By Matt Tapia
North E Street in San Berdoo seems a viciously long way from the Crescent City. And looking around at the nearby Carousel Mall, half abandoned and forlorn, along with city streets deserted due to the scalding, blistering heat, one could forgive a guy for wondering just what the crap he was doing here in the first place. Then I had some of the food at the Mardi Gras Restaurant in San Bernardino and I was no longer lost but found.
Or you know, something along those lines; more to the point, this is the best Cajun and Creole cuisine in the Inland Empire. An excellent strategic move for two diners is to order the appetizer plate and share it. It’s more than enough for a light to moderate size appetite and could be supplemented by side orders for the truly starving. And diners get to pick between a host of options from the menu.
The traditional, cooked-the-night-before Cajun gumbo was a no-brainer. A major component of gumbo is the roux, flour and fat that give the gumbo its flavor, and it’s done here to a dark, smoky perfection. It doesn’t hurt that the stew is loaded up with fiery cuts of hot links, beautiful shrimp and chicken so tender it falls off the bone and contributes to the infectious joy of the dish overall. Ditto for the Jambalaya, which is also excellent here; sweetly, sublimely spicy and yummy.
Fried is also an adjective I think of when I think of New Orleans, and Mardi Gras represents well in the “Very Tasty But Probably Bad For Me” category. Their fried catfish nuggets are perfect bar food; hot, salty, and they go perfectly with either the ubiquitous hot pepper sauce or the tartar. We also tried the Hush Puppies and, at first, I couldn’t get my fork into the rock-hard ovals. Instead, I eventually opted to grab them by hand and dip them into the pepper sauce and found them okay. Other items of note here are the New Orleans style clam chowder, which is only served on Friday, but worth a special trip, and the mac and cheese, so tasty it must be 9000 calories. Plus they have fried frog legs.
In the “Nobody’s Perfect” category I suppose I should mention that this place is not the greatest space to eat a meal in. Mardi Gras night at the rec room is what came to mind when I walked in and stuck in my mind as we ate; there was also, as in almost every restaurant these days, a random television playing some random nonsense. . . Dr. Oz perhaps, as the good doctor went on and on about infectious diseases like malaria we might die from at any minute—not the best tone-setter.
But the service is extremely friendly, they’ve got live jazz on Friday and Saturday nights, tamale Tuesdays and an extremely chill place to eat great New Orleans food, without the squadrons of drunks you get at the real place.
Mardi Gras Restaurant, 201 N. E St., San Bernardino, (909) 884-5000.