My friend John Sauter and I have many good food memories together. John was first introduce me to Tai's Asian Bistro, and its heavenly pad thai. John would also introduce me to other local Columbus spots (Zuppa and its chicken salad). Unfortunately, last week, John and I had a terrible, terrible experience at J. Gumbo's.
Here is John's take:
I wanted to love J. Gumbo's. As a frequent visitor of New Orleans, and lover of Cajun food, I was excited when I learned last summer that a "Cajun restaurant" was opening up on Gay Street.
Cajun food, for the uninitiated, is a rustic cuisine that often combines seafood, meat, and rice with 'the holy trinity' - bell peppers, celery, and onions. Many dishes begin with a roux, flour and hot oil whisked together until chocolate brown. The 'trinity' is then added, along with stock, and the preparer's choice of meat or seafood. It is, in a word, delicious. Simple, easy to prepare comfort food.
J. Gumbo's claims to serve "down home Cajun cookin'." Most diners order the "Big Bowls," which feature a variety of stewed meats (chicken, primarily) served atop a large spoonful of white rice. A taste of their offerings, however, reveals that their food is as authentically Cajun as Chipotle is authentically Mexican. But authenticity aside, J. Gumbo's fails at putting out even semi-decent food.
I cannot recommend a single dish on their menu. The most disappointing dish was the namesake - the gumbo. Any Cajun restaurant worth its salt should have a respectable gumbo. Yet at J. Gumbo's the dish I received was a watery, oily mess. Instead of seeing heaping mounds of chicken, sausage, okra, and other vegetables poured over white rice, I saw a bowl that looked of dirty water. There was so much oil mixed in the water I wondered if I was looking at a miniature version of the Gulf Coast, post-oil spill. I was only able to find two wafer-thin pieces of sausage in the entire bowl. The shredded chicken was just as sparse. And the taste? Horrid. It tasted burnt, saturated with heavy spices and lacking any body.
Bourbon Street chicken, a dish not actually found on Bourbon Street, but instead in mall food courts - made an appearance on the menu. As did the Bumblebee Stew, a dish similarly unauthentic. The Bumblebee Stew consists of canned corn (LOTS of it) mixed with a few black beans and stewed tomatoes over rice. The canned taste of the corn was overpowering. It tasted straight from a can, and it looked like baby food.
The two chicken dishes I tasted were just as bad. The Voodoo Chicken (try finding this dish at Galatoires, or Commander's Palace!) was little more than pulled chicken, stewed in an insanely hot tomato sauce, poured over rice. The heat was so overpowering it took away any complexity the dish might have had. Similarly, the Drunken Chicken had the same problem, only with an incredibly overpowering garlic taste.
Those few dishes are about as expansive as the menu gets at J. Gumbo's. While most diners receive their main course atop rice, J. Gumbo's gives the option of receiving it in Po' Boy form, and, worse yet, in a tortilla. Yes, tortillas in a so-called Cajun restaurant.
Seafood, a staple of Cajun cooking, is woefully underrepresented on J. Gumbo's menu, appearing only in the Etouffee.
If you're a lover of true Cajun food, stay away. However, if you're satisfied with your local mall's Bourbon Chicken offering, and don't mind your taste buds being assaulting with waves of spicy or garlicy flavors, this one's for you.