It’s Mardi Gras…and at Café Marianna, the motto is “Laissez les bons temps rouler.” Or, "Let the Good Times Roll."
For 10 years, Café Marianna has served the residents of Alexandria fine New Orleans cuisine. Owner and executive chef, Charles Oppman, learned Creole cooking at chef school in New Orleans and from the masters on television.
“I wasn’t always a chef,” Oppman said. “As a matter of fact, I went to New Orleans to accept a job in hospital administration. I had just gotten my master’s degree and suddenly decided that hospital administration wasn’t for me. I wanted to cook.”
So he left his job and degrees behind and went to school to learn to be a pastry chef. “I really loved making pastries,” he said. “While I was in New Orleans, of course, I learned a bit about cooking other dishes, but pastry was what I wanted to do.”
And pastry brought him to the D.C. metropolitan area. “I came to Washington to be the pastry chef at the Willard Hotel,” Oppman said.
After two years there, he went out on his own. He bought the little restaurant at 1201 North Royal Street and named his new café for his daughter, Marianna.
“People ask me all the time what it’s like to have a restaurant named after me,” Marianna said. “It’s really kind of cool. During the winter, I don’t have much time to help out but in the summer, I do what ever they need me to do.”
The 14-year-old is an eighth-grader at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Alexandria. “I haven’t thought much about what I want to study after high school but I don’t think it will be cooking,” she said. “I like to cook at home but that’s about it.”
Café Marianna was opened as a place to get good coffee and great pastries. “That’s what I knew the most about and that’s what I was planning to do,” Oppman said. “However, people in the offices around me kept coming in and asking for sandwiches for lunch. I thought that sounded reasonably easy, so I started making sandwiches and salads. Then, people came in and asked for dinner so I started making simple things for dinner. It’s just kind of grown.”
GROWN TO THE point that Oppman had to increase his cooking repertoire. “I just started taping the really good cooking shows,” he said. “I would watch them over and over and do what they did. I did it until I really learned and got comfortable in the kitchen.”
Now Oppman serves a menu that is filled with Creole favorites and other things, too. And Mardi Gras is a very special time.
“Each year we try to do something different at Mardi Gras,” he said. “We make the old favorites but with a bit of a twist. For example, we might make lamb different types of Creole, some with shrimp, some with chicken and some with some other type of meat or seafood.”
The mardi gras menu will be served for three days, Feb. 23, 24 and 25. “We also make King Cake and pralines and give them to our customers as a kind of lagniappe, as they say in New Orleans, or a little something extra,” Oppman said.
In addition to Mardi Gras, Café Marianna features other special menus throughout the year. On March 22, there will be a cooking class – Spring Fling, which will feature low fat, low carbohydrate dishes. Opman also does catering.
For more information about Mardi Gras or other special events at Café Marianna, call 703-519-3776.
For a taste of New Orleans at home, try these recipes, courtesy of Café Marianna.
This is a basic sauce, which may be used in numerous New Orleans dishes, but is best know for use with shrimp. For this dish add 1 lb. of crawfish (which isn’t always available in area markets, but, crawfish is in the height of its season this time of year in Louisiana, and can be ordered online).
1 lb. of large shrimp, peeled and divined
1 lb. of crawfish, peeled and divined
2 green bell peppers
2 ribs of celery
1 large Spanish onion
1 Tbs. fresh garlic, minced
1 cup parsley, chopped
6 bay leaves
1 lb. smoked kielbasa sausage
3 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbs. Hot Sauce
2 cups tomatoes concusses*, chopped
Salt and white pepper to taste
Cut bell pepper, celery and onion into large pan and sauté with sausage. Add garlic, parsley and bay leaves. Stir occasionally, cook until vegetables are wilted, then adds Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce.
Finally, add chopped tomatoes, salt and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes. Sauté shrimp and crawfish (should only take 6-8 minutes), place seafood over white rice and finish with the Creole sauce.
*Tomato Concusses: There are dishes for which you want only tomato pulp, no skins or seeds, e.g., marinara sauce, homemade ketchup, etc. To do this, simply immerse the tomato in simmering water for 30 to 60 seconds, which enables the skin to be peeled off. Do not cook the tomatoes, just wilt their skins. Quarter of half the fruit and remove the seeds and ribs. The flesh may now be diced, cut into strips, pureed, or cooked in sauces.
1 pk. Yeast
1/4 c. Warm Water
6 ts. Milk, scaled and cooled
4 c. Water
1/2 lb. Butter
3/4 c. Sugar
1/4 ts. Salt
2 ts. Melted butter
Small plastic doll (or bean)
Light corn syrup for topping
Granulated sugar for topping
Green, yellow, purple
Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add milk and about ? cup butter in a large bowl, blend butter, sugar, salt and eggs. Add yeast dough and mix thoroughly. Gradually, add 2-? cups flour to make a medium dough. Place in a greased bowl and brush with melted butter cover with damp clothe and allow to rise until double in volume about 3 hours.
Use 1 cup or more flour to knead dough and roll into a 4-5 foot long rope. Form into an oval on a 14 x 17” greased cookie sheet connecting the ends of the rope with a few drops of water. Press the doll (or bean) into the dough from underneath. Cover with a damp cloth with a let rise until double in volume, about 1 hour. Bake at 325 degrees for 35-45 minutes or until lightly browned. Brush top of the cake corn syrup and sprinkle with alternating bands of color sugar. Freezes well.