Bowl Me Over... It's Gumbo Time!

December 15, 2022
Ask any New Orleans native “Who makes the best gumbo?” and most will reply, “My Mama,” or “My Maw-Maw.” And while that’s probably true, you don’t have to look very hard to find a tasty bowl of this distinctly Louisiana dish, which is proudly spooned up in casual and fine dining establishments all over town. The name gumbo is derived from the word “gombo,” which translates to “okra” in many West African languages. Generally, gumbo is a roux-based soup thickened with okra or filé, which is an herbal spice made from dried and ground sassafras leaves. There are Cajun and Creole styles (the main difference being that Creole recipes often include tomato, while Cajun renditions do not), there’s the dark versus light roux, thick or thin consistency, meat or seafood, and even a green version called gumbo z’herbes, made from a mélange of leafy greens. There’s even an ongoing debate regarding gumbo’s sidekick: rice or potato salad. While gumbo is most commonly served atop rice, in Cajun Country, eating gumbo with warm potato salad is quite popular, and some even opt for both. Gumbo is very much like the Big Easy itself—a giant melting pot of unique spices and flavors that meld to create a truly special and one-of-a-kind experience.

Bywater Bakery –
Gumbo for breakfast? Why not! Who says the Crescent City’s most famous bowl of bliss must be relegated to lunch or dinnertime? Certainly not Alton Osborn, who with his wife Chaya Conrad owns and operates Bywater Bakery, where their Breakfast Gumbo does not play second fiddle to their scrumptious sweets. “A cousin of mine makes fantastic gumbo, so we wanted to put it on the menu,” explains Alton. “But since we are only open for breakfast and lunch, we needed a way to incorporate gumbo into our morning menu, so we thought grits would be the perfect vessel. We poured some of her gumbo over grits, then decided to add a couple of scrambled eggs and it was fantastic,” he added. The Alton family recipe calls for a luscious, dark roux thickened with filé, well seasoned, but not over spicy with generous bits of chicken and Andouille sausage. Zestful and hearty, it’s the perfect base before beginning your daytime imbibing. Other popular breakfast and lunch selections include a savory Croque-Madame on country white bread with a creamy Bechamel sauce, ham and Asiago cheese, baked to golden brown perfection, and Yaka Mein, a spicy beef noodle soup topped with green onions and an egg that’s a sure cure after a late night on Bourbon Street. Chaya, who is credited with creating the ultra-popular Chantilly and Gentilly cakes for local grocery stores, whips up brilliant baked goods and outstanding signature cakes including: lemon elderflower, chocolate butter pecan, coconut cream, chocolate strawberry Chantilly, 6-layer lemon doberge, and princess cake featuring a dome of almond sponge cake, raspberry filling, fresh raspberries and whipped cream draped in marzipan. When the couple opened Bywater Bakery in 2017, their intention was to create much more than sweet and savory treats. They wanted to build a neighborhood meeting space with a true sense of community … Mission accomplished! Today, Bywater Bakery supports the tight-knit area by hosting free outdoor music events showcasing local talent, and organizing King Cake Festival each Mardi Gras season, which is a fundraiser for local charities.

Herbsaint Bar & Restaurant –
Established by Chef Donald Link in 2000, Herbsaint is the flagship restaurant of the Link Restaurant Group, which operates a host of acclaimed contemporary eateries, in addition to the Link Stryjewski Foundation, which aims to help vulnerable young people in New Orleans. The esteemed French-American bistro, which offers sidewalk seating on St. Charles Avenue, earned Chef Donald a James Beard award for Best Chef South in 2007. Today, Herbsaint’s kitchen is in the deft hands of Chef de Cuisine Tyler Spreen, who began working in the restaurant industry at age 15. An avid outdoorsman, Chef Tyler, who began his career with the Link Group as a butcher at Cochon Butcher, knows his way around game as evident in his duck and andouille gumbo. Typically on the menu in the cooler months, this dazzling dish starts with a dark, mahogany-colored roux made with trinity, garlic, filé and spices. Chef Tyler then roasts duck and chicken bones with celery, onion, carrots and chicken stock, which is simmered overnight. Tender, juicy bits of roasted duck, which is pulled by hand, sautéed fresh okra and andouille sausage, made weekly at Cochon Butcher, are added to the base creating this delectable dish. “What makes our gumbo so unique,” Chef Tyler says, “is its exceptionally dark roux, consistency, and the passion we pour into each bowl.” Be sure to check out their impressive wine selection, where you’re sure to find the perfect match for tempting fare such as beef short ribs with horseradish cream, duck leg confit with dirty rice and citrus gastrique, and Louisiana jumbo shrimp in coconut curry broth. If you happen to be in the Big Easy this New Year’s Eve, Herbsaint will be hosting a special multi-course French/Japanese dinner that is sure to ring in 2023 with style!

Lil Dizzy’s Café –
Located in the historic Tremé area just outside of the French Quarter, this quintessential neighborhood eatery showcases mouthwatering, home-style food such as red beans and rice with house-made hot sausage, succulent fried seafood, creamy bacon mac and cheese, savory smothered greens and some of the best fried chicken in town. In the late 1980s Eddie Baquet, Sr. owned and operated Eddie’s Restaurant. Eventually, Eddie’s son Wayne, Sr. took over the family business adding Lil Dizzy’s Café in 2004. After spending 45 years in the restaurant industry, Wayne, Sr. retired and in December 2020, Wayne, Jr. and his wife Arkesha purchased Lil Dizzy’s Cafe. The couple reopened the restaurant in February 2021 with Arkesha overseeing the day-to-day operations. The restaurant is truly a family affair, and was named after Wayne, Jr.’s eldest son, Zachary, who earned the nickname Lil Dizzy while playing trumpet in his high school band. The casual, unassuming café boasts uber-friendly service in a relaxed, inviting atmosphere. Chef John Cannon whips up batch upon batch of their signature Creole filé gumbo, which is featured each year at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. “Our gumbo recipe was originally created in the 1980s by Eddie, Sr. and his wife Myrtle,” explains Arkesha. “The long-time family recipe was slightly adapted to produce a somewhat thicker, darker roux and to provide consistency as the restaurant’s volume grew.” If you have a yearning for a gumbo that packs a punch, this is the one for you! Deep seafood flavors of shrimp and crab harmonize perfectly with spicy hot sausage and smoky ham to create a flavorsome and bold bite. And if you can’t get enough of Lil Dizzy’s gumbo, pick up their Baquet Family Cookbook and a packet of their gumbo mix (sold at the restaurant) to stir up your own pot full of happiness.

Mr. B’s Bistro –
When Chef Paul Prudhomme, who is widely credited for helping to popularizing Cajun cuisine worldwide, was the head chef for Commander’s Palace, he was given the task of assisting with developing the menu for a new Brennan family restaurant called Mr. B’s. One of the star dishes concocted by Chef Paul is their signature Gumbo Ya Ya, which is believed to have gotten its name from the renowned chef who quipped that it is so good that it makes you say, “Ya Ya!” Since its debut at Mr. B’s in 1979, Gumbo Ya Ya was and continues to be one of the restaurant’s most celebrated dishes. One of the reasons that this particular version is held in such high regard is its rich, dark mahogany roux, which takes a significant amount of time, skill and patience to consistently achieve. Once the roux reaches its ultimate deep color, Vincent Sciarrotta, the longtime sous chef who was named Executive Chef in 2021, incorporates a liberal amount of roasted chicken and thick cuts of andouille sausage, which then simmers melding into a divine and harmonious blend. They also serve a classic seafood gumbo teeming with Gulf shrimp and crabmeat and thickened with okra. Other exceptional choices include the jumbo lump crab cake with classic ravigote sauce, Mr. B’s delectable, barbequed shrimp swimming in a decadent peppery butter sauce, and trout amandine topped with sliced almonds in brown butter. For those who are looking to imbibe during lunch, Mr. B’s offers $1.50 martinis and Bloody Mary’s (with purchase of an entrée) every Wednesday through Friday.

Mahoney’s Original Po-Boys & Seafood – When it comes to cuisine, Mahoney’s owner, Jim Huger, has a unique philosophy: whimsy should be embraced and it is definitely OK to play with your food! The casual po-boy and New Orleans fare restaurant is renowned for its tasty traditional po-boys, as well as those that their culinary team “funkified” kicking them into a league of their own. Their Po-Boy Festival award-winning Peacemaker, which artfully combines fried Gulf shrimp and oysters with cheddar cheese and candied bacon, and their clever take on chicken livers that melds lightly floured, crispy fried chicken livers with tangy Creole slaw and Creole mustard vinaigrette, are worthy of star status. Not to be overshadowed, however, are other tasty dishes like crawfish etouffee fries, sweet tea pork belly with watermelon, fried BBQ oysters with butter sauce and exceptional gumbos. The chicken and sausage gumbo is made with a deep, rich roux, allowing the succulent thigh meat to shine through in its flavor. There’s also a distinct “char” essence that the roux imparts on the chicken, which is rounded out by a flavorsome blend of house-made pork and beef sausage. Their seafood gumbo has a slightly lighter roux made silky by the addition of crab shell stock. Seasonal combinations of blue crab, Louisiana crawfish, shrimp, oysters and Gulf fish are delicately enhanced by this less intense roux base, which is perfectly accented by the addition of okra. Mahoney’s will even dish up your gumbo with potato salad instead of rice, if that’s your preference. Both locations (the original shop Uptown and the French Quarter location) boast creative cocktails with options like the Bloody Mahoney, which incorporates bacon-infused vodka; Louisiana Mule, a refreshing blend of Absolut Lime, Bayou Satsuma liqueur, and ginger beer; and SOCO Hurricane made with Southern Comfort, passion fruit juice, citrus sour, and cherry syrup. Be sure to check out Twisted Sno, tucked within the French Quarter location, which scoops up spiked sno-balls and boozy soft serve ice cream.

Stanley –
Historic Jackson Square is home to the iconic St. Louis Cathedral, local artists, tarot card readers, street performers, charming shops and Stanley, the casual, lively hotspot that dishes up some of the tastiest breakfast and lunch in town. Since 2009, owners Chef Scott Boswell and wife Tanya have been wowing locals and visitors with their heavenly brunch selections including bananas foster French toast, crab cakes benedict with Creole hollandaise, smoked corn beef hash with hollandaise and sunny-side-up eggs, fried oyster po-boy with cocktail and remoulade sauces and a finger-licking-good house-smoked Cajun corn beef pastrami Rueben with aged sauerkraut and Russian dressing. Recent menu additions like boudin croquettes—house-made boudin served with Rotel tomato Velveeta fondue—and French-fried frog legs with horseradish potato salad and lemon Tabasco honey butter are not to be missed. But it’s nearly impossible to step foot into Stanley without ordering a cup (or bowl!) of Chef Scott’s life-changing filé gumbo. While Stanley’s version tends to be not quite as thick as some traditional New Orleans gumbo due to Chef Scott’s Lake Charles roots, his complex, intensely dark roux is simply divine! “I’ve always been obsessed with a dark roux, even as a child,” he explains. “Pushing it to the very edge of ruin, but somehow managing to save it right before it burns is exciting. Not to mention all of the emotion and anxiety at that very moment! When I was younger, I would cook my roux for a shorter time. Four hours evolved to six, six to eight and now we go well over 24 hours,” he adds. This ultra dark roux is teeming with tender chicken and slices of Savoie’s andouille sausage made in Opelousas, Louisiana. And for those non-meat eaters, Stanley offers a delicious vegan version of their gumbo. “Imagine all of the great gumbo flavors made up to the point where we normally add seafood or meat, but instead we add a variety of seasonal vegetables,” says Chef Scott. “The flavor profile that the gumbo takes on from the additional vegetables is amazing!” Savor your bowl of gumbo with a distinct Cajun touch by adding a scoop of potato salad. And if you’ve saved room, be sure to order a tempting scoop of house-made ice cream or an old-fashioned milkshake.