Mardi Gras alligator a big hit at the Slovak American Club in Taranto

If you want to celebrate Mardi Gras with true Louisiana delicacy, you don’t have to go to Bayou country to enjoy it.

Over the weekend, the Slovak American Club of Taranto brought an adult alligator to its headquarters on West Seventh Avenue for its Saturday night Mardi Gras celebration. The club had never imported an alligator before. So why here? Why now?

“Me and my fiancée are New Orleans enthusiasts so we decided to have a New Orleans party,” said Slovakian American Club President Scott Nowacki.

And apparently you can’t have a party in New Orleans without cooking an alligator.

Nowacki’s fiancée, Jennifer Olczak, 53, of Brackenridge, said it was more about doing something fun and different.

“I really wanted to get people to try something they had never tried before,” she said.

But now that the wave of alligator sightings in the Pittsburgh area a few years ago has died down, where to find one?

“I found a website that would turn FedEx into a whole alligator and here we are,” Nowcki said.

Exactly how do you FedEx an alligator?

“It comes in a large polystyrene cooler with dry ice. He is dead but he still has his head, his feet and his skin. They freeze it and ship it overnight,” Nowacki said.

This particular alligator happened to be a female and weighed 29 pounds and apparently almost the entire alligator is edible, including the tail, jaws and ribs which Nowacki describes as “delicious”.

As for the actual alligator meat, it’s white and flaky and tastes like – wait for it – chicken. Well, sort of.

“Everyone says it tastes like chicken, but it’s more like fish or frog leg,” said Nowacki, who has been to New Orleans several times and tried the alligator for the first time six years ago.

For those who can’t even imagine trying the gator, the way Nowacki describes the preparation and cooking process actually makes it good enough to eat.

“We injected it with butter and garlic and Cajun spices and seasonings, and I wrapped it in bacon and wrapped it in foil, put it on the grill and I grilled,” he said.

Nowacki admitted to getting help by watching YouTube videos.

The alligator was free for members of the Slovakian American Club. About 100 of them stopped and appeared to enjoy it, including Robert McBurney, 49, from Taranto, who had never eaten an alligator before.

“I was kinda keen to try. I’m not a seafood lover, but the gator is a bit different,” he said. “I tried one piece and it was really good and I went and got some more and got a whole plate full. The texture and taste were very good. I liked that.”

Dave Ludwig, 57, of Natrona Heights, had eaten alligator before and said it was good this time too.

“The first time I had an alligator, a friend of mine brought it over from Florida and fried it. It was a little different but it was an alligator. I wouldn’t say it had the tastes like chicken, but it’s a light white meat and it’s a bit more chewy than chicken. It’s chewy but it’s good.”

For his part, Nowacki hasn’t quite committed to making barbecued alligator an annual event at the Slovakian American Club. But for many of its members this weekend, the somewhat intimidating southern creature has become the new white meat.

Paul Guggenheimer is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected]

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Edward L. Robinett