Beth's Picks: Five Mardi Gras musts

Beth Stallings, Columbus Crave
Da Levee

Come this time every year-you know what I am talking about; these few precious days leading up to Fat Tuesday when indulgence is at a premium-there are a few things I start to crave. So, in honor of the season, here are five(ish) things you should eat or drink over the next few days, before your diet starts on Wednesday.

1.First, you need a beignet. Start the day with beignets from Creole Kitchen. Here, chef Henry Butcher fries up crisp and doughy treats only in the morning (and they are, frankly, the best you'll find in the city). Butcher learned the basics of Cajun and Creole cuisine from his grandmother, who cooked at Antoine's, a French Quarter institution, and it shows in every one of his dishes.

2. Lunch should have some spice. Grab lunch at Da Levee, where there will be $5 special dishes all day, alongside the regularly rotating roux and stew specials on the chalkboard menu. The best thing I've had lately is The B&B, a plate of black beans, caramelized corn, green chiles and red peppers over white rice and a huge side of buttery bread. The vegetarian plate manages to walk the line between light and hearty while starting sweet on the tongue and finishing with the right amount of heat. If you don't need to go back to the office, order a Derecho-Da Levee's version of the infamous O'Brien's large and liquor-backed Hurricane.

3. Grab a slice of king cake (and look for the trinket inside). Come Tuesday, you'll be able to grab a slice of king cake made by Short North Piece of Cake; order at Da Levee or across the street at the bakery. You can also order one in advance to take home. While the Short North bakery's version has festive purple, green and gold coloring, you can find a more modest-looking take (it tastes just as indulgent) at La Chatelaine.

4. Make room for one more pastry-the paczki. I fell in love with this sweet-stuffed, ultra dense doughnut-like pastry at my first job (it's a long story, but let's just say it involves an event called the Paczki Ball). Ever since, Fat Tuesday doesn't seem complete without indulging in this treat created to use up perishable eggs and milk before Lent. Find them only on Tuesday at Buckeye Donuts, which will offer paczkis with blueberry, strawberry and lemon fillings.

5. Top off the day with a classic cocktail. Namely, one of the oldest, a Sazerac. You can find classic versions around town-made with rye, bitters and absinthe or Pernod, plus a little sugar. For variety, head to The Sycamore in German Village and order the Sycamore Sazerac. It's got the strong rye and anise taste like the traditional, but extra depth thanks to Five Spice syrup and orange bitters.