Posted On: 06/01/2012
The Gumbo Shop
9501 Manchester Road, Rock Hill, 314.918.8747, gumboshopstl.com
Entree prices: $6.50 to $19
Hours: Mon. to Thu. – 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Fri. – 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 to 8 p.m., Sat. – 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Last summer, Jon and Holli Kercher bought beloved Rock Hill eatery The Gumbo Shop. Opening the doorway between the tiny original venue and the retail bay next door, they settled into the new digs with roux and okra in hand. So, is the good food and friendly atmosphere that marked the original joint still one of the city’s best kept secrets? ‘Bout time we found out.
1. Southern hospitality
The second you walk through the door, it’s clear that you’ve stepped into a place where low-and-slow is as much in the air as it is on your plate. The Mrs. runs the front of the house while her partner offers guests a friendly joke as they await their jambalaya. A laid-back atmosphere inspires you to pause and dream of the layers of flavor that so often result when the stove gets turned down a few notches.
2. The gumbo
Considering the sign outside, Dan was hoping for more than one variety of the shop’s namesake, but a bowl of the light, okra-based soup is all you need. For this “white gumbo,” sliced okra is simmered for hours until its texture and irascible sliminess melt away. In a separate pot, andouille sausage, petite shrimp, onions and celery brown in oil seasoned with 21 spices. At the last second, the roux, which has been building to a caramel color in a third pot, is added – along with that okra – to the saute. The Creole stew harmoniously blends sultry flavors of Gulf Coast shellfish with the subtle earthiness and strength of West African okra. Don’t forget a dash of salt and Crystal’s Hot Sauce; this otherwise beguiling stew is begging for it.
Nothing poor about these po’boys
An ideal lunch for the businessmen and families crowding the tables, the po’boys sport your choice of protein nestled in crusty white bread and “fully dressed” with old-school mayo, shredded romaine and a passable tomato slice or two. For those who favor spice, the blackened catfish (4) charmed with strong accents of garlic, cayenne, paprika and onion. The bold flavors of the charred catfish were unimpeded by breading and well balanced by the roll’s soft chew. Prefer your fish breaded and fried? Get the fried crawfish or catfish po’boys, whose sweet cornmeal breading rounds out their richness.
Don’t miss this hearty rice casserole in which pork tenderloin never missed a beat alongside smoky ground andouille, swimming in a thick tomato sauce. Warm and satisfying with a hint of spice, it made for a lovely meal all its own.
Red beans and rice
In Louisiana, red beans and rice is a dish historically cooked on Mondays, using ham bones and meat scraps leftover from Sunday supper. The Gumbo Shop preserves this tradition with its Monday lunch special. For a measley $7.50, the plate boasted red beans – soft, delicate, still al dente – married with white rice, onions, celery and sausage. The coarsely chopped celery provided much-needed crunch without overwhelming the balance between the smoky meat and sweet beans.
So-so salads …
When merely contrasted with fresh romaine, the blackening spice that worked so well on the po’boys made the shrimp atop the blackened seafood salad too salty. The hearty, green leaves and rather mundane, manufactured croutons simply couldn’t stand up to the strength of the seasoning.
If a relaxing trip to the Gulf is out of the current budget, sail down to The Gumbo Shop for some red beans and rice or a big bowl of gumbo and a little NOLA spirit.
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