(Courtesy Pyre Gumbo)
Asking someone from Louisiana where the best gumbo is, or what the “real” recipe for gumbo is, is like asking someone where the best barbecue is or where they can get the best pizza. There are so many versions, -- each with a culinary link to Louisiana with a base of roux (thick brown sauce), okra and seafood (or some kind of protein) -- that you can enjoy gumbo every day and have a different experience.
LOUISIANA'S MOST FLAVORFUL GUMBO
To celebrate National Gumbo Day, here is a list of some of the most flavorful in Louisiana.
If you’re a person who can’t make up your mind, particularly when it comes to which gumbo version to order, Abear’s Café in Houma is your go-to. The home-style restaurant’s staple gumbo dishes are Chicken and Sausage Gumbo or Seafood Gumbo. But I’m happy to say that you can have it both ways – just order it half and half as the locals do. In the true spirit of Cajun hospitality, Abear’s Café is happy to accommodate.
Chef Jeffrey Hansell’s OXLOT 9 lovely dining space in downtown Covington’s historic Southern Hotel touts itself as offering Gulf-inspired contemporary Southern food. Hansell’s cooking is anything but traditional and this is true for his gumbo as well. Menu offerings change daily but you’ll always find a gumbo that leans to the exotic with the likes of duck, alligator, rabbit and even foie gras. Hansell has been known to put together a Turducken Gumbo for Thanksgiving with fried turkey, duck and smoked chicken.
Hambone gumbo (©LouisianaNorthshore.com)
For a different take on gumbo, Chef Jeff Mattia uses chicken stock as a base plus locally grown Jazzmen aromatic rice at Pyre Provisions, also in Covington. Fire and wood are used to cook all dishes, which are served family-style in the casual restaurant. Mattia’s gumbo is one of his favorite dishes and makes a wonderful starter to any of the slow-cooked BBQ platters.
In Mandeville, Hambone benefits from Chef Luke Hidalgo’s decade of working in New Orleans restaurants like Commander’s Palace, Galatoire’s, and Coaquette. Hambone's thick, dark brown gumbo is packed with fresh Louisiana Gulf shrimp and seasoned with ham hocks and collard greens. A scoop of pickled okra potato salad sits in the middle. It’s pretty clear why this gumbo is an award winner: it combines the best of Cajun (potato salad), Creole (shellfish and dark roux) and country (ham hocks and collard greens) versions. The restaurant is a draw itself set in a 1940’s cottage with a red tin roof a short walk from the lakefront. Take advantage of the location by dining outside on the picnic tables.
Rieger's on the Tace
Across from the Mandeville Trailhead, Rieger’s on the Trace is a fun stop for casual, locally influenced cuisine. Created by a husband-and-wife team from Louisiana who returned to their home state after a stint running a food truck in Vancouver, Rieger’s mixes Louisiana flavors with international accents. On National Gumbo Day, you’ll want to try the restaurant’s Seafood Okra Gumbo, thickened with okra and made with Lake Pontchartrain blue crabs, Gulf shrimp, Andouille sausage, and served with Jazzmen rice.
The name of the game when it comes to Cajun seafood in Lafayette is Randol’s. The huge restaurant-cum-dance hall may not be as operational now as it usually is, but the seafood and gumbo are still the real deal. Randol’s offers two kinds of downhome gumbo: Seafood Gumbo made with freshly picked crabmeat, crawfish and Gulf shrimp in a traditional Cajun dark stock; or Chicken and Sausage gumbo, a rich mix of Andouille sausage and braised chicken simmered in roux.
New Orleans doesn’t disappoint with amazing gumbo either.
Chef Donald Link’s Herbsaint in the Central Business District on St. Charles Avenue is a favorite among visitors to the Big Easy. Acclaimed as one of the city’s best eateries, with both indoor and outdoor seating, Herbsaint serves up a menu that’s Southern in orientation with dishes benefiting from Chef’s experience with French and Italian flavors and cooking techniques. The don’t-miss gumbo combines chicken, Tasso ham and Andouille sausage in a rich broth.
The very tony Restaurant R’Evolution in the French Quarter should be your final stop when it comes to trying out Louisiana gumbos. The name of the dish is a showstopper, Death by Gumbo, and you’ll soon understand why this is one of the state’s marvels. Chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto have created the most legendary of gumbos, served with a whole quail stuffed with file rice and oysters in the middle of the bowl. The restaurant is a standout for re-invented Cajun and Creole dishes.