Cloaked in purple, green and gold, Justin LaRose strode down the crowded vendors’ row at the Sunken Gardens Theater Sunday, thick with gray smoke drifting from nearby black barbecue grills.

With the flag of Mardi Gras draped upon his shoulders, LaRose, 41, made his way around A Taste of New Orleans, a Fiesta favorite that made its return this year.

The flag is the garment he’s worn for years to this annual event now in it’s 35th year. It’s his calling card. His two children, Xander, 12, and Kenley, 10, and father Keith LaRose, 74, walked with him, in search of a caricature artist.

“You don’t have too much Louisiana culture going on in San Antonio,” LaRose said. “This is something we definitely wanted to do.”

Keith LaRose, a native of New Orleans, wanted one thing – a beignet. He had visions of dusting the light and puffy pastry with white sugar like he used to in the Crescent City. And he didn’t care how much powder fell on him.

On Sunday, the LaRose family joined hundreds for the 35th Annual A Taste of New Orleans at the Sunken Gardens Theater in Brackenridge Park. The San Antonio Zulu Association sponsors the three-day Fiesta event that featured N’awlins-style music, food and activities for all ages.

SAZA executive council member Rudolph Coleman, 71, and his wife Vivian, 74, said the nonprofit was happy to be back after a two-year COVID break. The event began as Juneteenth picnics held at Carmargo Park by military members and civilian personnel at Kelly and Lackland Air Force Base. The couple said the event bounced back this year, but lost a few vendors to the pandemic.

“We were able to keep moving forward, step in and continue what needs to be done,” Coleman said. “It’s all about giving back to the community.”

Before patrons began to arrive, event coordinator Bruce Hicks and assistant director Elvis Moore drove around in a golf cart to check on the 26 vendors.

“After a 2-year absence it was like we hadn’t missed a beat,” Moore said.

The aroma of spices, barbecue and seafood wafted along a curved walkway lined with vendors. Steve Hartfield, 33, leaned against the Three Little Kitchen booth, and shouted for guests to stop by for a good bowl of food.

“We got the pasta!” he yelled to the crowd. “We got the Cajun stew and we got the boudin!”

This was Christopher Simmons, 37, first year on vendors row. It was an eye-opening experience. Simmons owns Qulinary Oasis BBQ in Dallas, where he said he averages 40 patrons each hour. Brisket nachos and seafood stuffed turkey legs were his biggest sellers.

“The vibe is great,” Simmons said. “It’s like a family among the vendors.”

Across the way, Christopher Ernest Starks, 32, and his brother, Quinton, 22, worked at Partymaker’s “The World’s Finest Cheesecake,” booth. The pair was continuing a tradition started by their father and his friend.

“We started coming as children,” Starks said. “Now they’re passing the torch to us.”

Kathy Griffith, 62, fanned her face with her hat as the temperature started to rise.

“I’m stealing some shade,” Griffith said, standing by the side of a tent. “It’s hot, but we love this event and always come out to support it. Like they say, ‘it’s a party for a purpose.’ “

vtdavis@express-news.net

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