J. Gumbo’s Brings Flavor of the Bayou to Evansville’s East Side – Ryan O’Bryan’s Review
As they say in Cajun country, "Whooo-wheee!"
For my wife and I, J. Gumbo's has been that restaurant we drive past time and time again and say, "We need to try that place next time we're looking for something to eat." Then the "next time we're looking for something to eat," we forget it's there and end up somewhere else. After a trip to the mall on Sunday, we finally remembered to stop by and give it a try.
J. Gumbo's is a franchise with locations in several states including Colorado, Missouri, Massachusetts, and North Carolina among others. The Evansville location sits at the corner of Burkhardt and Vogel in the Briar & Bean complex on the east side and has been in business since September 2011. You won't find any burgers or chicken fingers here. The entire menu is straight out of the bayou with items like traditional gumbo, jambalaya, and red beans and rice to Voodoo Chicken (shredded chicken cooked with garlic and olive oil in a spicy tomato sauce) and Drunken Chicken (shredded chicken ,olive oil, garlic & stewed tomatoes cooked in beer and Cajun spices). They also offer appetizers such as Voodoo Chicken nachos, Crawfish Cheese Dip, and Black and Bleu Cheese Dip. Po' Boys and wraps are also available. The kids menu is simply smaller portions of any entree available and comes with a small drink.
Speaking of kids, we had both of ours in tow and I had a feeling going in that we may ultimately end up going somewhere else for dinner considering their tastes. Our 6-year-old daughter will generally eat just about anything, while our 8-year-old son is the pickier of the two. For him, if it's not visually appealing, he won't bother trying it, and if you're at all familiar with Cajun cuisine, you know it's not always the most appealing food to look at, as most of it is cooked like a stew resulting in a red or brown color depending on whether or not it's a tomato-based, or roux-based (a mixture of flour and fat, usually butter or oil). But you also know that regardless of what its appearance, it tastes incredible (if cooked correctly, of course). A notion that is lost on an 8-year-old mind.
The two guys behind the counter were incredibly patient and helpful, offering small samples of nearly everything on the menu to my son in an effort to find something he liked. After going through nearly everything on the menu (seriously), he and our daughter settled on the Bourbon Street Chicken, shredded chicken cooked in a sweet butter hoisin sauce with little to no spiciness to it. I went with Crawfish Etouffee (shrimp is also an option), while my wife chose the Chicken Red Hot, shredded chicken in a tangy Creole buffalo sauce with red onion.
In traditional Cajun style, everything is served on steamed white rice with the option of chopped green onion sprinkled on top, along with a large slice of garlic French bread.
While it didn't pack a ton of spice, something I remedied with a few squirts of their bottled hot sauce, the etouffee was amazing! A rich and hearty dish packed full of tender crawfish chunks in a creamy roux. The rice was perfectly cooked as well and created a nice texture combination as it soaked up the flavor of the etouffee like a sponge.
The Chicken Red Hot my wife ordered tasted somewhat like hot wings in a bowl. It too was a roux-based dish and featured a healthy dose of their hot sauce which has a flavor similar to Frank's Red Hot. If you're a fan of Frank's, I recommend this entree.
The kids' Bourbon Street Chicken was also very good. The chicken was tender and the sauce had nice sweetness to it. I enjoyed it enough to bring their leftovers to work for lunch the next day.
Price-wise, J. Gumbo's is no more expensive to feed a family of four than your typical fast-food restaurant. Our bill came out to just over $24, which is less than we would spend at sandwich shops or some burger joints. It was a price I was more than willing to pay for the quality and flavor of food we received.
My wife and I took a trip to New Orleans a little over a year ago and made a point to hit a few local establishments during our time there to get a real sense of the region's cuisine. By comparison, J. Gumbo's is the real deal. The cooking style and flavors they offer is every bit as good as what we enjoyed during our time in The Big Easy. They'll definitely be getting more of my money in the future.