Gumbo Bros: Good Enough for New Yorkers

Short Version: If you’re a New Yorker or otherwise not from or familiar with South Louisiana food, go. You’ll like it. If you are from South Louisiana, you’ve been warned.

The Gumbo Bros: 224 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn

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I’d recently received a number of suggestions from New Yorkers to go check out a new place in Brooklyn called Gumbo Bros., a small shop that serves gumbo and poboys.

To my knowledge, New York has never had a legitimate Cajun restaurant. It’s 2017 and that hasn’t changed. The closest thing to legit Cajun offerings at the moment are some of the menu items at a barbecue joint. That’s because Blue Smoke Executive Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois is from Thibodaux, Louisiana. Now until Mardi Gras, he’s offering a special Cajun menu.

The lack of Cajun food in New York is annoying. But that’s okay. I know how to cook. What gets frustrating is this weird combination of a) the total ignorance of what Cajun food actually is with b) the assumption by many New Yorkers that they actually know what it is. This coming from people who think New Orleans is Cajun and the capital of Louisiana.

I’m not going to flog that particular horse at the moment. I’ve done it enough.

But a couple of things.

First: Ordering gumbo in New York is just plain silly. You never know what you’re going to get, but you can almost always bet it’s not going to be actual gumbo. It won’t be made with roux or there will be at least one wrong vegetable in there, whether it be corn or lima beans or tomatoes. This sort of nonsense helped radicalize me into a writer. 

Second: A poboy isn’t necessarily a Cajun thing. It’s a Louisiana thing, born in New Orleans. But that’s still South Louisiana (which is important) and Cajuns love them.

I’ve written before about the sorry quest for a decent poboy in this city. The shrimp poboy, in particular, is the Holy Grail. But due to many factors, almost all of them have been fails. The wrong bread. Not enough shrimp. Soggy batter. Shrimp are expensive in New York. They’re not expensive in Louisiana. This becomes a huge problem for restaurants in New York trying to recreate a Louisiana experience.

The almost good news is that Gumbo Bros. almost delivers. If you’re a New Yorker who doesn’t know any better — or even if you’re one of those New Yorkers who thinks you know better — Gumbo Bros. poboys and gumbo are close enough to the real thing to give you an idea of what these things are supposed to be.

The Cajun potato salad? A perfectly fine potato salad with a little bit of kick. But there’s nothing Cajun about it. In Cajun country, potato salad typically consists of potatoes, eggs, mayo, mustard (and other optional vegetables). It’s often close to yellow in color and many times the potatoes are pretty much mashed. This wasn’t that. But, this was a bit of menu marketing, so no harm, no foul.

The gumbo? It certainly was pretty to look at. Dark and on the thick side, it didn’t have tomatoes or any other crazy things in it. The sausage was good. Overall, it tasted like something you might find in the French Quarter. I’ve actually had worse in the French Quarter. Also, I ate it despite the presence of trace amounts of okra. I have strong anti-okra feelings.

The poboy? We tried really hard to keep our expectations low. When it was served, the expectations shot up. It was the right size and seemed to have enough shrimp. The shrimp were of decent size and covered with golden batter. And the bread, which is shipped every day from New Orleans, was spot on.

But. You probably knew that was coming. The batter for the shrimp wasn’t seasoned enough — or at all. Contrary to the belief held by many outside of the state, Louisiana food shouldn’t take the roof of your mouth off. When I say seasoning, I mean the addition of something as simple as salt would have improved the batter.

More important, the shrimp seemed to have been cooked twice. They looked and tasted like frozen (cooked) cocktail shrimp that had been battered and fried. This resulted in a dry, overly chewy shrimp.

If it sounds like I’m nitpicking, I am. This is what happens when you’re a subject-matter expert. (Or think you are, at any rate.) The older I get, the more I want to give people a chance. I try not to point out every mistake The New York Times makes when it writes about Louisiana — I’ll save all my ire for their use of crayfish instead of crawfish. And I don’t want to be indirectly responsible for screwing up a business that at least tries to get it right. But a) people have been asking what I thought and b) other folks from South Louisiana that I know might like a heads up.

If you’re from New York, the place is worth a visit. If you’re from anywhere outside of South Louisiana, you might like it. Hell, I don’t know what they consider gumbo in North Louisiana and Alabama — where the founders are from — so if you’re from there, give it a shot, too. It might actually taste like home.

But if you’re from South Louisiana (or have eaten at my house), the gumbo is likely going to leave you wanting. The shrimp poboy might frustrate you. If you absolutely have to have a poboy and don’t have a trip home scheduled any time soon, give it a shot. But if you have a hard-core craving for something fried and crispy that will remind you of home, there’s a Popeyes a block away.

By the way, you can find a gumbo recipe in the back of my first novel, The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival. Or you can get the recipe for free here. I know there will be something there for Louisiana people to argue with. Check out my other novels while you’re at it.

 

No Stars for You: Confessions of a Super-Bowl Ad Critic

PuppyMonkeyBabyThe Super Bowl is weird this year. It’s not that I couldn’t care any less about the Atlanta Falcons vs the New England Patriots. I watched the Panthers vs the Patriots in 2004, so I guess I’ll watch this.

But this is the first time in 16 years that I haven’t spent the three weeks leading up to the Super Bowl hyperventilating about the Super Bowl commercials. You see, I used to review Super Bowl ads. Some critics review movies and books. I reviewed incredibly expensive commercials.

Until December of last year, I worked at Advertising Age, the trade magazine that serves as the bible of the industry. It’s a pretty godless industry, but one of the High Holy Days is the Super Bowl. Companies across the spectrum, from beer to super glue to floor mats for cars, pay the hosting network insane amounts of money to run ads during the most-watched thing on TV. This year, Fox was raking in $5 million for 30 seconds of air time. That cost doesn’t include production of ads larded with special effects, CGI animals, celebrities and “humor.” Continue reading

Rules (and Fines) to Regulate New York City’s Idiots

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A rare photo of a jack-ass-free New York street.

New York, New York. Big city. Lots of people. Many of these people are inconsiderate jerks. And I’m not just talking about the tourists gumming up Times Square. Those people are, for the most part, easy to avoid.

My biggest issue are the people who live here, the ones who should know better. But they don’t. So I’m proposing the following regulations and fines. Feel free to play along!

Use of golf umbrella: $100 fine. Beaten with said umbrella until it breaks.

Use of cellphone on subway stairs: $100. Phone tossed onto track. Guilty party must watch train run over phone.

Holding a conversation in front of revolving doors: $250. Forced to stand inside sealed-off section of revolving door until the glass fogs up.

Stopping short to text: $150. Revocation of sidewalk privileges. Forced to walk in bus lane for six months.

Bicycle on the sidewalk: Wait. There’s already a fine for this, jackass, because it’s already illegal!

Raising a stink about gluten at a non-specialty bagel shop: $100. Forced to produce doctor’s note proving gluten intolerance and/or forced to eat contents of toaster’s crumb tray.

Asking for vegan options at a barbecue restaurant: $150. Forced to sit at a table piled with sizzling bacon for two hours.

Asking for meat at a vegan restaurant: $200. Forced to admit you came in here and did that just to be a dick.

Going on and on and on about dim sum: $150. Forced to subsist on diet of chicken feet for one month.

Defending Chicago pizza: $200. Forced to admit you were just being THAT GUY. You know THAT GUY. There’s always one.

Being a food snob, yet being the first in line anytime some fast-food or grocery chain from your home town opens: $300. Forced, for six months, to do all your grocery shopping at that bodega with all the dusty canned goods and the almost-expired milk.

Sitting on subway stairs: $200. Boot to the head. Guilty party must lick article of clothing that was resting on said stairs.

Stopping in front of a turnstile to dig through your purse to find your Metrocard: $500. Purse privileges revoked. Forced to wear hot pink fanny pack with important items easily at hand.

Not knowing what you want even after standing in a food/coffee line for five minutes: $100. Hot dogs shoved down your shirt. Coffee poured on your lap.

Using an elevator to travel one floor: $100 and one hour on a Stairmaster.

Vaping on a subway train: $100 and having to live with the fact that you vape.

Smoking a cigarette on subway: Death. Forfeiture of all property to the American Cancer Society.

Telling people what to do, how to live their lives: $50. Forced to write blog listicles for the rest of your days.

One more:

Suggesting people who read your blog post go and buy one of your books:  Hours of pleasure. FOR YOU, DEAR READER!

Just Thinking of Boss Hogg for No Reason

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 3.59.49 PM.pngI was struggling to write something absolutely hilarious about how and why Jefferson Davis “Boss” Hogg came to be commissioner of Hazzard County in the first place. After all, someone had to elect him, right? Or maybe he was appointed. I don’t know the ins and outs of Hazzard’s election laws.

But then I stumbled across the Wikipedia page for Boss Hogg and found myself laughing at that.

There’s this:

the extent of just what was and wasn’t within Boss’s powers often seemed to vary from episode to episode. However, this can be countermanded slightly, as Boss would often bend the law and make up rules to suit himself.

And regarding his enemies (the Dukes in this case), Boss always accused them:

of spying on him, robbing or planning to rob him, and other supposedly nefarious actions as he believes they are generally out to get him.

Oh, and this was my favorite part:

Creator Gy Waldron said he wanted the character to be the personification of the seven deadly sins.

For those of you who are as unfamiliar with the bible as someone else whose initials include the letters J and D, those seven deadly sins are: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.

Have a nice day!

Why Twitter Hearts Are Like Bull Nipples

twitterheartSo yesterday, I spent upwards of 45 minutes scheduling social-media posts to promote my novels. To say it’s not one of my favorite things to do is an understatement.

It’s boring and it also makes me feel cheap and desperate. “Please, please buy my books. Won’t someone please buy my books?!? They’re old but they’re still good!”

There are companies who provide these services. They charge money, of course. The money, however, isn’t the issue. It’s that these companies seem to be followed mostly by other desperate authors who number in the tens of thousands. And the social-media promotion these companies provide is basically: “Here’s a tweet of this author’s book and an off-center picture of the author and/or his book cover.” This tweet is immediately followed by similar tweets for about a hundred other authors. If I’m gonna get tied up with a pimp, I expect more than that. Continue reading

The Ken Wheaton Restaurant Consultancy

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Photo courtesy of “potential past.”

I may have been inspired to start a new business. For a low fee — certainly lower than the competition — I’ll work with folks thinking of opening a restaurant and save them thousands and thousands of dollars.

But first, a word about my inspiration. Recently, someone opened up a buffet joint in Bay Ridge, right around the block from us. This wasn’t a sudden move. There’d been signs in the window promising its arrival for well over a year. “Coming soon,” the signs said. “Buffet!” And so, in the middle of November and after a week of papering the neighborhood with menus, someone opened a restaurant located between a laundromat and the Brooklyn Bad Ass Academy (yes, that’s a real thing).

I’ve seen four customers in that place since and they very well could have been employees or family members. This, despite the increasing proliferation of signs in the windows advertising brunch and discounts for police, firemen and senior citizens. I’ve walked by during the morning, during lunch, at night — on weekends and weekdays. Nothing.

Sure, the place could have been opened as a money-laundering operation, a tax write-off, a front for the Indian mafia or something like that. But I suspect some guy thought to himself, “I’m the one who’s going to make an Indian buffet restaurant work in this weird location.”

So here’s my business idea. I become a consultant. Aspiring restaurant openers (I HATE the word restaurateur for some reason. Where the hell did the n go?) will come to me, I will take their money, then sit them down and say, “ARE YOU FUCKING CRAZY? YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS OPENING A RESTAURANT! WHO’S YOUR CUSTOMER? WHERE’S YOUR FOOT TRAFFIC COMING FROM? WHERE ARE YOU MARKETING? ENJOY THE RESTAURANT FOOD BECAUSE YOU’LL BE EATING OUT OF CANS AFTER THIS THING GOES BELLY UP!”

Cara often calls me The Dream Crusher. It’s about time I put that skill to use. (Though that’s pretty much what editing is.)

Maybe I’ll be more polite than that. Maybe just send this video.

I feel it would be a real service. And I’m not going to be greedy about it. I’m only going to charge $5,000 or 10% for what you were planning to spend to open your restaurant — whichever makes you happy.

For this low fee — about half what 40 hours worth of restaurant consulting would cost from someone else — you get:

  • A tax deductible business expense.
  • Savings of anywhere between $50,000 and $500,000 depending on location.
  • Better credit — after you repay the loan you know you already took out without consulting with anyone else first.
  • A roof over your head — because you won’t be taking out multiple mortgages on your house.
  • Time to find a job that doesn’t require you to work seven days a week 365 days a year and/or manage ego-raging chefs, snotty high-school and college kids who think they’re better than you and border-line criminals.
  • A firm guarantee that your spouse will not spend the rest of you marriage (however long it may last) asking, “What did you do to us?”
  • The knowledge that you actually did spend money pursuing your dream.
  • The ability to tell friends, “Yeah, I looked into opening a restaurant, but my consultant said it wasn’t the way to go right now. I might invest in alpacas.” (Don’t invest in alpacas.)

Sounds like a win-win for everyone involved. Now all I have to do is go find some prime Manhattan office space. I need to look legit.

Suckling Pig Sous Vide

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I know this isn’t a suckling pig, but how cute is he? (Credit: Ben Salter)

Dear Internet,

For my birthday this year, Cara gave me an Anova Precision Cooker so I could try my hand at sous vide. I was hoping for a man-ring or maybe some sexy underwear*, but alas, another kitchen appliance.

It seems like a neat tool, even if its motto should be, “All the food you like in six times the amount of time you usually need to cook it.”

For those of you unfamiliar with sous vide, it’s the process by which you place your food in a plastic bag — typically vacuum-sealed (but it doesn’t have to be) — and then place the bag into a bath of water. The water is heated to the desired target temperature of your food. Medium-rare steak, for example, is somewhere in the 130-degree area. So you set your sous-vide to heat the water to 130, put the steak in a bag, draw the air out of the bag, seal it, plop it in the water and leave the steak in there for about an hour or longer (depending on thickness). You don’t have to worry about overcooking with sous vide, so you get very tender meat that is uniform all the way through. Just take it out the bag and sear it and voila! With the Anova Precision Cooker, all you need is a tub and water. You don’t have to do it anywhere near the stove. (Is “That’s what she said” still a thing?)

But instead of farting around with steak or chicken or pork chops, I figured I’d jump right in and start with a suckling pig.

I’ve got a tub big enough and the Food Saver that my good friend Shawn Adamson gave us as a wedding present came with a roll of bagging material sufficient to create a properly sized bag. As for the pig, it turns out you can find anything in Brooklyn.

But here’s where the problems start.

Getting the pig into the bag and getting the bag sealed. The pig didn’t seem to mind getting a marinade massage (Pro tip: Just steer clear of his eyes and snout!), but all hell broke loose when I tried to cram it into the bag. That damn piglet wasn’t remotely cooperative with getting into the bag. The squealing upset the dogs and, I’d assume, the neighbors. (Pro tip: If you have a landlord who lives downstairs, be sure to try this only when he’s at work.)

But mama didn’t raise no quitter. Eventually, the pig was bagged and the bag sealed.

The size of the tub. Although I knew it would take forever to heat the water with the wand, I thought a bigger tub would be better. (Pro tip: You can cheat by heating water on the stove to get it closer to temperature faster.) I figured it would allow the water to circulate better. But the bigger tub also allowed the pig to thrash around like crazy. I don’t know why I was surprised. I’ve boiled crawfish and crabs before, and they’ve never been happy about hitting the water. Who hasn’t lost at least one crawfish that managed to vault itself out of the pot before you clamp the lid down? But there’s no lid involved in sous vide, sadly. I guess part of me thought since the water wasn’t actually boiling, the pig wouldn’t mind as much. But boy did it?! And I ended up with water all over the kitchen. All I can say is thank god I didn’t do this on the living room table so I could watch TV while cooking. (Pro tip: Even though you CAN sous vide anywhere in the house, you should keep it in the kitchen for just this reason.  (Another Pro tip: Make sure your spouse isn’t home.))**

The sealed bag did restrict the pig’s movement some, but not as much as I would have liked. Maybe I need an industrial sealer. On the upside, I think the struggling did exhaust what little oxygen was still in the bag and he quieted down soon enough.

The mess. But before he finally quieted down and even though I’d removed any excess space in the bag, the pig managed to “leak” quite a bit. Thankfully, the bag held strong. Unfortunately, I had to throw the whole thing away.

Now look, you’re probably saying, “Duh, Ken. You have to clean an animal before you cook it like that.” But cooking is all about experimentation. You want to make the same scrambled eggs the same way your entire life, be my guest.

Besides, I thought maybe all the internal stuff would add flavor. It works with shrimp, doesn’t it? So why wouldn’t it work with a pig? Maybe next time I should purge the pig like people do with crawfish. But I’d like to avoid any harsh laxatives. Adding drugs or chemicals to the process defeats the whole purpose, right?

Anyway, if any of you have tried this and have had success, let me know!

NOTES:

*That’s a joke, yall.
** Ugh. Double parentheses. Do I even have the period in the right place on that one?