There’s something soul-satisfying about gumbo at this time of the year.
Maybe it’s the nourishing warmth a steaming bowl provides in winter’s chill. Or an appreciation for the effort required to make great gumbo from scratch. Being Mardi Gras season doesn’t hurt.
It’s all of those—and more.
The words subtle and gumbo are rarely uttered in the same breath. Gumbo’s flavors are robust and bold. Its ingredients are infinitely versatile. The dark soupy stew is as complex as the people who contributed something to the gumbo pot—French, Black, Cajun, Native American, Caribbean, German, and Spanish.
Although rooted in the “holy trinity” of onion, celery, and bell pepper, gumbo’s family tree has many limbs.
One branch favors fish and crustaceans like shrimp, crab, crawfish, and oysters. Another flocks to chicken, duck, or anything else a hunter brings home. While most include spicy, smoked sausage—generally Cajun-style andouille—a few leave it out.
Some use the flour-fat mixture roux as a thickener, its flavors intensifying as the roux cooks to a brick-red or a dark-brown hue depending on the gumbo. Others rely on okra or powdered sassafras leaf, file (pronounced fee-lay), for a viscous effect.
With our proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, seafood gumbo is an excellent choice in Alabama. Here are 6 places making great gumbo in Alabama.
NOLA on 2nd (Gadsden)
What’s one way to tell you’re in Louisiana Cajun country? When the person taking your gumbo order asks if you want a scoop of potato salad in the bowl. NOLA on 2nd in Gadsden pays homage to that tradition, making potato salad an optional topping for its Seafood Gumbo, normally accompanied by rice. The gumbo, made with a dark roux, is available by the cup ($4), bowl ($9.95), or as an option in the Cajun Trio plate ($12.99).
The Tin Top Restaurant and Oyster Bar (Bon Secour)
There’s something magical about pulling shellfish from nearby waters and tossing it right into a gumbo pot. It provides a sense of tradition, a taste of a time when cooks relied on whatever was available nearby. Located blocks from the docks in Bon Secour, it’s hard to find a gumbo with fresher seafood. Tin Top’s version ($7 cup, $10 bowl) includes shrimp, crab, and andouille sausage. Be forewarned: The restaurant is closed on Fat Tuesday.
Chuck’s Fish (Multiple locations)
When it comes to seafood gumbo, this regional chain’s version is a no-brainer. Fin and shell fish from the Gulf come straight off the dock at the parent company in Destin, Harbor Docks, then are sent directly to Chuck’s restaurants in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, (plus Georgia and Florida locations). Made with a brick-colored roux and okra, the Gulf Seafood Gumbo ($8 cup, $18 bowl) includes shrimp and fresh-catch fish.
Cajun Corner (Eufaula)
Rustic and colorful, with New Orleans-themed art and murals on the walls, the restaurant makes its Seafood Gumbo with shrimp, crawfish, andouille sausage, tomatoes, and okra. You can get it by the cup ($3.95), bowl ($10.95) or as part of a sampler with red beans and rice and crawfish etouffee ($14.95).
Audrey’s Restaurant (Birmingham)
Under-appreciated in a city chock-full of nationally known restaurants, Audrey’s in Birmingham’s Titusville neighborhood specializes in soul food like braised oxtails on Sundays, Southern classics including shrimp and grits, and NOLA creole dishes like corn maque choux. Audrey’s Seafood Gumbo (cup $6, bowl $10, quart $26), with shrimp, lump crab, crab claws, and spicy sausage, starts with a dark roux, okra, and tomatoes.
Cajun’s Seafood (Sheffield)
This Shoals restaurant promises to “bring out the Cajun in you,” dishing southwest Louisiana-style boudin sausage and red beans and rice, along with NOLA-style po’boys and shrimp creole. Seafood gumbo is sold by the cup ($4.95) or bowl ($6.95).