How Do You Deux Mardi Gras?

Galvestonians Know How to Put Their Party On!

By Esther Davis McKenna
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“You don’t have to be from New Orleans to ‘laissez les bons temps rouler’,” chef Mary Bass told Galveston Monthly Magazine. And, by the sheer number of visitors to the island during Mardi Gras! Galveston, it’s safe to say that many Texans agree with her.

More than a quarter million revelers are expected to “let the good times roll,” in a city that takes on an electric vibe for 11- to 12 days in February; a city where purple, gold, and green serve as a backdrop for over-the-top pageantry; where krewes are king, and royalty rules at masquerading.

No need to dust your fancy duds off to find a good time in Galveston during Mardi Gras. Bedecked homes, porches, and backyards overflow with rajin’ Cajuns who have come out to play.

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If you’re interested in throwing your own soiree, legendary party host and born-on-island Galvestonian Charlie Collier shares his best tips, below.

“If you don’t lay out and follow certain guidelines, you can get burnt out,” Collier said. “Things can easily get too big, and then it just isn’t fun anymore—and isn’t that the point in the first place, to ‘let the good times roll’?” he said.

“These are just a few things I have learned over time and with experience that others might benefit from.”

“Book your live entertainment well ahead of time. Recorded music will do; just make sure it’s smooth grovin’ New Orleans jazz. Limit the time period; it’s okay to schedule the party between parades. Round up a reliable crew of volunteers. Limit the guest list; 50 people is an ideal number. Use event bracelets as an invitation and hire an off-duty cop for security. Troublemakers tend to bypass a yard with a uniform at the gate,” Collier said.

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“Buddy up with a neighbor to share costs for food, booze, and entertainment. Don’t try to serve mixed drinks for everyone; kegs are less costly and less messy. Ask guests to BYO; folks like to bring their own cocktail or an appetizer/side dish. Cater your party; call a local restaurant to pre-prep or add items to your menu,” he added.

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Party maven and mixologist Debra Pease said, “Keep your menu simple, and pre-mix a few really good cocktails in advance.”

Pease and her husband Steve Broom co-authored a book on libations titled, “Yoda & the Captain: A Pandemic Journal of Cocktails.”

“If you want to throw a great party, you need four things,” Pease said. “Good food, good drinks, good music, and, of course, a good crowd.”

Mardi Gras“I deliberately invite an eclectic group of people that have something to add to any conversation. I make a trio of fabulous theme-related cocktails, and I pick a few key food items that I know I can do well. Make ice cubes out of your premixed cocktails so you don’t water down your drinks. Place the food in different places around the room so that you force people to circulate. Recruit your friends as volunteers and assign them the best job for their personality. Remember, some people are naturally better at ‘front-of-house’ duties, and others are better at cutting briskets. But don’t forget that everyone is there to have fun!”

It’s important to note that “you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the food you serve,” Pease added.

“Substitute shrimp in your favorite crab cake recipe and roll into balls and serve with a drop-dead remoulade. Top your cornbread with étouffée and garnish your deviled eggs with a blackened crawfish. It doesn’t take a lot to follow a New Orleans theme.”

Chef Mary Bass, a fifth-generation Galvestonian, is one of many island business owners gearing up for Mardi Gras season. “Mardi Gras is ingrained in my soul,” Bass said.

“It’s about good food and good times with good friends and family,” the La Cocina and Good Dough Bakery owner said.

Bass offers a full ‘pardi gras’ catering menu including her mini king cake kolaches or another savory pastry that features her signature swamp dip—a shrimp/crawfish mix with trinity and blackened cream cheese; mini muffuletta sliders, and more.

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No Mardi Gras party would be complete without the muffuletta sandwich or the king cake. Both of these New Orleans-inspired eats are as connected to Mardi Gras tradition as the families who create them: the Maceos of Maceo Spice & Import in Galveston, and the Tortorices of the legendary Beaumont-based Rao’s Bakery.

These two businesses have more in common than Mardi Gras— Rao’s owner Jake Tortorice’s and Ronnie Maceo’s grandads were brothers. “We are real family,” Tortorice said.

“The only king cake you’ll find at Maceos is made by Rao’s Bakery,” said cousin and Maceo spokesperson Concetta Maceo-Sims.

“Because, to put it simply, they make it the best. The Tortorices are great bakers and businessmen; they just also happen to be our cousins,” Maceo-Sims said.

The two businesses partnered up to sell Rao’s cakes about a decade ago said Tortorice. “Ronnie (Maceo) would take the ferry over to Bolivar, and we’d meet him there, and load up his truck.”

Best described as a big Danish, the traditional king cake is a pastry stuffed with sweet Italian cream cheese (and sometimes fruit) and topped with purple, green, and gold sugar. All king cakes come with a tiny plastic baby that is hidden for an unsuspecting eater.

“The baby represents Jesus, and it’s a blessing to be the one who finds it in their slice,” said Tortorice. “Or is it a curse? Because if you find it, you’re supposed to buy the next one.”

The key to Rao’s success? “Freshness,” said Tortorice. “We bake each day. We make them by hand.”

They sell more than 10,000 king cakes during Mardi Gras season. You can purchase them from Maceo Spice & Import on the island and the Big Store on Bolivar Peninsula as well as any of Rao’s five locations in Beaumont, Nederland and Spring.

Maceo muffulettas are legendary with good reason. “It’s the original,” Maceo-Sims said. “It’s the sandwich of all sandwiches.”

“My grandfather Rosario Samuel Maceo (or R.S.) and his friend Tony Lavoi, a bread maker and olive dressing innovator, created the muffuletta sandwich and sold them on the corner of Royale and Dumaine streets, where my family lived in New Orleans. They’d sell them to all the Italian groceries in the neighborhood. When my great-grandfather Frank brought the family, including R.S. to Galveston, the recipe came with them,” recalled Maceo-Sims.

Today, the Maceo muffuletta bun is baked in a local bakery with the family’s secret recipe that is used by them exclusively. Maceo-Sims said she’ll never veer away from the original five-ingredient recipe—ham, salami, Provolone cheese, olive spread, and the classic bun—that her grandfather created. “Why mess with perfection,” she said.

It looks like the folks over at The Texas Bucket List agree with Maceo-Sims as they recently named the Maceo muffuletta as “Best Bite of the Year.” Maceos makes, on-average, 100 muffulettas a day, and they double that production during Mardi Gras season.

With both parents now deceased, Maceo-Sims is looking forward to celebrating Mardi Gras with the next generation, her one-year-old daughter Precely.

“I can’t wait to see her reactions to the floats and the beads! She’s going to love all of it as much as I do. Mardi Gras is my favorite time of year. It connects me to my past, through my parents and grandparents and now, to my future, through my daughter.”