Mardi Gras Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Mardi Gras on the southwest intersection of Broadway and Avenida Caesar Chavez
Mardi Gras on the southwest intersection of Broadway and Avenida Caesar Chavez

Over the centuries, Mardi Gras has evolved in America from a sedate French Catholic tradition to a hedonist’s holiday in which revelers indulge–and overindulge–the day before Ash Wednesday.  Every year Mardi Gras celebrations lure millions of rollickers and revelers to New Orleans where Mardi Gras is celebrated in grand scale.  Extravagant parades, masked balls, raucous convivality and copious consumption are hallmarks of the Crescent City event where shouts of “Laissez les bon temps rouler” (Let the good times roll) resound from rooftops and alleyways.

Laissez les bon temps rouler is also now the resounding sentiment from Albuquerque’s South Valley where in February, 2009, a new Cajun restaurant opened for business.  Now Duke City diners can celebrate “Fat Tuesday” five days a week instead of once a year.  Appropriately, Albuquerque’s newest Cajun eating emporium is named the Mardi Gras Grill.

Situated on the southeast intersection of Avenida Caesar Chavez and Broadway, the Mardi Gras Grill is an example of a neighborhood revitalization and community development program that is working.  The South Broadway neighborhood was once among the city’s most undesirable with substance abuse and gang violence a thriving part of the fabric of the neighborhood.

Laissez Bon Temps Roulette
Laissez Bon Temps Roulette

Proprietor Josh Salaz is proud of his neighborhood and invites all Duke City residents, but in particular Cajun country transplants, to visit his New Orleans inspired restaurant.  Josh’s father is originally from Algiers, Louisiana, a community within the city of New Orleans and home to a number of New Orleans Mardi Gras carnival krewes.  Mardi Gras and Cajun cooking are in Josh’s blood.  Better yet, his father’s family recipes are in his repertoire.

The Mardi Gras Grill is a relatively small–yet very cozy and inviting–restaurant with fewer than ten tables.  It is festooned in the Mardi Gras colors of purple (representing justice), green (representing faith) and gold (representing power).  A soundtrack of festive New Orleans jazz plays continuously.

The restaurant reminded us instantly of some of the wonderful hole-in-the-wall restaurants we discovered during the eight years we lived outside of “The Big Easy.”  Sure New Orleans has some of the most highly regarded and popular restaurants in America, but save for special events, most “real people” eat in the small mom-and-pops.  The Mardi Gras Grill would fit right in with those.

Sausage, chicken and shrimp gumbo
Sausage, chicken and shrimp gumbo

The menu belies the restaurant’s cramped quarters.  In fact, it’s downright ambitious considering both the diminutiveness of the restaurant’s size and the greatness of distance to Bayou country.  Josh has crawfish flown in from New Orleans and after auditioning several distributors, has found one that keeps him well-stocked in more than passable shrimp and surprisingly good Andouille sausage.

The menu features only two appetizers, but one is a Cajun country standard–fried okra served with a zesty Remoulade sauce.   Also available are five po-boys, the traditional Louisiana submarine sandwich served on a baguette-like Louisiana French bread.  The po-boys are available dressed (generally lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise with onion and pickles optional) or undressed.   Six seafood dishes grace the menu, too, as do two rice dishes and two burgers (including Josh’s Bayou Burger which is topped with sauteed onions, bell peppers and mushrooms with Swiss cheese and mayo).

The proof, as it’s been said, is in the pudding–or in the case of Cajun food, in the gumbo.  Josh’s rendition is made with chicken, shrimp and Andouille sausage served on top of a bed of white rice.  This gumbo passes muster!  Its thick, hearty broth has a smoky bouquet and a nice spice kick (not the piquancy of New Mexico green chile, but a respectable kick).  The roux (an amalgam of butter and flour cooked over low heat) is lighter than we’ve seen at other Cajun restaurants in New Mexico, an indication that it isn’t just this side of being burned.  It’s also subtle–solid and rich while allowing other ingredients to shine.  The Andouille sausage is very good–coarse grained the way it should be with a pronounced smokiness.

Crawfish and shrimp etouffe
Crawfish and shrimp etouffe

The roux in the crawfish and shrimp etouffee is also lighter (and not as orange-red) than we we’ve seen in New Mexico, but in line with some of our favorite New Orleans Cajun and Creole kitchens.  The Mardi Gras Grill’s etouffee, which means “smothered,” is made with a beautiful brownish sauce replete with red bell pepper, onion and celery (the “Trinity” of Creole cuisine) along with a dose of cayenne pepper for added piquancy.  The crawfish and shrimp are cooked to perfection and are as tender and flavorful as if these buttery crustaceans were caught from local waters.

A basketful of French bread accompanies the seafood dishes.  Its flaky crust and soft, airy center is the perfect canvas for butter or for sopping up any surplus sauces.  Not too dense and not too airy, it is as ideal for po-boys as it is as a side.  True to New Orleans style French bread, this one leaves copious crumbs on the table.

On Saturdays, in-season, the restaurant features a Louisiana style crawfish boil served with whole crawfish, smoked sausage, Cajun boiled corn on the cob and boiled Cajun potatoes.  Memories of ninety percent humidity, ninety degree heat days in the sun flooded back as the crawfish approached our table, its unmistakably familiar steamy aromas wafting toward us.

Crawfish boil
Crawfish boil

Crawfish boils are about peeling tails and sucking heads and you get to do a lot of that with the generous portion served at the Mardi Gras Grill.  The crawfish are meaty and succulent.  Served on newspaper, you’ll quickly dispatch of this seafood bounty.

During an upcoming trip back to Bayou country, Josh plans on locating a vendor who can supply him with the inimitable Italian bread on which New Orleans restaurateurs craft muffulettas.  The large, round and somewhat flat loaf about ten-inches across isn’t easy to duplicate, but Albuquerque is ready for an outstanding muffulettas and Josh may just be the man to provide it.  In fact, he may just be the guy to bring New Orleans back to Albuquerque–or at least a semblance of its kitchens.

Mardi Gras Grill
1402 Broadway, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-4299
LATEST VISIT:  21 March 2009
COST: $$
BEST BET: Crawfish Boil, Crawfish and Shrimp Etouffe, Gumbo

15 thoughts on “Mardi Gras Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

  1. Went in to the mardi gras grill today and bieng originally from Baton rough. LA i was kinda skeptical about a Cajun/Creole place in the state of NM, but i was surprisingly pleased with the very familiar taste of home. I ordered the crawfish and shrimp etouffee and i must disagree with the above comments on it, it was just the way my grandmother usto make it back home, my wife had the oyster and shrimp po’boy(not on the menu but the cook had no problem with doing it half and half, she loved the sandwich especially with the new “house suace” the cook offers now. the service was good today but it is hot inside the building, but the waitress assured us that the a/c was going to be serviced by next week, which was a relief because we will be back to eat there insted of going to pappadeux for our little taste of back home. oh and they should also think about bringin in some gator tail meat =p yummmm.

  2. I, too, was really disappointed. I imagine that the food might taste good if someone had never had true Cajun food before, but there were so many things wrong with the place….it was incredibly hot inside…no A/C and twice someone was sent from the restaurant to go and buy a bag of ice when they ran out. The menu is very limited and although everything is made fresh to order ( except, I suspect, the etoufee sauce ) this means that the one cook has orders back up so that it does take an umcomfortably long time to get your meal. The party at the table next to us had incredibly bad service, with two of three orders arriving first, and the third dish arriving as plates were being cleared from the first to be served.
    My crawfish and shrimp etoufee was blessed with one ( 1 ) shrimp! The reminder of the crawfish was good but the sauce tasted canned or chemically enhanced or…something. It was just a little “off”. My husband enjoyed his fried shrimp but said there was nothing special about it.
    We ordered red beans and rice for our three year old since the kids menu offerings were the standard hot dog or chicken nuggets, and it arrived and was not like any rb and r I’ve had, red beans in broth with rice and a couple of pieces of bacon.
    It’s sad when a chain ( Pappadeux, in this case ) makes better regional food, but that’s the case here.

  3. Today I went to the Mardi Gras Grill. I read all of the comments on how good it was. I was really disappointed. I was born and raised in New Orleans and was looking forward to eating a po boy. The service was terrible, we waited 45 minutes to get our sandwich. When it finally came the order was wrong. No apologies for that. The sandwich was a 1/2 sandwich of what you would get in New Orleans and with a side it was $8.99. If it would have been good the price and size would not have mattered. I also ordered the fried okra, which was also awful. All of the breading did not stick to the okra, it was all on the plate. I crave New Orleans french bread, and please this was not it. The bread was really heavy and did not have a good taste. Lunch for two was $26.00 and it was awful. The waitress did not even ask us if we needed a refill of tea when our glasses sat empty. So as a native of New Orleans this place totally missed the mark.

  4. Passed this yesterday…wondered if you had sampled it for us. You don’t disappoint!
    Hoping there is a po’ boy without shell fish. Dang those allergies!

  5. True to my word, I went back “soon” (i.e. three minutes after my last comment) and got the gumbo. It is quite good, though I got it to-go and suspect it would be better had I had it there in a bowl.

  6. I ate there last week and had the breaded oyster po’ boy. It was very large and quite delicious–both on the day I ate it and the next day when I rewarmed it. I will be going back. . . soon.

  7. Tried the crawfish boil. It was disappointing. The Andouille sausage was terrific, would have liked more of it. The rest, not so much. The crawfish weren’t very fresh–nothing to suck out of the heads of all but 3 or 4. My companion complained that the weren’t sweet as fresh crawdads should be. Forget the corn. I know they do it that way but it is essentially inedible. My companion also ordered an oyster po-boy. It was very good. Be sure to get it dressed. But they really need to find better bread. John L

  8. Stopped in for a bowl of gumbo yesterday it was good food for a good price! Give these folks a try. I’d rather go there than Papadeux’s for my Cajun fix. Wish them the best in their new business.

  9. Read about it yesterday, ate their today. Had the Shrimp and Crawfish po-boy sandwich. It was good food. But a little larger helping of the red beans and rice would help. Even better place it in a bowl. Just disappointed with the number of crawfish and shrimp in the sandwich, esp since it cost $10.

  10. I pass this every day on my drive home, and haven’t had the guts to stick my head in…I guess I’ll have to now!

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