The Big Easy has arrived in Brooklyn at the new Gumbo Bros. in Brooklyn, serving Cajun food at prices more suitable to Lousiana and Alabama, where the restaurant partners are from, than NYC prices. Menu items start at $4, and the most expensive thing on the menu is just $14.
Here’s what restaurant review Ligaya Michan says about Gumbo Bros. in the New York Times:
The restaurant is in Boerum Hill, but its red sign was painted by hand on Magazine Street in New Orleans. Inside, a golden football helmet with a fleur-de-lis overlooks portraits of Napoleon, hand thrust inside waistcoat, and the blues pianist James Booker, called the Bayou Maharajah, in eye patch and halo.
The menu is lit on a marquee, with bags of Zapp’s Voodoo Potato Chips dangling below. Diners drink Abita root beer or coffee brewed with chicory, tasting of roasted earth. Each table is set with Crystal hot sauce, whose ingredient list puts cayenne where it should be: first.
Mr. Lathan grew up on the Gulf Coast of Alabama, in Creole country; his business partner, Clay Boulware, comes from Cajun central Louisiana. Once roommates at Louisiana State University, they reunited in New York a few years ago to redress the city’s scarcity of gumbo, selling the dish at outdoor food markets before opening the restaurant in early December.
Some say gumbo is less learned than inherited. Mr. Lathan got his starter recipe from his great-grandmother Nanny, who passed it down to his father. It begins with a roux of canola oil and flour cooked just short of total darkness and fused with onion, celery and bell pepper.
His Cajun gumbo speaks in smoke, leached from andouille sausage made by a Louisiana butcher. The meat is browned until its edges crisp, then wedded with chicken poached in house-made bone stock. Broken-down okra helps thicken it, so much that it almost tugs back the spoon. The result is dense and warming, though some might wish for more fire.
For a Creole version, Mr. Lathan bypasses the tomatoes that sometimes divide it from its Cajun cousin. He relies instead on the sweetness of shrimp and blue crabs, which he gets live from Chinatown and coaxes into a stock meant to taste “like you’re at a crab boil,” he said.
The dominant note is filé, ground sassafras leaves, which lends a flavor somewhere between root beer and camphor. I found it too strong, but for a friend from Louisiana, it was the taste that made him nod and say, “This.”
A vegan gumbo aroused suspicions (“Oxymoron,” my Louisiana friend said) but turned out to be a Louisianian Roman Catholic tradition during Lent. It’s made of as many greens as Mr. Lathan can get his hands on and thickened with only okra, no roux.
To me, it had a slight must from an over-suffusion of sage. Perhaps there is always quibbling when it comes to gumbo.
On the wall hangs a message dating to the New Orleans 1929 streetcar workers’ strike, when the Martin brothers, who ran a coffee stand in the French Market, told the strikers, “We are with you till h—l freezes, and when it does, we will furnish blankets to keep you warm.” They also provided giant sandwiches that became known as po’ boys.
Here the po’ boys are made with loaves from Leidenheimer Baking Company in New Orleans, which have crusts as thin as the skin of a balloon, ready to fracture. They are swabbed with Duke’s mayo, which eschews sugar for a more pronounced tang, and lined with tomatoes and pickles.
My first encounter went poorly. The bread was stiff and underdressed, the batter on the fried shrimp and catfish seemingly bereft of spice. But the next time, they were glories.
Best is one packed with roast beef, a beautiful sopping mess of Black Angus chuck, marinated in root beer and roasted for 16 hours. The remains of the mirepoix it is cooked with are puréed and added to the drippings to make debris gravy, which — alone — might be worth pawning your soul for.
There are a few commendable sides: greens smoky-sweet from courting ham hocks and bacon, and fried green tomatoes crackly with bread crumbs from leftover Leidenheimer loaves. A Cajun potato salad had little presence, but I wondered if the point was to add it to the gumbo, as some Louisianians do.
If, after all this, dessert is still required, tiny bourbon pecan pies are fine specimens (another Nanny recipe). Beignets are rough, snowed under with confectioners’ sugar, crunchy on the outside and chewy within. They puzzled the people at my table, who expected airy balls of dough.
So reviewer Mishan ate theirs.
Recommended Dishes: Cajun chicken and sausage gumbo; roast beef po’ boy; rice and debris gravy; braised greens; fried green tomatoes with reémoulade; mini bourbon pecan pie; beignets. Prices: $4 to $14.
- 224 Atlantic Avenue (Court Street), Boerum Hill, 917-909-1471. Reservations not accepted.
As much as we’d like to, NYC on the Cheap can’t eat everywhere, so we’ll be publishing occasional reviews of inexpensive new restaurants by restaurant reviewers we trust, including the New York Times, New York Magazine and Time Out New York.
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