Some people say the best way to mark the seasons in Louisiana is through a culinary calendar. Crawfish come in season in winter; shrimp boats go out in spring; gardeners pick tomatoes and okra in summer; and everyone makes gumbo in fall. That’s when all the ingredients finally come together.
New Orleans’s restaurants offer hundreds of variations on the Cajun-Creole concoction. They all begin with a roux—a mixture of spices and flour thickened with cooking fat. From there, chefs create hearty, dark varieties with smoked meats like Andouille sausage or duck and tasso, or fill lighter seafood versions with shrimp, crabmeat, tomato, and okra.
We spent a few days exploring eateries in the French Quarter (and beyond) in search of our favorite gumbos. Here are the tasty results.
The French Quarter
• The Classic: Galatoire’s, 209 Bourbon Street
Open for more than 100 years, Galatoire’s is a beloved NOLA tradition, the type of place where a jacket is required for dinner and nobody complains. The French Creole seafood gumbo is just as traditional and tasteful, packed with crabmeat, shrimp, onion, celery, tomatoes, and okra. A cup is $7 (so just go ahead and spend another $1.50 for a bowl).
galatoires.com or 504/525-2021
• The Up And Comer: Royal House Oyster Bar, 441 Royal Street
This corner restaurant which opened two years ago is the kind of place you stumble upon as you wander the antiques shops lining Royal. Sit at one of the window tables and order a bowl of the flavorful chicken and sausage gumbo ($9.95). It’s served with very little rice so be sure to ask for a bigger scoop if you want more. It was great, but then again every dish we tried, such as the fried eggplant straws appetizer, was delicious.
royalhouserestaurant.com or 504/528-2601
Beyond the Quarter
• The Classic: Dooky Chase Restaurant, 2301 Orleans Avenue
Chef Leah Chase loads her gumbo with crab, shrimp, chicken, two kinds of sausage, ham, and veal brisket. It all comes together in a roux that’s rich but not too dark.
• The Up And Comer: Cochon Butcher, 930 Tchoupitoulas
Half butcher shop, half deli, Cochon Butcher in the Warehouse District opened last year as a fast-service alternative to the sit-down service at the Cochon Restaurant next door. It offers plenty of fine meats to take home, but you can also pick up a quart of chicken-and-sausage dark roux gumbo ($18). You’ll be taking home the best—Cochon’s executive chef and head gumbo cook Donald Link knows his stuff. His cookbook, Real Cajun, won the 2010 James Beard Award for best new American cookbook.
cochonbutcher.com or 504/588-7675