Top 10 Picks in Gumbo Nation

Louisiana's Best Gumbos

by Lisa LeBlanc-Berry

As Louisiana’s most intriguing culinary achievement, gumbo is a metaphor for the combination of cultures that gave rise to this amazing melting-pot soup. There are as many different kinds of gumbos as there are cooks, ranging from gluten-free to seafood or wild game.

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Death by Gumbo
Death by Gumbo, Restaurant R’evolution. Photo Courtesy of Restaurant R’evolution

DEATH BY GUMBO
We begin our gumbo tour in the heart of New Orleans’s French Quarter, where the gumbo guru, Chef John Folse, serves his incomparable quail gumbo at Restaurant R’evolution in the Royal Sonesta Hotel. The brainchild of two world-famous superstar chefs, John and Chicago’s renowned Rick Tramonto, the elegant 6,000-square-foot showplace opened in 2012. John, who is regarded as Louisiana’s leading authority on Cajun and Creole cuisine, created the sumptuous Death by Gumbo in the 1980s and reintroduced it at R’evolution.

A dark, earthy soup with layers upon layers of flavor, it is artfully prepared with boneless quail stuffed with filé-flavored rice, smoked andouille, and poached oysters, dropped into a rich, roux-thickened quail stock. Interestingly, the trinity is strained before it is served, like a French bisque. I asked John for some tips about his world-famous gumbos, and he replied with some great advice about roux chemistry. “A dark-brown roux is essential to the flavor of gumbo,” he explains. “I always caution the cook that the darker the roux, the less thickening ability it retains.”

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Mr. B's Gumbo
Gumbo Ya-Ya, Mr. B’s Bistro

THE ICONIC YA-YA
Plunging further into the heart of the Quarter, we’re at Cindy Brennan’s sleek and stylish Mr. B’s Bistro to sample the famous, award-winning Gumbo Ya-Ya (chicken and andouille) that flies out of the kitchen during the lunch hour, when the place is populated by power brokers ordering big bowls of head-on barbecue shrimp bathed in pools of garlic-tinged butter sauce. Men are wearing bibs.

Chef Michelle McRaney, at the helm for the past 21 years, is an ace at gumbo. “The secret is really taking your time with that roux,” she tells me. “At Mr. B’s, we do our roux in the oven.” “The oven?” I ask in surprise. “Sure,” says Michelle. “That way, we have more control, and we don’t have to constantly stir it. For the amount of roux we make, we cook it four to five hours to bring it to a nice mahogany color for that nutty flavor, then we add a rich chicken stock.”

GLUTEN-FREE TRAILBLAZER
Heading to Metairie, we stop in at Chef Ron’s Gumbo Stop and Pub that opened in 2012. It showcases a rare item in Louisiana: gluten-free gumbo, as well as gluten-free crawfish étouffée. A native of New England, Chef Ron Iafrate first learned about the art of Louisiana cooking in Acadia, Rhode Island, at a festival with zydeco legend Queen Ida as the headliner. He uses rice flour to make a roux, and gets gluten-free sausages from Mississippi.

“I cook that roux slowly for at least four hours with oil and rice flour,” he says. “I’ll make what we call ‘plain gumbo’ or ‘mumbo jumbo gumbo’ that is gluten-free, and then I’ll hook it up the rest of the way for you. I try to use brown rice, which already has a bit of color to it.” Ron learned how to make gumbo from a “little old man” who worked in a New Orleans hotel. “He taught me that when you make your roux, you always use that wooden stick, and never use it for anything else.”

BETTER AT B’S
In a quiet section of Metairie is another Ralph Brennan hit. Chef Chris Montero, who heads up café b, is a veteran of the Brennan restaurant empire. The upscale neighborhood bistro has a large, snazzy bar in the front that is popular among well-heeled locals who stop in for drinks and appetizers after work. This is restyled comfort food at its best, highlighted by some of the most delicious gumbo in town. We nibble on barbecue oysters dripping with blue cheese and airy crab beignets with a creamy ravigote sauce before delving into the superb Chicken and Andouille Gumbo, served with a scoop of green onion potato salad on the side.

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Cynthia's Seafood Gumbo
Cynthia’s Seafood Gumbo, Grapevine Cafe & Gallery

COUNTRY PLEASURES
From Metairie Road, we head west for Baton Rouge, and veer off toward historic Donaldsonville in search of the lovely, art-filled Grapevine Café & Gallery owned by Cynthia Schneider and her husband, Steve. “I think potato salad is a must for gumbo,” she says. “Growing up, we would actually throw a boiled egg in the potato salad. We use more black pepper here in plantation country. Our gumbos are a two-day process,” she explains. “For the Shrimp, Crab, and Okra Gumbo, I make my seafood stock, then I add my okra with a little vinegar. Right after that, I add a dark brown butter roux. I just love the taste of butter. Gumbo is all about chemistry!”

Cynthia’s delicious seafood gumbo is only rivaled by her toothsome Hen and Andouille Gumbo. “A hen holds up better than a young fryer, and I like the flavor better,” she notes. The Schneiders get their andouille from Poché’s, a top smoked-meat market in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.

FAMILY-STYLE IN BATON ROUGE
Stopping off in Baton Rouge, take a peek into Dempsey’s on Jefferson Highway. They serve down-home gumbos that are worth the detour. At the 85-seat restaurant, we go in search of young Chef James Neese, who presides over the kitchen with a great deal of pride about his Chicken and Seafood Okra Gumbo. “I come from a family of cooks and learned how to make gumbo when I was knee high to a grasshopper,” he says. “We cook okra right into our roux so the sliminess doesn’t transfer to the finished dish. But everyone is different. My brother-in-law puts boiled eggs in the gumbo halfway through cooking it, and then he’ll make sure you get a boiled egg and potato salad plopped in your bowl of gumbo!”

PERSONALIZED TO ORDER
Nestled along the expanse of the Atchafalaya Basin in Henderson is Robin’s, where some of the best Crabmeat Gumbo in south Louisiana can be found. The flavors are rich and complex, and the fat, buttery lumps of crabmeat are generously apportioned. Here is the best part: “I make it to order, whatever you want, whenever you come in,” says Chef-Owner Lionel Robin. He means it. The crawfish gumbo and shrimp and okra gumbo are utterly fresh and perfectly spiced. The chef likes to come out and talk to diners. Try one of his homemade ice creams for dessert (hint: Tabasco).

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Rip Van Winkle Gumbo
Rip Van Winkle Gardens of Jefferson Island

RIP VAN WINKLE GUMBO
The next stop is New Iberia and Jefferson Island. Not to be missed is the earthy, rich Chicken, Smoked Sausage, and Tasso Gumbo served at the charming Café Jefferson. Nestled in gorgeous Rip Van Winkle Gardens, the café is only open for lunch and offers a splendid view of Lake Peigneur from picture windows surrounded by ancient live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Take a stroll around the magnificent grounds after lunch.

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PreJeans Gumbo
Prejean’s, Lafayette

GUMBO WITH A SIDE OF ZYDECO
In nearby Lafayette, we start lacing up our dancing shoes and loosening our belts in anticipation of the thumping live Cajun music and the outstanding gumbo at Prejean’s, a popular Cajun restaurant and dance hall that is famed for its luscious Pheasant, Quail, and Andouille Gumbo served exclusively at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival for the past 17 years.

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Prejean's Gumbo
Pheasant, Quail, and Andouille Gumbo, Prejean’s

“Like all gumbos, it’s all about the roux and the proteins you put in it,” says Chef Ernest Prejean. “Our andouille and deboned duck are smoked for three hours, and it is the best-seller at Prejean’s. I always put the sausage in our duck gumbo at the beginning, and we never, ever put okra or filé in our gumbos!”

SOUTHERN FUSION
In north Louisiana, downtown Monroe has a rising star chef who makes the drive worth your while. The award-winning Chef Cory Bahr dazzles diners with his ingenious southern cuisine at Restaurant Cotton. Cory’s gumbos begin with a half-oil, half-butter “fast” roux. “We get the oil and butter to where it’s smoking, whisking it quickly on high heat, then we start adding the flour until we get a really dark roux. It only takes 15 minutes, and the roux looks like a chocolate bar,” he says. “We caramelize the onions in the roux until they’re golden, add the tasso, and then we gradually add the stock into the roux, simmering it for two hours so that flour taste is all cooked out. We adjust the seasoning, and at that point, we’ll turn off the fire and fold in the meat and let it sit on the stove for about another 45 minutes.” Cory also makes a mean Smoked Ham Hock and Black-Eyed Pea Gumbo, which he finishes with a drizzle of collard green pesto, adding garlic and Tabasco to give it even more authentic flavor.

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3 COMMENTS

    • Thanks for commenting! There are lots of gumbos we love that couldn’t make the list, as we try to cover as much of Louisiana as we can. You can be sure, though, that you’ll see them on future lists.

  1. I just have to admit. At the Jazz festival last year. I had some of Prejeans Quail, Pheasant and Andouille sausage gumbo. That was the best gumbo I’ve ever eaten and I’m from Louisiana. I’m returning again this year only for that.

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