Gumbo Bros: Good Enough for New Yorkers

Short Version: If you’re a New Yorker or otherwise not from or familiar with South Louisiana food, go. You’ll like it. If you are from South Louisiana, you’ve been warned.

The Gumbo Bros: 224 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn

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I’d recently received a number of suggestions from New Yorkers to go check out a new place in Brooklyn called Gumbo Bros., a small shop that serves gumbo and poboys.

To my knowledge, New York has never had a legitimate Cajun restaurant. It’s 2017 and that hasn’t changed. The closest thing to legit Cajun offerings at the moment are some of the menu items at a barbecue joint. That’s because Blue Smoke Executive Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois is from Thibodaux, Louisiana. Now until Mardi Gras, he’s offering a special Cajun menu.

The lack of Cajun food in New York is annoying. But that’s okay. I know how to cook. What gets frustrating is this weird combination of a) the total ignorance of what Cajun food actually is with b) the assumption by many New Yorkers that they actually know what it is. This coming from people who think New Orleans is Cajun and the capital of Louisiana.

I’m not going to flog that particular horse at the moment. I’ve done it enough.

But a couple of things.

First: Ordering gumbo in New York is just plain silly. You never know what you’re going to get, but you can almost always bet it’s not going to be actual gumbo. It won’t be made with roux or there will be at least one wrong vegetable in there, whether it be corn or lima beans or tomatoes. This sort of nonsense helped radicalize me into a writer. 

Second: A poboy isn’t necessarily a Cajun thing. It’s a Louisiana thing, born in New Orleans. But that’s still South Louisiana (which is important) and Cajuns love them.

I’ve written before about the sorry quest for a decent poboy in this city. The shrimp poboy, in particular, is the Holy Grail. But due to many factors, almost all of them have been fails. The wrong bread. Not enough shrimp. Soggy batter. Shrimp are expensive in New York. They’re not expensive in Louisiana. This becomes a huge problem for restaurants in New York trying to recreate a Louisiana experience.

The almost good news is that Gumbo Bros. almost delivers. If you’re a New Yorker who doesn’t know any better — or even if you’re one of those New Yorkers who thinks you know better — Gumbo Bros. poboys and gumbo are close enough to the real thing to give you an idea of what these things are supposed to be.

The Cajun potato salad? A perfectly fine potato salad with a little bit of kick. But there’s nothing Cajun about it. In Cajun country, potato salad typically consists of potatoes, eggs, mayo, mustard (and other optional vegetables). It’s often close to yellow in color and many times the potatoes are pretty much mashed. This wasn’t that. But, this was a bit of menu marketing, so no harm, no foul.

The gumbo? It certainly was pretty to look at. Dark and on the thick side, it didn’t have tomatoes or any other crazy things in it. The sausage was good. Overall, it tasted like something you might find in the French Quarter. I’ve actually had worse in the French Quarter. Also, I ate it despite the presence of trace amounts of okra. I have strong anti-okra feelings.

The poboy? We tried really hard to keep our expectations low. When it was served, the expectations shot up. It was the right size and seemed to have enough shrimp. The shrimp were of decent size and covered with golden batter. And the bread, which is shipped every day from New Orleans, was spot on.

But. You probably knew that was coming. The batter for the shrimp wasn’t seasoned enough — or at all. Contrary to the belief held by many outside of the state, Louisiana food shouldn’t take the roof of your mouth off. When I say seasoning, I mean the addition of something as simple as salt would have improved the batter.

More important, the shrimp seemed to have been cooked twice. They looked and tasted like frozen (cooked) cocktail shrimp that had been battered and fried. This resulted in a dry, overly chewy shrimp.

If it sounds like I’m nitpicking, I am. This is what happens when you’re a subject-matter expert. (Or think you are, at any rate.) The older I get, the more I want to give people a chance. I try not to point out every mistake The New York Times makes when it writes about Louisiana — I’ll save all my ire for their use of crayfish instead of crawfish. And I don’t want to be indirectly responsible for screwing up a business that at least tries to get it right. But a) people have been asking what I thought and b) other folks from South Louisiana that I know might like a heads up.

If you’re from New York, the place is worth a visit. If you’re from anywhere outside of South Louisiana, you might like it. Hell, I don’t know what they consider gumbo in North Louisiana and Alabama — where the founders are from — so if you’re from there, give it a shot, too. It might actually taste like home.

But if you’re from South Louisiana (or have eaten at my house), the gumbo is likely going to leave you wanting. The shrimp poboy might frustrate you. If you absolutely have to have a poboy and don’t have a trip home scheduled any time soon, give it a shot. But if you have a hard-core craving for something fried and crispy that will remind you of home, there’s a Popeyes a block away.

By the way, you can find a gumbo recipe in the back of my first novel, The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival. Or you can get the recipe for free here. I know there will be something there for Louisiana people to argue with. Check out my other novels while you’re at it.

 

Barbecue: Seven Stops in Kansas City

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Nicholas and I have just wrapped up our barbecue tour of Kansas City. Between arriving Sunday evening and Wednesday, we hit the following seven places in this order: Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue (Freight House location), Arthur Bryant’s, Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, Danny Edwards BBQ, Q39, L.C.’s Bar-B-Q, B.B.’s Lawnside Blues & BBQ.

The Short Version
Before I get into the details, some of you might just want to know the answer to the following question: If I only have time to hit one place in Kansas City, what should it be? That’s an easy answer. Joe’s Kansas City. Some people might say it’s touristy or mainstream, but these are the sort of people who start hating a band simply because it becomes popular. Joe’s is popular for a reason. It’s got perhaps the best ribs I’ve ever eaten, the pulled pork was delicious and the beans weren’t sickly sweet like they were at a lot of places.

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Memphis to Kansas

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Payne’s Bar-B-Q, Memphis

I’m writing this from Kansas City, Mo.

My son Nicholas and I are celebrating his graduation from high school with a barbecue tour. Three years ago for his birthday, we did the Austin area. I wrote about that in fairly exhaustive detail shortly after the trip. Short version: Blacks, Stiles Switch, Franklin (where he fainted), Louie Mueller, and Salt Lick. (I’ve sense been back to Austin and tried Lambert’s, Freedmen’s and Iron Works.)

Last year, for his birthday, we went to Memphis. I didn’t write about that. It wasn’t because I prefer Texas cue to Memphis cue, though I do. It wasn’t because we didn’t have a good time or didn’t have interesting stories. We did. I just had a circus going on at work last year and the thought of looking at a computer during my off hours was more than I could stand.

But long story short, between Graceland and the Civil Rights Museum and one non-barbecue detour to Gus’s Fried Chicken, we hit Tom’s Bar-B-Q and Deli, Central BBQ, A&R Bar-B-Cue, Germantown Commissary, Payne’s and Rendezvous. We went to Cozy Corner, but it was closed because someone broke into the place the night before and stole all of the meat. Sad!

Anyway, I just wanted to mention Memphis in hopes that it’ll prompt me to write up the current trip. We made the 11-hour drive from Opelousas, Louisiana today and walked over to Fiorella’s Jack Stack and availed ourself of burnt ends, ribs, sliced beef, sliced pork and some of the sweetest baked beans you’ll ever eat.

From Zero to 270 (Smoker): Trial Run

In the course of getting married, Cara brought up the subject of wedding gifts for each other. I’m sure most men out there could spend a good half an hour ranting about this need women have to exchange gifts for every occasion, and often multiple times for the same occasion. This can get particularly crazy when the Wedding Industrial Complex is involved. Many a man might even think of saying, “Isn’t getting married to me gift enough?”

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A Most Frustrating Brooklyn Barbecue: A Tale

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The Command Center

 

It was time again for me to host the annual company barbecue. That meant 30 or more people coming over to the apartment in Brooklyn. That meant pounds and pound of meat. It meant bags and bags of charcoal. It meant hours and hours of work.

All of which is to say I was excited! And agitated. And nervous. A lot could go wrong, starting with the annual prediction of 60% chance of rain. I have a back yard just big enough for 30-some-odd people. I have an apartment that is smaller than the back yard. So, you do the math. But the chance of rain diminished throughout the week until the weather on the day of the actual event looked like it was supposed to be sunshine and lollipops. The day of cooking, on the other hand, looked to be a steady fall of rain.

Oh, yes. This is a two-day cooking affair. Three days if you include shopping. But it was all under control. I’ve done this before. Even if I haven’t mastered my brisket (shut up) just yet, I have the process down to a science.

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Morgan’s Barbecue: Bark Has Bite

Since hearing that Morgan’s had opened on Flatbush and St. Mark’s in Brooklyn, I’d been itching to go. Word on the street (by which I mean one of the managers of Dinosaur: Brooklyn I’d bugged one afternoon) was that one of the guys involved worked at Franklin BBQ in Austin. A couple of news pieces about Morgan’s backed that up.

So, last night, instead of going some place fancy for my birthday, I took a chance and had Cara take me to unproven ‘cue place. We all know how badly that can end in New York.

But I’m happy to report that Morgan’s met and exceeded expectations. It’s a sit-down place–which I’m fine with in New York, because I’d rather not get stuck with a tray of meat and nowhere to sit (Mighty Quinn’s). And the menu isn’t very big–again, this is a good thing.

We ordered brisket, ribs and pulled pork. All three–yes, even the pulled pork–showed that Morgan’s is, at heart, Texas barbecue. The ribs and the brisket had been rubbed down with ample salt and black pepper and had a great bark. This actually might be the spiciest brisket I’ve had in New York. Unlike the ribs at Hill Country, which are large and a little on the tough side for my liking, these were small (baby backs?) and extremely tender. Almost too tender for your barbecue sticklers. The brisket was excellent and, well, what do reviewers say about brisket? It was beefy? I don’t know. It was good. The pulled pork was surprising in that, unlike a lot of places around here, it wasn’t drenched in sauce or overly mushy. It had a strong garlic flavor, too, which I liked.

For sides, we had a loaded baked potato, which was good. And mac and cheese, which wasn’t cheesy enough.

Morgan’s has a solid bourbon and rye selection and the Shiner Bock was served at the perfect temperature.

I recommend it. And yall know how I am about barbecue.

The Great Brisket Experiment: 2013

If there’s one thing I like almost as much as stuffing my face full of smoked brisket, it’s barbecuing it myself.

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Okay, that is a lie. Barbecuing brisket — and pork shoulder for that matter — is one of those things I really, really look forward to doing. And I maintain the kid-on-Christmas-morning glee until one of the following

  • The shopping trip turns into a shit-show of an obstacle course
  • The weather decides not to cooperate
  • Five hours into the proceeding and I’m just trying to stay awake
  • When the food is served and everybody’s all, “THIS IS AWESOME” and I’m thinking “This is shit. It’s crap. It doesn’t taste like Black’s or Franklin’s or Hill Country or Brisketlab. AND OH MY GOD, DID YOU JUST PUT SAUCE ON THAT?!?!”

But this last barbecue? It was going to be different. Because I’d learned something while in Texas with Nick on our Fabulous Brisket Tour. And it was game-changing.

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