Can't get away to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras this year? No problem. With two new restaurants specializing in Cajun and Creole cuisines, you've got more ways than ever before to let the good times roll, right here in the Triangle.
In Durham, noted local musician and chef Mel Melton has been quietly ladling up gumbo for several days now at Papa Mojo's Roadhouse (5410-Y N. C. 55; 361-2222; www.papamojosroadhouse.com). He'll crank up the Zydeco this Friday, when Papa Mojo's kicks off a five-day Grand Opening celebration culminating on Fat Tuesday. Highlights will include Hurricanes and other Big Easy cocktails, as well as live music (Melton has given the old Fortune Garden space in Greenwood Commons a thorough makeover, including installing a small stage).
The multitalented Melton will display his culinary skills in the form of an extensive menu that includes most of the usual Cajun/Creole suspects, as well as his signature cochon de lait (think Cajun barbecue) and four variations on the gumbo theme. The chef favors locally grown produce but imports a few specialty items from Louisiana, where he learned his culinary specialty. When he can get live crawfish, he'll feature the traditional crawfish boil that's a staple in bayou country but a rarity in these parts. Papa Mojo's is open Monday-Saturday for lunch and dinner. A bar menu is offered from 3 to 5 p.m. and late nights.
Meanwhile in Carrboro, Tony Sustaita has transformed the old Bandido's into Crawdaddy's Cajun Cafe (302 E. Main St.; 932-5103). The new decor sets a year-round Mardi Gras mood with party masks, beads strung over everything from the chandeliers to a mounted deer head, and glitter galore. Sustaita is developing a schedule of live music -- everything from jazz to jug band -- which promises to sustain the festive mood.
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The menu serves up a respectable sampling of Cajun/Creole fare (gumbo, po' boys, jambalaya, shrimp creole, and a variation on crawfish étouffée served over toasted French bread, to name a few). But Sustaita, who also owns the other Bandido's in the area, couldn't resist peppering the offering with a few Tex-Mex accents such as shrimp and crawfish enchiladas and crabmeat quesadilla. Crawdaddy's is open for lunch Monday-Friday and dinner Monday-Saturday.
On a sad note, The Ramshead Rathskeller has closed in Chapel Hill. This isn't the first time that the Franklin Street landmark has closed its doors, but this time it may be for good. An auction of the building's contents is slated for Feb. 2.