Deep-fried delicacies tempt fest-goers at Audubon Zoo this weekend

Fried and gone to heaven

It can raise your cholesterol, expand your waist and clog your arteries, but it can also make you smile and put your diet plans on hold for just a day.

We’re talking about fried food, and on Father’s Day weekend, there’s an entire festival devoted to the sumptuous if sinful fare.

The first Southern Fried Swamp Festival takes place Saturday and Sunday at Audubon Zoo, offering an array of fried food from seafood fried grits and fried crabmeat and shrimp dressing pie to seafood fritters with fried eggplant and fried crawfish wrap with Cajun sauce.

For purists, the list also includes fried seafood po-boys, fried chicken and a fried fish basket with — what else — french fries.

Chimine Grant, vice president of marketing for the Audubon Institute, said the Southern Fried Swamp Festival replaces the Louisiana Swamp Festival, which had been a fall fixture at the Audubon Zoo for nearly three decades.

“As the trend of nontraditional fried foods has become more popular at fairs and festivals across the country, as well as on cable TV food and travel shows, we decided to host a niche festival and offer fried foods that are served in our area,” Grant said.

While the list of sweets does include fried Oreos — one of today’s most popular festival treats — those looking for New Orleans flavor will want to try the fried bananas Foster bread pudding. Alan Ehrich, executive chef of the Audubon Institute, is responsible for the delectable dish. “You can’t go on a diet before you try this,” Ehrich said.

The bread pudding is prepared with bananas, banana liqueur and rum, then baked. It is then covered in cornstarch and fried, then served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and traditional bananas Foster sauce.

“We created this as a dessert at the Audubon Tea Room, and my staff was just over the top,” Ehrich said. “They loved it.” He said the shell is similar to a beignet, and the gooey inside tastes like pure heaven.

Blanka Volion of Voleon’s restaurant in Lafitte is preparing seafood fried grits with Cajun sauce. She makes the grits with crawfish and shrimp, scoops it into muffin tins and chills for several hours. She then coats them in flour, egg and bread crumbs and deep fries them.

“We were just fooling around in the kitchen when we came up with the idea,” Volion said. “It came out good, and we’ve been making them at festivals ever since. Everybody loves it when they try it.”

Other fried foods on the menu include fried pickles, fried chicken and shrimp kabob, fried seafood balls, fried pork chop, and fried sweet potatoes with a selection of toppings. Most of the fare is in the $4 to $7 price range.

But the festival isn’t all about food. Like the old Swamp Festival, there will be a crafts market, animal presentations and music, both in the Swamp Exhibit and on the Capital One stage.

“This festival will have more diverse music offerings and the main activities will take place at the Capital One Performance Pavilion and in the festival area near the pavilion,” Grant said.

The Saturday musical lineup includes Country Fried, Johnny Angel & the Swing’ Demons, Jean “Mr. Big Stuff’ Knight and Double Date featuring members of the Red Stick Ramblers and the Savoy Family Band.

Sunday’s musical acts include Gal Holiday & the Honky Tonk Review, Colin Lake, Big Sam’s Funky Nation and Brandon Moreau and his Cajungrass.

For festivalgoers with kids in tow, Grant said the Cool Zoo will be open. Admission is $8. The splash park features jumping water spouts, an alligator water slide, a spider monkey soaker and water-spitting snakes.

“And, of course, guests can roam the entire zoo,” Grant said. “Chats, feeds and other animal activities will be held throughout the day.”