Iowa and Louisiana share a few things in common: Both are located on the Mississippi River, both became part of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase. But when it comes to cuisine, not even close.
But luckily, as Mardi Gras approaches, the south-side restaurant Fat Tuesday fills a niche for those Midwesterners hankering for a Big Easy-style meal.
Chef and owner Steven James moved up north to Des Moines a few years ago at the suggestion of family, but found himself missing the cooking of New Orleans. He wasn’t a trained chef, so he took to calling his mother for advice on how to re- create her recipes.
“I would ask her for about how much to put in things and she said ‘You’ll know,’” James said. “And if I didn’t do it right she said I could always do it again.”
Cajun cuisine draws its flavor from ingredients that are abundant in Louisiana. Crawfish, alligator, sausage, onion, celery, peppers, rice and beans are featured in many dishes. Cayenne and black pepper are used often as seasoning.
Fat Tuesday’s menu features an extensive selection of New Orleans and Cajun dishes. James said he has modified the spiciness a bit to better suit the Midwestern tastes (read: not as spicy), but he does his best to make the cuisine as real and fresh as possible. He flies crawfish in live from Louisiana, for example. (Unfortunately, flying in live alligators isn’t as cost-effective.)
To get a sense of true New Orleans/Cajun cuisine, here are a few dishes to try at Fat Tuesday:
Dirty rice: White rice cooked with sausage, ground pork, beef and a lot of seasoning. “That’s where the dirty comes in,” James said. $4 for small, $6.95 for large.
Cajun-stuffed mushrooms: Ground beef and sausage mixed with spices, then stuffed into a large mushroom cap. $2 each.
Jambalaya: Some restaurants offer a more soup-like jambalaya, but Fat Tuesday makes a dry, rice-based version of the dish. Stevens whips up large batches of jambalaya, sometimes with chicken, sometimes shrimp and sometimes crawfish. If you’re lucky, he makes it with all three. “It’s whatever I feel like that day.” $6.95.
Smothered catfish with crawfish etouffee: A thicker sauce cooked with crawfish meat, onions, celery and more, then poured over a thick cut of catfish. $9.95.
Where: 6112 S.W. Ninth St.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.
Info: fattuesday- restaurant.com or 285-3552.
MARDI GRAS party
When: Noon-10 p.m. Tuesday
Info: Crawfish boil, including corn, potato, sausage and other fixings for $13.95.