Chana Levi of Mara’s Homemade Celebrates Fat Tuesday With Live Crawfish

Break out the bibs.Photo: Melissa Hom

Its late in the day on Fat Tuesday, and our mind has turned to sweet, sweet hurricanes. As soon as weve observed our Super Tuesday duties, we might just head over to Maras Homemade, where well try to pack into the tiny restaurant run by Mara Levi and her husband, David. While their son mans the kitchen, their daughter, Chana, works the floor. During Mardi Gras, it can get pretty crazy, Chana tells us. People are dancing, and you think, How can they dance when theres no room to walk? Somehow, they find a way. We asked her what else to expect and to explain crawfish cheesecake to us.

How did Katrina affect business?
The factories were destroyed, so we couldnt get a lot of products. And people were so upset that they didnt seem to want the food. It hurt us a lot. Thats about the same time we came up with barbecue so that was able to help us.

Is it hard to make good barbecue in a small kitchen?
Everyone always prefers us our food is just better. I went to Gramercy Tavern, and they gave us a pulled-pork sandwich just to try, and I was like, Oh my God, this is disgusting. I couldnt eat it it was so gross. There are so many people who swear by Blue Smoke. This one group of twelve couldnt get a reservation, and they said, Were never going back because your barbecue is so much better. Its authentic, not mass-produced like those big corporations.

How about your oysters?
We have the best oysters in the entire world. I go to other restaurants and see oysters on the menu theyre so disgusting that I leave the restaurant. I go back to my parents restaurant and eat our oysters just to clean my palette.

Do customers ever freak out about the live-crawfish boil?
You order them by the pound people are upset if they dont get a bucket, but, if you dont get three pounds or more, you dont get a bucket. The worst is when were sorting through the crawfish in the kitchen once in a while, one or two get away alive and come out into the dining room. One time, these college guys had way too many hurricanes, and they started having a crawfish fight.

How close is the crawfish cheesecake to a New York cheesecake?
Not at all its more like a quiche than a cheesecake. Customers have described it as an explosion of flavors happening in your mouth all at once.

Whats your hurricane recipe?
The original hurricanes are from Pat OBriens in New Orleans. We use the Pat OBrien mix. We have customers who go to New Orleans and they go to Pat OBriens and then come to us two days later and say ours are better.

What happens when people have one too many hurricanes?
There was an office party over the holidays it was all these skinny girls drinking hurricanes. I said, Just be careful, its really strong, and I dont want anyone throwing up. People were asking for seconds and thirds. They were all, Im a big girl; Im 25. I told my dad I was leaving these girls are crazy, and I cant handle anymore. They were throwing up in the dining room. I went to the boss and said, I thought you said your girls could handle their liquor.