Mother: Did you go anywhere for Mardi Gras this year?
Me: I didn’t have to. Mardi Gras came to me.
Mother: That’s convenient.
Me: That’s how interesting the Triad is becoming.
I’ve been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans — America’s party of the year — and boy did I get sauced.
Not to worry. The sauce I’m talking about doesn’t flow from a tap or pour from fifths. It comes in a six-ounce or less glass jar and packs a punch that puts Hurricanes and Mint Juleps to shame.
What I’m talking about, of course, is the hot sauce that graces every New Orleans’ table from the Garden District’s Antebellum mansions to the construction worker’s lunchtime concrete slabs under Interstate 10.
It’s called Vampire, Liquid Hell, Sho Nuff Hot Stuff or Cajun Sunshine and it’s ga-RHON-teed to peel your eyeballs or at least make you lifelong seeker of the albumen scalp-popping scald of the hot stuff.
Enter Greensboro’s chef-entrepreneur Jody Morphis. A dandy dresser, born entertainer and cook with a bent toward big Southern dishes, Morphis launched Seersucker Chef out of his Fisher Park kitchen with wife Anne Marsh in 2011 and ever since it’s been all about the sauce. What started out as bloody mary mix and barbecue sauce being sold at area farmer’s markets has morphis-ed into a cache of products including a carrot-habanero sweet-hot sauce — Carrabanero Sauce — that would make Bugs Bunny show his tits for one more spoonful. They cater, too, and their motto is “bringing the South to your mouth.” Indeed. Everything good to nosh under the Mason-Dixon line seems to be on their menu from pork tamales and black-eye pea burgers all the way to low-country boils and white chocolate-pecan bread pudding. But what does any of this have to do with Mardi Gras?
“I’m from Mississippi, and Cajun and Creole cooking is just part of the culture,” says Morphis, “and I lived in New Orleans for a while so after Katrina I really wanted to do something to pay homage to the town I love so I started bringing it to Greensboro.”
Morphis’ annual “Throw Me Somethin’ Mister” Mardi Gras Menu started eight years ago at Fincastle’s Diner where he was a partner. This year he and Anne created a three-day pop-up restaurant downtown leading up to Mardi Gras in the current location of Thai Pan. The weather was icily uncooperative, but the venue brought out area gumbo heads, po-boy and etoufee aficionados by the krewe load. Live music with Shawn Patch and the Radials entertained on Monday night and a Second Line Parade on Mardi Gras featured Andy Squint & the Krewe.
“When we started out we had gumbo and a couple of po-boys on the menu at Fincastles and each year it’s grown measurably,” says Morphis, “now it’s a full menu that’s sole restaurant worthy.” The house-made boudin and crawfish beignets all the way to flash fried oyster and fried green tomato salads, four flavors of po-boys, two gumbos, etoufee and two bread puddings are all available via the Seersucker Chef catering label as well.
Mardi Gras is in the rearview mirror now, but it made its mark on Greensboro again this year. If New Orleans is a city that thrives on mystery, glamour and intrigue and enjoys throwing a monkeywrench into the average American mindset, Greensboro is a former mill town trying to reinvent itself via entrepreneurialism, the arts and, increasingly, via food and drink.
Greensboro’s a major hub now,” Morphis says. “Its signature dish should be a melting pot because that’s exactly who we are.”
Like I said, I think it’s in the sauce — and even the palest of palates get sucked in.
In New Orleans during Mardi Gras there are little old ladies from Duluth, Minn. wearing plastic condom shaped hats. You’ll see yuppie mothers being handcuffed while their tow-headed toddlers look on bewildered. And folks who normally wear socks at the beach are happy to bear their tops and bottoms to for fistfuls of plastic beads.
In Greensboro you can flag down a Honduran food truck, hunker down to barbecue, dine in an English pub, sample Egyptian fare, buy honey at a hair salon, master the art of tacos, visit local breweries, drink from a wine-o-mat, eat soul food and, yes, get your Cajun and Creole cravings on at a Thai restaurant — at least for a few days each year.