Don’t Rain on Our Parade

A close-knit group of Mardi Gras lovers can always be found on Battle House balcony on Fat Tuesday, no matter the weather.

Left Ashleigh Leland, Largay Douglas and Sam Slaton gather to watch the Mardi Gras parades, clear umbrellas in hand. Right The Battle House Hotel is a Mobile icon— and a prime parade location—  for both locals and out-of-towners at Mardi Gras. // Photos by Elizabeth Gelineau

Seasoned paradegoers all have their spot. Throughout the year, they often tout their tried-and-true perch as “the” corner to watch parades and catch throws in downtown Mobile on Mardi Gras Day. If they can find one that’s rainproof in case of an all-too-characteristic Port City shower, they pretty much have a perfect place to catch MoonPies and beads no matter the weather at hand. Mary Cane discovered one such haunt years ago on Fat Tuesday. After decades of watching the annual spectacle from the street level, she was inspired to try something new. “The Battle House Hotel had just reopened,” she says, “and a group of friends and I saw a couple of people on Mardi Gras Day watching the parades from the balcony at the Battle House.” Cane thought the elevated perch would be a fun spot to gather her group. So, she quickly made a reservation for her friends for the next year. 

Cane’s intuition proved to be on point. That first Mardi Gras spent on the second-floor stoop was such a success that Mary has made the group a standing reservation for every Fat Tuesday and Lundi Gras evening since. The core, close-knit group has remained largely unchanged over the years. “When we first started, we all had younger kids at the time, so it was a good place for us to let them run around and watch the parades,” says Sugar Immel. Spending the first Mardi Gras on the balcony with their kids and seeing them grow up from year to year further bonded the group together. “All of our children went to different schools, but during Mardi Gras, they came back, met each other and played together,” says Ashleigh Leland. “That’s what is really special about those first few years.”

Left Sam Slaton holds on to the coveted Fudge Rounds. Right Revelers never miss a chance to pelt the decorated Battle House balcony with throws when they roll by, leaving it scattered with goodies.

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Even now, with all of their kids mostly grown, the Mardi Gras celebration is a much-loved annual highlight for everyone involved. The bubbly and fun-loving Cane is always up for hosting a party, and so is in charge of organizing the large gathering every year. “I’m the one that books the space with the Battle House,” says Cane. “We have a cash bar and we order food every time we do it. And the Battle House has been great to work with all these years.” While the balcony revelers opt to enjoy hamburgers and pizza most years, the Battle House kitchen created some elevated Mardi Gras fare this time around, such as jambalaya and muffulettas. Having refreshments on hand crafted by the hotel’s Chef Tony Reynolds is a tempting — and convenient — way to party. 

Besides this annual party, all the group have strong Mardi Gras ties of their own. The men belong to the same mystic organization, as do the women. Some are the parents of current or past monarchs, ladies in waiting or other members of the Mobile Carnival Association court. “We have a core group that’s steadfast,” says Cane. “They are there every year, and other people will come and go depending on their involvement in Mardi Gras that year. If they have someone in the court or in the juvenile court or they’re not in town, it might change, but it really doesn’t vary unless someone has a different involvement from one year to the next.” The get-together has extended beyond Fat Tuesday. Members of the group, all of whom grew up in Mobile and some who now live on the Eastern Shore, book rooms at the Battle House well in advance. “Most of us check in on the Thursday or Friday before Mardi Gras, so we’re at the hotel the whole time whether we’re exactly on the balcony or not,” says Leland. While Cane secures the balcony every year, booking rooms during Mardi Gras weekend at one of the hottest historic hotels in Mobile is another story — and no easy feat. “It’s hard,” laughs Leland. “We try to book the rooms as soon as we’re able to.” 

Left Mary Cane and her friends shout and wave for the float riders to throw them some loot. Right Grey Cane is as fun-loving as his wife, never one to turn down beads and a fun Mardi Gras hat.

With everyone checked in and all together in the same place, the official festivities begin on Lundi Gras. The party congregates to watch the Infant Mystics parade, grab their drinks from the cash bar and snack on food. The next day, the party kicks back up around noon for Fat Tuesday merrymaking. Like Monday evening, drinks are served, food is eaten and the gathering serves as a come-one, come-all affair. People stop in on their way to mystic receptions, drop by with their families for drinks and food between parades or stay the whole morning, chatting, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. “It’s a big, fun party,” says Cane. “We invite other people we know and they stop to watch the parade. It’s big coming and going all day long on Mardi Gras Day.” During portions of the day, attendees converge on the balcony as the parades roll by. “My family is usually the first ones to the balcony and the last ones to leave,” says Largay Douglas. “My parents, sisters, cousins, children and granddaughter all come. All ages from 80-year-olds to 5-month-olds enjoy the balcony.” With drinks in hand and beads on, the friends wave and shout to the revelers below, clamoring for their favorite throw. Surprisingly, the group’s can’t-miss catch isn’t MoonPies or Conecuh sausage. Mardi Gras isn’t Mardi Gras until they have a freshly thrown box of Fudge Rounds in hand. “When Christopher Immel, Sugar and Patrick’s son, was a young kid, he realized that they were throwing entire boxes of Little Debbies during the MAMGA parade,” explains Mollie Buffkin. “He caught a box of Fudge Rounds and the rest is history. He — and we — have been screaming for Fudge Rounds ever since. One year he hauled in enough to fill up a trash bag.” Most of the float riders have no problem reaching the second-floor balcony, which is soon filled with all sorts of Mardi Gras goodies. “We have watched the IMs roll by from the balcony for so long that they know we are up there when they pass by,” says Buffkin. “One year, I got hit in the face with a fake boob!” The balcony isn’t the only great vantage point in the Battle House. “We like to sit in the lobby between parades to see everyone coming and going,” says Immel. “We especially like to see everyone coming home from the balls.” The party then wraps up before the Order of Myths, the last Mobile parade of the Mardi Gras season, starts Tuesday night. “It’s been going on and on and on for years, and it’s kind of a free-for-all at this point,” says Cane with a smile. As for the weather, she says they’ve seen it all. “We’ve seen rain, we’ve seen 10-degree weather and we’ve seen 85-degree days,” she says. “It is a rare moment in time when they cancel the IMs or the Mardi Gras Day parades. So even if it rains, we’ve been out there.” Thankfully, portions of the balcony are covered, and the adjoining meeting room provides a dry space for guests to relax between parades. “One year, it rained on Mardi Gras Day, the streets were empty and the crowd was sparse, to say the least,” says Lillian Courtney. “We watched the Comic Cowboys, KOR and MAMGA from the windows and had a marvelous time.” Good views, weatherproof and right on the parade route? The Battle House balcony might just be “the” spot. 

Left The Excelsior Band marches down Royal Street. Photo by Keyhole Photo. Right Sheila Slaton, David Dye and Chris Brewer chat between parades.

For everyone involved, the party has become intertwined in the DNA of their Mardi Gras traditions. “I really can’t remember when we didn’t do this, Mary’s party on Monday night and all day Tuesday,” says Sheila Slaton. “I know, it’s been that many years,” Leland agrees. And it’s a party until the very end. “We are all dancing by the end of the night!” says Douglas. “I once read this quote: ‘If you are not exhausted on Ash Wednesday then you did not do Mardi Gras right.’  Well, we do Mardi Gras right every year!” As the celebration comes to a close, they are already buzzing for the next year. Ask anyone at the party and they’ll automatically refer to the Fat Tuesday bash as “Mary’s party.” They couldn’t be more accurate. Rain or shine, when Mary Cane gets a big group of Mardi Gras lovers on one balcony, everyone is sure to have a good time. “Mary is so good at getting everyone together,” says Leland. “That’s what she does best.”

Left Ashley Leland visits with friends while holding the prized throw. Right The group stays together at the Battle House Hotel a few days before the festivities even start.

Cooking For A Mardi Gras Crowd

Tony Reynolds Executive Chef Battle House Hotel 
When Tony Reynolds came to Mobile, his wife’s hometown, he already had years of culinary experience under his belt. Now, as executive chef for the Battle House Hotel, he uses his expertise to create one-of-a-kind menu items for the hotel. His cooking style draws inspiration from Gulf Coast cuisine, and come Mardi Gras time, he has fun cooking up muffulettas, jambalaya and homemade MoonPies for guests in celebration of the good times. With nearly 40,000 square feet of event space in the hotel and three restaurants and bars, Chef Reynolds stays busy year round, but never more so than during Carnival.

Mobile Muffulettas

Muffulettas from the Battle House Hotel are made to be held (and eaten) during the action.

Serves 4-6

Olive Salad:
1 cup pimento-stuffed green olives
1/2 cup kalamata olives, drained
1/2 cup pepperoncini, sliced and drained
1/4 cup  pickled cauliflower florets
1/4 cup red onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 tablespoon celery, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon carrot, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
kosher salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 pounds Herbed foccacia bread
8 ounces Soppressata salami, thinly sliced
8 ounces spicy Capicola, thinly slice
8 ounces mortadella, thinly sliced
1 pound sliced provolone cheese

1. For the olive salad, use a food processor to pulse the olives, pepperoncini, florets, onion, garlic, capers, celery, carrot and dried herbs together until a uniform but chunky mixture is achieved.  Be careful not to process too far into a puree.

2. Transfer mixture to a bowl and add olive oil and vinegar.  Fold together, taste for seasoning and adjust with salt and black pepper as needed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 8 hours to allow the salad to marinate.

3. Cut foccacia in half horizontally.  Coat the bottom half of the bread liberally with the olive salad, including oil. Layer the meats on top of olive salad, followed by the cheese. Return the top of the bread, cut into desired portions and serve.

*Optional:  Toast the finished, unsliced sandwich in a 375 degree oven until the cheese is melted and the bread begins to crisp. Remove from oven, cut into desired portions and serve.

Chicken and Conecuh Sausage Jambalaya

Chicken and Conecuh Sausage Jambalaya, Crab, Spinach and Artichoke Dip and Mobile Muffulettas.

Serves 4-6 

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 large celery stalks, diced
3 large red and green bell peppers, julienned
1/2 head fresh garlic cloves, minced
1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, diced
6 ounces hickory smoked Conecuh sausage, coins sliced on bias
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups chicken broth or stock
14 1/2 ounces crushed tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Kosher salt, to taste
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1 cup long-grain white rice
green onions, thinly sliced for garnish
fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a large sturdy pot set over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and bell peppers, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until just softened and the onions are translucent. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Stir in the chicken, sweet paprika and oregano and cook for 5 minutes, or until the chicken is nicely browned. Add the sausage and tomato paste, stir and cook for 1 minute, then add the chicken broth, crushed tomatoes, rice, and Cajun seasoning.

2. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and let simmer for 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.

3. Adjust seasoning to taste. Remove from heat and garnish with green onions and chopped parsley. Serve. 

Crab, Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Serves 8-10 

3 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
5 ounces Boursin Gournay Cheese, Garlic and Herb
1 cup mayonnaise
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 large shallot clove, minced
14 ounces artichoke hearts, chopped
3 cups baby spinach
1/2 pound lump crabmeat, picked through for shells
fresh lemon juice, to taste
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup green onions or chives, finely sliced, reserve a pinch or two for garnish
1/2 red bell pepper, small diced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
fresh lemon juice, to taste
kosher salt, to taste
cracked black pepper, to taste
French bread, pita and or crackers for dipping

1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Using a mixer or large bowl, combine all ingredients until well combined. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice. 

2. Transfer mixture to a shallow baking dish. Bake uncovered for approximately 30 minutes or until top is bubbly and golden brown. Garnish with reserved herbs and serve immediately with your favorite breads and crackers.

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