Gumbo A Go-Go Goes to J-town

Gumbo A Go-Go

(Gumbo A Go-Go, Voice-Tribune, Oct. 12, 2006)

There’s plenty of sadness to go around amid the vast devastation that Hurricane Katrina left along the Gulf Coast last year, but for those of us who love good food, good drink and good times, the loss of the city of New Orleans as we once knew it has to be one of Katrina’s most enduring blows.

Sure, the City That Care Forgot will come back, and indeed it’s already doing so. But will it ever be the same? Who knows?

Meanwhile, though, the good news is that wherever people love the bold and colorful Creole and Cajun cuisines of New Orleans and Acadiana, chances are that someone nearby will be cooking the stuff and doing it well.

That’s certainly the case in Louisville, where Gumbo A Go-Go – a relatively recent arrival that opened last year in small quarters in Clifton – has now opened a suburban branch in Jeffersontown.

Gumbo A Go-Go is locally owned and operated by New Orleans native and former racing jockey Billy Fox and Jason Cardwell, but these guys likely have dreams of growing into a chain, and the new J-town operation looks the part, making stylish re-use of renovated quarters at 10004 Taylorsville Road. It’s a spacious room, with plenty of glass doors across the front to fill the space with sunlight.

Inside, it’s simply decorated in Gumbo A Go-Go’s Mardi Gras colors of pastel greens and purples, with New Orleans posters and a collection of colorful Carnival beads hanging around.

Order from a walk-up counter (with photos and descriptions of popular dishes hanging overhead), then grab your soft drink or fresh-brewed iced tea (beer, they say, is coming soon) and take a seat. Unless you’re very quick at the self-service drink machine, chances are, your food will reach your table before you do.

The Clifton property, at 2109 Frankfort Ave., is smaller, and befitting its urban setting, a bit more funky, filling a jumble of small rooms in the tiny building set back from the street next door to Nancy’s Bagel Grounds. A similar New Orleans-Mardi Gras theme prevails, though, and the service is just as speedy.

Both locations share the same menu, and the pricing is ridiculously simple: All dishes cost $5, and portions are truly bountiful, making Gumbo A Go-Go arguably one of the best food bargains in town.

In case you’re not clear on the difference, “Creole” is the vibrant, multi-ethnic cooking of Old New Orleans; “Cajun” is bold and robust country cookery, the French-accented culture that came to coastal Louisiana from Nova Scotia 200 years ago, as famously recorded in Longfellow’s poem, “Evangeline.” The cuisines certainly overlap, and Gumbo A Go-Go does both well.

I’m practically a regular at the Clifton shop, but we made the trek out to J-town recently to compare, and found the food similar. Indeed, I’m told the food at J-town is not prepared on premises but trucked out in frozen portions and reheated to order.

We’ve pretty much sampled everything they make, a varied list of about a dozen Creole and Cajun items. My favorite may be the Jambalaya, a traditional dish that features chunks of tender, bite-size chicken and thick-cut pieces of garlicky sausage, green peppers and onions and medium-hot peppery spice in a sort of Cajun risotto.

Most dishes are served over steaming white rice. One of the most popular, Drunken Chicken, consists of marinated chicken with a mouth-watering blend of hot and aromatic spices, cloaked in a thick, brown roux-based sauce that’s said to be made with “lots of beer” but ends up with a deep, almost wine-like depth of flavor. Red beans and rice, a traditional Monday dish in New Orleans, is available here daily. (Vegetarians should note that this is a meatful version with sausage).

Gumbo (a dark, roux-thickened chicken and sausage stew) and Etouffee (chicken, shrimp or crawfish in a thick, spicy roux) are fine, too, and if you’re in the mood for a sandwich, a traditional New Orleans “Po’Boy” loaded with drunken chicken or spicy sausage will do you.

Too much input? Can’t decide? You can order portions of two dishes, served side-by-side in a single bowl, for $6, or a combo of three dishes in a bowl for $7.

At prices like these, it’s darned difficult to build a meal for two up to a $20 tab, even with drinks and tip. Good eats? Good buy? I gar-on-tee.

Gumbo A Go-Go
10004 Taylorsville Road; 261-7986
2109 Frankfort Ave; 896-4046