One of the most enjoyable aspects of dining out for me is the opportunity to sample a world of cuisines, from the familiar to the exotic.
With relatively few exceptions, ranging from such culinary delights as Indonesian rijstafel to more morally dubious items like Japanese whale sushi or Chinese “fragrant meat” (a euphemism for dog, which is illegal even in China), Louisville’s dining scene offers pretty much anything a diner could want; and if we can’t get it here, we probably don’t really want it anyway.
This week we take a world tour on a dinner plate, with quick trips to Louisiana’s Acadiana, Tuscany and the Yucatan.
First, here’s Eat ’N’ Blog correspondent KEVIN GIBSON, kicking off the run up to Mardi Gras (Feb. 20 this year) with a Cajun accent:
Hot stuff at Gumbo A Go-Go
This home-style Cajun eatery in Clifton, open a year and a half now, has become a neighborhood mainstay and is slowly and quietly building upon its menu — and its presence.
Not only has owner and chef Billy Fox Jr. added a branch in Jeffersontown, but he’s poised to open another on Baxter Avenue this week, with properties in Lyndon and at Fourth Street Live projected for March, and another at the Summit in early April. Not far in the distance, Fox added, is an all-out national franchising program: He’s talking to potential franchisees in Nashville, Memphis and Atlanta.
The chaining of Gumbo A Go-Go has been 15 years in the making, says Fox, who created the menu and has taken on Texas Roadhouse veteran Brian Judd as a partner to roll out the franchising operation.
Gumbo A Go-Go is hot because the food is hearty, good and affordable. Chances are you’ve already fallen in love with Drunken Chicken, a spicy, beer-infused roux loaded with big meaty chunks of chicken, served over fluffy white rice.
Get ready for it: If you like the Drunken Chicken, you’re going to love his new Voodoo Chicken. It’s a similar dish but subtracts the breadcrumbs to achieve a lighter, stew-like consistency … and it significantly ramps up the fiery spice. In fact, it is quite possibly the first Cajun dish I’ve ever eaten that did not inspire me to add hot sauce.
Another new dish is Spicy White Chili. Fox’s version differs from the standard with an elusive flavor that isn’t easy to pinpoint. “I’m afraid I’d have to kill you if I told you,” Fox joked, but he finally gave it up without violence: It’s cumin and dill that add the exotic accent to white beans, onions, tomato chunks and slices of jalapeño pepper.
If you want to sample any dish before ordering, just ask. The friendly folks at Gumbo A-Go Go don’t mind sharing. And if the food isn’t enough to entice you, how can you bypass a place that has Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap for just $1.50?
Gumbo A Go-Go
2109 Frankfort Ave.
Robin Garr’s rating: 85 points
You want Tuscany?
We’ve got your Tuscany right here
Eat ’N’ Blogger ANDREA ESSENPREISS is obsessive about all things Italian, and so am I. So we didn’t have any difficulty working up a good mutual rant about the way that Tuscany has become so trendy lately that eateries are describing everything Italian as “Tuscan.”
Let’s get this straight: Tuscany is a scenic, historic state in Central Italy, northeast of Rome, stretching from the Mediterranean to the Apennines in the ancient hill country between Florence and Siena. Its cuisine is simple and delicious, focusing on grilled meats and beans. Contrary to what you might expect, Tuscans don’t eat much pasta, nor do they serve everything with tomato sauce.
So, when Andrea returned from a recent assignment to cover Porcini Executive Chef John Plymale’s cooking class, “A Trip Through Tuscany,” at Gourmet for Everyone in Middletown, she was both joyful and a little bit cranky.
“Upon perusing the menu for the first time,” she wrote, “I wondered what the link was between the upscale dishes presented by Chef Plymale and the earthy, meat-and-bean-based fare of Tuscany.”
When she read me the menu, I had to agree: The dishes du jour appeared to be American-accented variations on dishes from Abruzzi, Emilia-Romagna, Rome and Sicily. There wasn’t a Tuscan dish in the lot, and not many Tuscan ingredients.
Responding to her question, Plymale said candidly that these were “Americanized interpretations of Italian classics,” adding that the market in Louisville wouldn’t support true Italian fare. She mused, “Maybe the name of the class should have been ‘Upscale Italian-American Comfort Food,’ or, as a stretch, ‘A Trip Through Italy.’“
Still, Andrea had a great time, and recommends the ongoing series of cooking classes at Gourmet For Everyone as culinary entertainment for foodies … and good eats.
While I have taken cooking classes before, I have never had an experience as comfortable as this. Cushy rope-back stools are set at café tables, carefully placed so as not to obstruct any view of the kitchen. Closed-circuit televisions provide clear overhead views of the stovetop and cutting board, and the maximum class size of 22 is perfect for providing an intimate yet interactive learning environment.
The first course, Tortellini Alla Matriciana (perhaps Plymale’s variation on “all’Amatriciana”?), with its clean flavors of Parmigiano, prosciutto and cream, was lick-the-plate good. A hearty salad of grilled Romaine hearts employed a garlicky roasted-tomato vinaigrette. The chef’s rendition of Ragù Bolognese was so delicious it made me want to cry for memories of my own Nonna’s ragù. Chicken Saltimbocca with Marsala sauce showed a deft hand in seasoning, as it is a dish that can quickly become too salty. Finally, an airy Zabaglione with fresh berries reinterpreted the Sicilian classic with the brilliant addition of blood orange.
Authenticity aside, I left with deep respect for Chef Plymale and a fervent desire to return for another class. For little more than $50, I had a full four-course meal and left with the recipes. Owner Deb Hall says classes are booking quickly, so if interested, better sign up right away.
Gourmet for Everyone
111 S. English Station Road
(Landis Lakes Shopping Centre)
The Mayan has landed
As we reported a few weeks ago, Chef Bruce Ucán, who closed the popular Mayan Gypsy last year, has brought his innovative Mayan cuisine of Yucatan and Guatemala back home to the place where it all started. His new Mayan Café opened midmonth at 813 E. Market St.
It’s a little too soon for a full review, but we stopped in for lunch the other day and were delighted with the attractive redecoration in cool shades of sky blue with bold fabric art from next-door neighbor Mary Craik Gallery, and, of course, by the food.
A crawfish Ceviche ($6) was a delight, as good as you-know-who’s, with tender whole shellfish “cooked” in a tangy citrus sauce with tomatoes. Another starter, Mayan Tamale Roulade ($4), consisted of a dense round of savory corn cake studded with pumpkin seeds, topped with aromatic shredded pork, bits of crisp-fried fresh spinach leaves and a little sour cream, plated on a thin, sweet-tangy tomato sauce. A vegetarian grilled-vegetable quesadilla ($8) came in quarters, flour tortillas sandwiched around a succulent mix of marinated, grilled veggies; and a hearty Mayan Huevos Motuleños ($9) featured a paper-thin omelet rolled into many textured layers, perched on a fried tortilla with a schmear of black beans, a ratio of spicy chorizo, tomato sauce, grated Spanish Manchego cheese and sour cream, plated with a garnish of fried plantains touched with a hint of elusive spice.
A more extensive evening menu and a short but well-chosen and attractively priced wine list makes a return for dinner mandatory. We’ll be ba-aa-ack.
813 E. Market St.
Contact Robin Garr at [email protected]