late 1990s and the owner, Matthew Linn, spent almost 8 years and $1,000,000 renovating it. This four-year-old restaurant features multiple rooms (you feel like you are sitting in someone’s homey kitchen). The meals are freshly prepared with herbs from the restaurant’s outdoor garden. A wonderful place to stop for lunch is Fertitta’s delicatessen ; they are known for their famous muffys. The Muffy® is a special version of the famous Louisiana-Sicilian muffaletta sandwich. We tried a variety of them and they were all wonderful. They had a great meatball sandwich as well. I love that this is Shreveport’s oldest continuously family-owned restaurant. It was founded in 1927 by John Fulco. The establishment has operated in the same two-story brick building since its founding. Fertitta’s Delicatessen is now owned by family member Agatha McCall, who resides with her family above the restaurant, just as her parents and grandparents did in years past. In 1997 Fertitta's was recognized by the City of Shreveport as a local landmark and in 1998 the restaurant was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
One of the funniest things I discovered in Shreveport were their drive-through daiquiri places. We visited one called Cajun Liquor. There are cars lined up waiting to get their daiquiri to go and a large selection to choose from. I had the “Pink Panties,” which is a mixture of a white Russian and a Sex on the Beach. It was very refreshing. I actually met someone that has an entire blog on the different drive through daiquiri’s . If you are more of a wine person, you should visit On Cloud Wine , also known as the biggest little winery in Louisiana. Debbie Keckler, the owner, began making wines several years ago in her own home. Her husband is a builder and built her dream winery on their 6 acres on the left side of her house. Behind her house is a pond, large barn, geese, and ducks. It is beautiful scenery to sit outside and taste some wonderful wines. They also offer a monthly painting class, where your fee includes a bottle of wine and the stretched canvas and paints and instructions on how to create step-by-step beautiful art. I am not a painter but it sounds like a great way to experience painting. They also have a great gift shop, with very unique items.
When you are not busy eating and drinking, there are a number of fun activities to do in Shreveport. You can take the Spirit of the Red River Cruise along the Red River and Cross Bayou. This one-hour tour will tell you the history of Shreveport-Bossier City. The Municipal Auditorium was another great place to visit. This building was built in the 1920s and designed by architect Samuel Weiner. The building was dedicated to the Soldiers of the Great War on Veterans Day November 11, 1929 and has been coined the finest example of Art Deco construction in the State of Louisiana. On April 3, 1948, a new program named The Louisiana Hayride began a weekly showcase of talented singers, songwriters and performers. It was broadcast on the radio station KWKH. The Louisiana Hayride had a number of famous people perform including Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Johnny Horton. The most prominent performer to begin his career on the stage was Elvis Presley on October 16th, 1954. Elvis was signed to a contract to perform every Saturday night on the Hayride for $18 a show. There is a copy of his contract displayed that his parents had to sign because he was too young, and they played us a sound clip of him being introduced and playing a song on the radio station KWKH. In fact, the phrase “Elvis has left the building” was coined in Shreveport when the producer of the Louisana Hayride, Horace Logan, uttered it at Hirsch Coliseum to quiet the screaming teens. This building has quite a bit of history and they have a variety of tours you can take.
If you are an artsy person, The Meadows Museum of Art , located at the Centenary College of Louisiana, has a permanent collection featuring works of French academic artist Jean Despujols, documenting the people of Indochina. They have special temporary exhibits as well. February 20, 2011 was the premiere of “Copley to Warhol: 200 Years of American Art Celebrating the Centennial of the New Orleans Museum of Art." The works in this exhibit present an overview of American art from 1768 to 1987, including works from John Singleton Copley and Andy Warhol. I especially loved the work by David Holcombe . His paintings have a story behind them and he conveys a message in his work. We also attended the opening night of the Cakeland Exhibit at Artspace at the West Edge . Artist Scott Hove’s Cakeland is a series of sculpture and installations resembling delicious cakes, wall mounted, hanging, and standing. It was very unique to see cakes so nicely decorated that were not going to disappear at the end of the evening. Shreveport has a brand new theatre, The Robinson Film Center , that specializes in international, independent, and classic films. They have a restaurant upstairs called Abby Singers’ Bistro and you can bring your food and drinks into the theatre with you. The restaurant is unique in that it has a nice outdoor dining balcony overlooking the street, which is very rare.
If you are bringing your kids, they will love Holiday Lanes , a smoke-free bowling alley for all ages. They have glow-in-the-dark bowling and great music. It was a fun family party scene. My kids always love the Science Centers and Shreveport has a wonderful one called Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Science Center . It is over 92,000 square feet and there are over 290 science, math and space exhibits, including eight interactive areas, an IMAX Dome Theatre, interactive laser Space Center, and a little café that serves the tastiest Humphrey Yogurt (the house specialty), which is yogurt topped with three fresh fruits, granola, and honey.
I was fortunate to be able to stay at the Courtyard by Marriott Shreveport-Bossier City/Louisiana Boardwalk . This is a beautifully designed, modern hotel. The design of the room was very different and they have the most comfortable beds. The hotel has a large computer monitor touch screen (known as the Go Board) where you can find where you want to go and then have the information sent to your phone. The hotel offers free wi-fi, pool and Jacuzzi, and a 24-hour fitness room. The hotel is in a wonderful location, steps from the Louisiana Boardwalk , a large outdoor shopping center with stores (including outlets), restaurants, a movie theatre, comedy club, and even indoor miniature golf.