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GUMBO TO GO — Rotarians Jeff Waters, left, and George Jenkins dip up gumbo for placing on the buffet at Black Tie & Blue Jeans, the annual major fundraiser hosted by the Downtown DeLand Rotary Club. ” width=”696″ height=”522″ />

GUMBO TO GO — Rotarians Jeff Waters, left, and George Jenkins dip up gumbo for placing on the buffet at Black Tie & Blue Jeans, the annual major fundraiser hosted by the Downtown DeLand Rotary Club. 

For those out of the loop, Mardi Gras celebrations have been a popular tradition in a little town called New Orleans for a couple of centuries now.

While DeLand is not nearly as close to The Big Easy as some would like, a little piece of Mardi Gras visited the Artisan Alley Garage in Downtown DeLand for the 12th annual Black Tie & Blue Jeans Gala.

The event was hosted by the Rotary Club of Downtown DeLand Feb. 22, and proceeds went to the BeginAgain Children’s Grief Center and other Rotary charities.

Earlier in the day, the DeLand Mardi Gras Dog Parade drew a huge crowd, with festivities continuing through most of the afternoon. The fun didn’t stop there, as many made their way to the gala, aptly themed “A Night on Bourbon Street in the Heart of Downtown DeLand.”

The inside and outside of the venue were transformed into a whimsical space adorned with the colors of Mardi Gras — purple, green and gold, which stand for justice, faith and power, respectively.

Decorations around the garage included various things associated with New Orleans and voodoo, such as a skeleton chair, which was a highlight and a great photo-op.

Other accoutrements included a bust of a man in witch-doctor face paint, and a huge wall decal of a screaming head that guests could use as a photo backdrop.

Celebrants could also grab a handful of colorful beaded necklaces and masks to get into the spirit of Mardi Gras.

A live band, The Porch Dogs, took over a small stage and entertained dancing guests with upbeat Cajun and zydeco music. I wasn’t too familiar with either style, but I found it easy to get in the groove. The performers were dressed for the occasion, head-to-toe in their Cajun best.

In keeping with the theme, many attendees sported denim jeans and jackets, while others wore sparkly dresses and shoes. I enjoyed the fact that I and other guests were able to wear jeans, because it contributed to the night’s casual and fun vibe.

Just outside the garage, guests could grab a stogie and take a seat, enjoying their cigars in peace, or with some conversation in the cool February air.

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THIS LAMB WAS CHOPPED — The grilled and marinated New Zealand lamb chop with mint churri was a standout dish of the event with its perfect seasoning and unbelievable tenderness. All the food was prepared by the Downtown DeLand Rotary Club’s own Grillmasters, who were cooking up a storm the whole night just outside the garage. Local wine bar The Elusive Grape also had a hand in assembling many of the items that were on the menu. ” width=”696″ height=”464″ />

THIS LAMB WAS CHOPPED — The grilled and marinated New Zealand lamb chop with mint churri was a standout dish of the event with its perfect seasoning and unbelievable tenderness. All the food was prepared by the Downtown DeLand Rotary Club’s own Grillmasters, who were cooking up a storm the whole night just outside the garage. Local wine bar The Elusive Grape also had a hand in assembling many of the items that were on the menu. 

While the crowd outside was lively, the real party was inside the garage. A caricature artist and two fortunetellers were busy almost the whole night, with long lines for the services.

My caricature was worth the wait, as it was for a guest who said she had gotten one drawn up each year for the past 10 years at this event.

“I get one every year so I can see the process of aging,” she said, laughing.

As for other activities offered, there was a fun photo booth with some props that was a must-do. Fellow Beaconite Eli Witek encouraged me to photobomb a group of guests. I hope that group wasn’t too upset with how their photos came out.

Arriving at the party, my foodie senses were tingling. I was immediately drawn to the huge buffet-style line, all served to fit the New Orleans theme.

Dishes such as the crawfish bisque, seafood gumbo, Cajun-grilled veggies, and Cajun rice and jambalaya made their headlining appearance, with smaller portions served on trays around the room.

Two standouts of the night included the grilled marinated New Zealand lamb chops with mint churri, and the grilled marinated skirt steak with chimichurri sauce.

Volunteer waiters circulated with trays full of the two meats. The steak and lamb were both seasoned perfectly, and the lamb was unbelievably tender.

I also enjoyed the Cajun-grilled veggies, which had a great flavor and crunch, along with the spicy mac and cheese.

Proving to myself that once again I am a culinary genius, I dipped the mac and cheese in the crawfish bisque, and discovered a whole new definition for the word delicious.

It would not have been a Mardi Gras celebration without a few beignets — fritters typically served as a sweet breakfast item in New Orleans and sometimes filled with fruit, cheese, meat or vegetables — to go around.

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THE BAND — A live band, The Porch Dogs, took over a small stage and entertained dancing guests with upbeat Cajun and zydeco music. I wasn’t familiar with either style, but I found it easy to get in the groove. The performers were dressed for the occasion, head-to-toe in their Cajun best. ” width=”696″ height=”464″ />

THE BAND — A live band, The Porch Dogs, took over a small stage and entertained dancing guests with upbeat Cajun and zydeco music. I wasn’t familiar with either style, but I found it easy to get in the groove. The performers were dressed for the occasion, head-to-toe in their Cajun best. 

In this case, they were filled with a sort of sweet cream. Each bite was warm, with the powdered sugar sprinkled on top making them oh, so sweet.

While I’ve yet to make my pilgrimage to New Orleans to taste a traditional beignet, I’m sure this version was good enough.

As for the beverages on location, there was a fine selection of wines, along with domestic and craft beers. Trilogy Coffee Roasting Co. was also on-scene, this time with a boozy coffee martini that really packed a punch.

It was probably a good idea that these were served in smaller cups, as too much would push even the most well-put-together reporter out of commission.

All sponsors of the event had reserved tables, and a screen played a slideshow of the sponsors, thanking them for their contributions. All the food was prepared by the Downtown DeLand Rotary Club’s own Grillmasters, who were cooking up a storm the whole night just outside the garage.

I was thoroughly impressed by the food and entertainment for the night.

As I was leaving, I noticed that the windows of the garage were decorated with silhouettes of musicians in the colors of Mardi Gras, which made me stop to admire the high level of detail that went into the planning of the event.

It truly transformed the garage for an evening.

I’m looking forward to next year’s celebration. I might even start my own tradition of collecting my caricatures from the gala.

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A COUPLE OF ROCK STARSBeaconites Eli Witek, left, and David Swanberg let out their inner rock stars inside the photo booth at the Black Tie & Blue Jeans Gala. The booth was run by Downtown DeLand’s own Simoneau Photography. It was not known at press time if either Beacon employee intended to quit their day job to pursue the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle full time.” width=”696″ height=”464″ />

A COUPLE OF ROCK STARSBeaconites Eli Witek, left, and David Swanberg let out their inner rock stars inside the photo booth at the Black Tie & Blue Jeans Gala. The booth was run by Downtown DeLand’s own Simoneau Photography. It was not known at press time if either Beacon employee intended to quit their day job to pursue the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle full time.

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