Well, I guess it makes sense that yesterday I highlighted Two Boots’ “Bayou Beast” pizza on National Sausage Day…because today we’re putting that whole slice into the pot! It’s National Gumbo Day, that famous Cajun-style stew that’s got spicy goodies like andouille sausage, okra, and filé powder–not to mention everything else a New Orleans chef can get their hands on. Gumbo is like the Cajun version of chili: dump whatever ingredients you got into a big stew pot and let it simmer all day; then, when you take it out, if it’s made with love (and a little bit of skill and magic), it tastes delicious. Gumbo uses as its vegetable base a variation of the French mirepoix of carrots, onions, and celery: instead of carrots, Cajun cuisine uses bell peppers to round out their “holy trinity,” which gives their food a distinctive peppery taste (and usually makes it spicier!) The other ingredients can vary based on region, but usually includes a deeply flavored fish or meat stock, a thickening agent like roux, and a meat or seafood–depending on the sub-culture within Louisiana that’s cooking up the grub. “Gumbo” really refers to the mesh of different cultures that went into making modern Louisiana, be they Acadian Cajuns, Fresh-Spanish Creoles, Native Americans, and African slaves, the dish taking different aspects of each culinary culture and blending it all into one pot. So, in a way, gumbo can be an entirely appropriate food to eat in New York City–the southern melting pot cooked inside the northeastern melting pot!
And yet, it’s still a crap shoot if you look for authentic, tasty gumbo in New York. Not many places make it worthy of calling it an authentic gumbo–and don’t even think of going to the Restaurant Row tourist trap Bourbon Street for anything coming close to “authentic.” (However, their $5 weekday Hurricanes deal is definitely the best way to get sloshed in Times Square, so they do have that going for them!) Instead, head to a restaurant in the Village that you wouldn’t ever expect to have a delicious, mighty hearty gumbo on the menu: Great Jones Cafe is like taking a red-eye to New Orleans right when you step through the door. Creole favorites like red beans and rice and blackened catfish fill up the menu–which changes daily based on ingredient availability–but in these dreary October days, you really want to get a big ol’ bowl of their seafood gumbo. Filled with seafood (would you ever see fried oysters in an inferior gumbo?), andouille sausage, and chicken, this gumbo is thick and filled to the brim with flavor. It may not be like having an old Cajun momma’s recipe, but it’s the closest thing you’ll get to real Louisiana flavor in New York City, hands down.
Great Jones Cafe
54 Great Jones St (between Lafayette St & Bowery)
“Creole favorites like blackened catfish, gumbo and assorted po-boy sandwiches will sate your hankering for the bayou, but the spicy and fragrant crawfish boil (which includes a shelling demonstration from your server) is the true test for Cajun mavens. Be sure to order the fresh, honey-topped jalapeno corn bread and red-hot Bloody Marys with everything.”–New York Magazine
“Great Jones is probably the only place in New York where I’ll eat the two sacred staples of NOLA cooking: red beans and gumbo (only when I don’t feel like making it myself). I also appreciated their fried oysters and andouille sausage. It’s also one of the most non-assuming places in the city. No flash and panache here, just good food and nice people. You really do feel as though you’ve been transported to a little bayou town when you step inside.”–Bon-Manger
“It takes balls to do a New Orleans style gumbo in New York. While the $18 price tag may be intimidating, it’s worth it. Loaded with chicken, sausage and an assortment of seafood, this is an acceptable representation of how the south gets down.”–Immaculate Infatuation
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“That is what has earned this place four stars. Their gumbo is spot on to some of the best stuff you will find in New Orleans. The rue isn’t too dark and it is FULL of seafood, sausage, chicken and okra. It is a tad bit on the pricey side at $18 bucks a bowl, but you will leave rather satisfied. I even used the side of bread that came with it to wipe my bowl clean (as opposed to picking it up and licking it, which was a temptation).”–Angie M.
“The standout dish for me, was my ‘St. Johns’ gumbo. It was a gigantic portion of perfectly spiced, ultra rich and savory, rib-stickin’ good gumbo. Even though stuffed at the point of bursting, I found myself sopping up the last dregs of the delicious broth from the bottom of the bowl with a bit of bread.”–Chris H.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!