Cincinnati: Couple Serves Mardi Gras on Wheels

La Toya Foster-Filson serves a plate of red beans and rice with sausage from the window of her New Orleans to Go food truck. / The Enquirer / Amie Dworecki

By Polly Campbell |

La Toya Foster-Filson serves a plate of red beans and rice with sausage from the window of her New Orleans to Go food truck. / The Enquirer / Amie Dworecki

You used to have to go to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras. Now, Mardi Gras is celebrated all over the country. And why not? It’s one of the best party excuses ever, coming as it does in late winter, just when we need a little festive mayhem and good times.

La Toya Foster-Filson knows how to bring that Mardi Gras spirit. In fact, she puts it on wheels and drives it around. She’s the owner, along with husband Randy Filson, of New Orleans to Go, which started as a restaurant in Springdale, and is now a food truck. When they park somewhere, they turn on Louisiana music, put out some tables and chairs and might even throw out a few beads.

“We try to get a party atmosphere going,” said Foster-Filson, who loves talking to customers – and has been known to dance with them.

“When she meets someone from down there and they get going, watch out,” Randy said.

“I want them to really get how I feel about the food we serve,” Foster-Filson said. “Most people eat to live, but in New Orleans, we live to eat.”

Their menu changes from day to day, but always includes shrimp po’boys. There might be oysters, red beans and rice, gumbo, blackened tilapia, etouffé or shrimp chowder. “We take requests,” Foster-Filson said.

She originally thought she’d just sell New Orleans po’boys. These are among the great sandwiches of the world: They’re made on a French loaf, neither soft nor too crusty. They can be filled with ham or cold cuts, or with roast beef and “debris,” gravy with little bits of meat left in it.

But most memorable are fried shrimp or oyster po’boys, dressed with lettuce, tomato, maybe a little mayo or mustard. Those sandwiches were what she really missed when she moved here in junior high school. She grew up in Algiers, the “West Bank” of New Orleans, among an extended family. She goes back to visit four times a year. “I still consider New Orleans home,” she said.

Here, she went to Walnut Hills and Withrow for junior high and high school and settled in Northern Kentucky and worked for General Electric. But she always thought she might bring a po’boy shop to Cincinnati. When her job moved to Dayton, she decided to go ahead and try.

They opened in 2006. She and Randy, who’s retired from Toyota, decided after a few years that a truck made more sense than a bricks-and-mortar location. Now she’s in charge of making the food, and he drives the truck. You can’t miss it: it’s painted in bright colors with scenes from New Orleans. They plan to park this spring at Sixth and Race in the food truck lot at lunch Wednesday-Friday; sometimes they’ll park it in Springdale, near where the restaurant used to be. (See to scout out their locations.)

Or try some of Foster-Filson’s recipes yourself at home. If you’re a fan of her spicy honey sauce, we did ask how it’s made, but she’s not sharing.

Shrimp and Corn Chowder

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cans creamed corn
  • 3 cups seafood stock (you can use clam juice mixed in equal amounts of water)
  • 1 pound peeled shrimp (medium)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning

Melt half the butter over medium head, add onions and celery and sauté until soft. Stir in garlic and flour, stirring until it’s well blended, there are no lumps and light roux is achieved. Add corn and stock and stir until soup comes to a slow boil and thickens. Simmer 20 minutes. Add shrimp, cream, and the rest of the butter. Simmer 10 minutes more. Season with Cajun seasoning to taste. I like a bit more heat so I garnish with cayenne and red pepper flakes. Also, if you love cheese as I do, add a good melty cheese. Serves 8.

Easy New Orleans Style Red Beans & Rice

“Everyone likes their red beans and rice a little different,” said Foster-Filson. “I like mine with some liquid left for sopping up with bread.”

  • 1 pound light red beans, soaked overnight and rinsed well
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 medium bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ cup celery, chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced, for garnish
  • 1 ham hock or a pound of jowl bacon, smoked turkey or smoked sausage like andouille or kielbasa
  • Combine all ingredients except green onions with enough water to cover beans completely. Cook beans approximately 2½ hours or until tender and thickened. Continue adding water as liquid gets low. Serve with hot rice and top with green onions.

    Smothered Okra with Corn and Tomatoes

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds sliced okra
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 medium red onion (chopped)
  • 1 bell pepper (chopped)
  • 1 large can tomatoes
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 cans of corn
  • Your favorite Cajun or Creole seasoning

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and add the okra. Cook for about 10 minutes, then remove to a bowl or plate. This should help remove some of its slimy texture. Add to the skillet the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil and heat until smoking. Add the flour and cook over high, stirring constantly, until this roux turns a golden brown. Very carefully, add onions and bell pepper (they’ll splatter, so stand back.) Turn the heat down to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are tender. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, corn and the okra, and about a teaspoon of the seasoning. Turn heat to low and cook mixture approximately 45 minutes. Taste and add more seasoning, or just salt and pepper, to taste. Great alone or with rice.

Jazzy Cocktail Sauce

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup barbecue sauce
  • 2 tablespoons horseradish
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • ½ cup finely chopped celery
  • Fresh lemon (just a squeeze)
  • Orange zest and juice (just a squeeze)
  • Mix together all ingredients. Great for dipping boiled shrimp, raw oysters or boiled crawfish

Mardi Gras Pain Perdu

If you don’t want to make your own king cake, the traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras sweet bread, try this for breakfast instead.

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 8 to 10 slices stale white bread
  • Butter
  • Powdered sugar

Beat eggs and sugar well. Add cornstarch and continue mixing until well blended. Add milk, nutmeg and vanilla. Dip bread slices into mixture and coat thoroughly. Melt just enough butter to cover bottom of heavy skillet and fry over medium heat until golden brown. Top heavily with powdered sugar. Dress it up with purple, green and gold icing or sprinkles instead of the powdered sugar.|head