Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Geaux Get Some Gumbo!


This article has been published in the December 2010 issue of Town Favorites Magazine. You can visit the Town Favorites website at http://www.townfavorites.com/, follow them on Twitter @TownFavorites, "Like" them at Facebook.com/TownFavorites, and find their magazines at over 150 restaurants and businesses around Baton Rouge! Pick up a copy today!

Jay Ducote shows off a pair of gumbos at The Chimes
Geaux Get Some Gumbo!
by Jay D. Ducote

There is certainly no shortage of Baton Rouge restaurants serving delicious bowls of gumbo this winter, so often times the only real challenge is determining which gumbo is best for you. I recently took a miniature tour aboard the “Gumbeaux Express” to see what local establishments are offering. One thing’s for sure, no two gumbos are ever alike! The tricky thing about gumbo in south Louisiana is that everyone seems to prefer whichever style of gumbo their grandma made. It is culture, tradition, and memories on which our fundamental love for gumbo is developed. Due to this, we can sometimes be hard pressed to find a restaurant version that lives up to our expectations. Still, with so many great chefs and authentic Louisiana restaurants in our great city, somebody out there has to be cooking a pot of gumbo “like grandma makes it!”

The first stop aboard my Gumbeaux Express tour occurred at Dempsey’s on Jefferson Highway. Chef George Gugich and manager Daniel Hatcher met me inside on a cool, rainy day to serve up a sampling of both their seafood gumbo and their chicken and andouille gumbo. George has been cooking gumbo his whole life and continues that passion at Dempsey’s. The Jefferson Highway location is the newer version (opened in July 2009) of their other location on Coursey Boulevard (13 years old and still going strong). Josh Armand, the chef at the Coursey restaurant, has been there since they opened the doors when Josh was 16 years old. The two restaurants have the exact same menus, so you can decide on your own which to visit! At the Jefferson Dempsey’s, George cooks up giant 35 gallon batches of gumbo to feed their loyal patrons. Each batch features everything made from scratch, begining with three gallons of flour and two gallons of oil to make the roux.

Dempsey's Seafood Gumbo
In addition to the medium-dark roux, Dempsey’s adds nearly 40 pounds of vegetables to each batch of gumbo. They use the same roux for both gumbos, which isn’t something you see very often… but why mess with a good thing? Dempsey’s customers rave about everything on the menu, so my anticipation heightened before my first taste of gumbo this winter. The seafood gumbo had a reasonably thick base with a good amount of spice. The bowl contained plenty of shrimp and okra with a little bit of crab mixed in as well. The chicken and andouille gumbo featured a surprisingly smoother texture and a noticeably smoky flavor from the chicken and sausage. The roux seemed to compliment the chicken and andouille flavors a little better, but both bowls were incredibly tasty and left my full stomach feeling very satisfied.

Chicken and sausage gumbo at Dempsey's
The next arrival gate for the Gumbeaux Express came at Drusilla Seafood. General Manager Brad Zito welcomed me in and chatted with me about the restaurant. Brad’s father Jimmy has owned Drusilla Seafood since 1991, though the restaurant has actually been around since 1982. Chef Sonny Creel makes the seafood gumbo that is a year-round staple on the menu. He begins with a classic dark roux made from butter and flour for a richer flavor. Sonny prides himself in his home style gumbo and classic Cajun taste. The Holy Trinity of Cajun cooking, onion, bell pepper, and celery, are all sautéed in butter before being added to the roux, which is then combined with fish and chicken stock. Sonny adds crab claws, crab meat, and shrimp to the gumbo to finish it off with plenty of substance. Sonny told me that the restaurant will typically go through 30-50 gallons of seafood gumbo every week. They make it daily in five gallon increments to keep up with demand. As you might expect, Sonny said that when the temperature drops outside there is a significant increase in demand for gumbo. It certainly is a cold-weather Cajun favorite!

Drusilla Seafood's gumbo features a dark roux
Before taking my first bite of Drusilla’s gumbo, I asked Sonny how the restaurant fared after the oil spill and how their gumbo sales were affected by the tragedy in the Gulf. He told me that seafood in general moved slowly for a little while after the oil spill both because some ingredients got a little pricier and harder to procure and because diners were a little weary to trust the seafood. Fortunately for all of us along the Gulf Coast, things in the restaurant scenes seem to be on the path towards recovery. It will certainly take more time to get everything back to how it was before the spill, but at least we can enjoy our seafood gumbos during the Holidays! Drusilla’s gumbo is really highlighted by the rich, dark roux that serves as the foundation of flavor. It provides enough heat and a slightly nutty flavor that actually goes very well with all the morsels of shrimp and crab. I particularly enjoyed the crab claws that are featured in the gumbo.

The Chimes' seafood gumbo
I knew this tour would not be complete without a trip to The Chimes. The gumbo at the Chimes is consistently rated among the very best in Baton Rouge, so I had to go make sure that my opinion hadn’t changed from back in my college days when I was a regular at three to four different tables and bar stools. I grabbed a seat at the bar of The Chimes on Highland Road at the North Gates of LSU and ordered up a bowl of both their duck and sausage and seafood gumbos. The manager, Wade, and the chef, Harry, both came out and talked gumbo with me for a bit. The seafood gumbo came closest to replicating what I remember both my mom and Maw Maw making as a child. The gumbo is loaded with the Cajun Trinity as well as a plethora of okra. It also features plenty of shrimp, a few crab claws, and a lighter, more liquid base than any other gumbo that I tried. Chef Harry called the roux in the seafood gumbo a “blonde” roux made with butter. The seafood gumbo had a nice kick from the vegetables and spice but certainly not an overpowering heat. It really had a great mix of flavors.

Duck and andouille gumbo at The Chimes
In a totally different direction but equally delicious gumbo, the duck and andouille sausage at The Chimes is sure to evoke some sort of emotional response. The in-house hickory smoked duck pairs with Richard’s smoked Cajun sausage to provide a much thicker, darker, and unique gumbo than any other that I found. This gumbo was created to “stick to your ribs” as it is hearty in consistency while bold and intriguing in flavor. It is prepared with an oil-based dark roux and also contains some extra rendered down fat from the sausage to make it even more rich, smoky, and satisfyingly decadent. As with the seafood gumbo, Louisiana products are used throughout the recipe to support local food producers and ensure that authentic flavor.

There are so many more places that I could have gone to try gumbo, but I can rest well knowing that I hit up three well deserving establishments with their own versions on classic Cajun gumbo. Each creation that I got to try tasted fantastic and I’d be happy to eat any of them again. Do yourself a favor and grab a spoon and make your own Gumbeaux Express tour this December. Your stomach won’t regret it!


Jay D. Ducote is the author of the blog Bite and Booze, which chronicles his culinary and indulgent cultural experiences around Baton Rouge, South Louisiana, and the world. It can be found at www.biteandbooze.com. You can also reach him by email at jay@biteandbooze.com, like the Bite and Booze fan page on facebook.com/biteandbooze, and follow him on Twitter @biteandbooze
Thanks to Eric Ducote of BRBeerScene.com for taking all the pictures for this article.

Dempsey's II on UrbanspoonChimes (LSU Area) on UrbanspoonDrusilla Seafood on Urbanspoon

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