We have a new sponsor on the radio show that we were pretty unfamiliar with. His little place almost under the overpass at Causeway has generated buzz since its arrival on the scene (8 years ago, we learned today.)
Chef Ron’s Gumbo Stop was one I gave very little chance of making it when I first heard of it. To start, it was not in an ideal location. Though it was very visible, actually getting to it did not seem easy. It was, as we discovered today. One of every 100 restaurants makes it 5 years, so there was something about it for Fate to be kind. Ron Iafrate was smart, starting out small, and in a space others may have found easy to ignore.
Decor was minimal too, so what carried it? The food, as we found out today. Is the food gourmet? No. Brilliant? No. But it is very good, and priced right, and that is a winning combination.
The menu is appropriately sized for the place, and covers a decent range of New Orleans-style food. Fried green tomatoes, gator bites, boudin balls, fried chicken, red beans, poor boys, jambalaya. And gumbo. Of every imaginable iteration.
There is seafood gumbo, which we got. It’s their best seller. There is chicken andouille, and a Mumbo Gumbo, which is a combination of both, like the old Bozo’s gumbo. This was the waiter’s favorite, but we did not take his suggestion.
Ron also offers a stuffed gumbo which comes with catfish at the bottom. There are six gumbo choices on the menu, and three sizes: large, Larger, LARGEST. The smallest version was enough for a meal. It was dusted generously with file, and was loaded with chunky stuff, most notably shrimp and more shrimp, as well as crawfish. I didn’t see any oysters or crab. This was a good gumbo. Not the best I’ve had or even close to that, but it was definitely good and I’d get it again.
We also got boudin balls with a very spicy mayo called Swamp Sauce. This was creamy and just spicy enough to really complement whatever it was served with. The boudin balls were again, not the best we have had, but it was a good spicy boudin and a nice crust. In the world of boudin balls it was right up there with the top few.
There were crab cakes on the menu, and that means I will order them. I get crab cakes wherever I see them usually, and I was excited to see them at a place like this. A place I would almost call a joint, were it not for the gorgeous thick granite bar.
The price indicated they were definitely what passes for crab cakes now: crab stuffing shaped like a crab cake, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. Ron explained that they were not deep-fried but pan-sauteed in butter, with a breadcrumb coating. I was really intrigued by that, because the crab cake he described is a rare breed, and only at premier restaurants in town, and usually priced in the twenties. These are tall and perfectly-formed light and almost gravity-defying rounds of jumbo lump crab lightly dusted with breadcrumbs and seared to a buttery crust.
Expecting to experience a little secret, an aberration in crab cake world that would be a thrilling discovery, I waited to see one of these beauties come from the kitchen, feeling like I stole something.
“When something sounds too good to be true it usually is,” came to mind when the crab cakes arrived. There were two, and they were more like crab patties. They were 3-4 inches in diameter, and about ¼ to ½ inch thick. Let’s just say looks were not the strong suit. But these were quite tasty. I was glad they were not deep-fried, and they had a great flavor. Appropriately spicy, I would call this more like a stuffed crab without the shell. For the price, this was a nice appetizer. Lots of claw crabmeat, not much breading, dipped in the delicious Swamp sauce,this was an unusual and very satisfying crab appetizer.
For entrees, Tom got a roast beef poor boy, and I got fried chicken with red beans. The poor boy was again, a non-traditional one, with a bread that was more a hoagie roll than French bread. Ron gets them from a bakery in Harahan, and the sandwich looks very unlike a traditional roast beef poor boy. It was really excellent, with a great roast beef flavor and clearly roasted-in-house sliced beef. Top round, and you could tell.
The fried chicken came to the table stove hot, with a crust so flaky it reminded me of a pie crust. It was what all fried foods ought to be, if not the first thing from the fryer, looking like it. Golden brown, with not a hint of overused oil that I see too often. I had no intention of eating more than a bite or two for this piece, but there was nothing left.
All of this and an iced tea was $59, I see now why this was the one in 100 that made it. Chef Ron sums it up best, “We cook like your mama would.” And that about covers it, but only if your mama was very good in the kitchen.