Aug 14, 2012

A Commoner Reviews Gumbo Shop, New Orleans

I’ve had the idea for this blog posting in my mental archives for a while, and it recently sprung up again when a friend asked me to provide a list of “must do” experiences in the Big Easy.  Who knew people actually thought I know what I’m talking about? 

Anyway, if you’re going to try one of New Orleans’ signature dishes, why not consider a place that names itself after it?  Talk about putting your reputation on the line … And in the case of the Gumbo Shop, their reputation is well deserved. 

You’ll find the Gumbo Shop in the heart of the French Quarter on Rue St. Peter, about a block and a half below Bourbon.  Try to get courtyard seating if the weather’s bearable. 

As for the food, it’s not all about the gumbo, of course.  One reason I try to make a stop here on every vacation is because I believe it’s one of the more affordable restaurants to get quality traditional Creole and Cajun dishes in the Quarter.  It’s also a great place to indoctrinate someone new to the city on its staple dishes. 

For instance, a combination platter of shrimp Creole, jambalaya and red beans and rice will run you just $13.99 today.  Personally, I think their shrimp Creole is a little hit and miss, but I’ve never been disappointed with the other items.  Their fish dishes and crawfish etouffee are just as excellent.

If you come in with a large appetite like I’ve been known to do, you must try their complete Creole dinner, currently running about $25.  For this price, you get to try a cup of the gumbo, a signature main entrée (the combination platter is even one of the choices!), your choice of side (I recommend the cream spinach or the macque choux corn, which is some of the best I’ve ever had) and dessert.  And if you miss out on their bread pudding with whiskey sauce, then you’re just not thinking right. 

When you do turn your attention to the gumbo, however, you’ll realize this really probably is what they do best.  There’s a reason why Gumbo Shop has won the annual local readership poll in Gambit Weekly, New Orleans’ alternative weekly newspaper, every year since 1999.  They must know how to make a damn good roux and how to use just the right amount of file powder.  I prefer the seafood okra gumbo over the other varieties.  Regardless of which gumbo I have, though, I’m always savoring more as soon as I empty my cup.   

And, if you’re looking for something different, try the gumbo z’herbes.  Not every restaurant has it, at least not year around.  It’s usually a meatless gumbo made with a variety of greens, which originated as the gumbo of choice during Lent when meat was not allowed.  Ah, you have to love how New Orleans embraces – and finds its way around – Catholic traditions.  After all, in New Orleans, Mardi Gras is king, and it seems like Ash Wednesday is an afterthought.  

One more tip:  the drinks are good and stiff here, too.  Go the traditional route, and order a sazerac.

Well, there you have it.  I guess it’s more of an endorsement than a review.  But I like what I like, and I’m unapologetic about it.  Next time, I’ll try to catch up on more of last month’s travels in northern Illinois.  

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