J. Gumbo’s – Kalamazoo
There are a lot of chain restaurants in the Kalamazoo area….but heck, that’s true for almost any decently sized metro area. Chains are the safest bet when it comes to opening a restaurant. You already have the name recognition and, in some cases, the following of people who want you to open a store.
The real downside to the chains is pretty obvious. It’s variety. You really have the choice between Mexican (sorta….Tex Mex? American Mexican?), sandwich shops, burger joints, pizza or fried chicken. Sure, there are a couple of niche places in there, but there really isn’t a lot of variety.
The newest addition to Kalamazoo chain restaurant scene is unlike any other place in town.
J. Gumbo’s serves up what they claim to be authentic Louisiana cooking in a small building on the corner of Westnedge and Cork in the South Westnedge Neighborhood. The previous tenant was a Big Apple Bagels which closed a few years ago.
J. Gumbo’s, according to the history on their website, is the brainchild of Cajun chef Billy Fox, Jr. who settled in Kentucky after many years of opening Cajun restaurants around the country. He opened a store called Gumbo A Go-Go! in 2005 which eventually became J. Gumbo’s in 2007 in a name change to stop people from asking if they were a Go-Go club.
The Kalamazoo location is the only Michigan location at this point in a chain that spans 11 states and 15 stores.
Parking is a little tricky at this odd intersection. The lot is behind the building and is really only accessible from Westnedge Avenue. Cork Street is kind of an odd street at this point. Technically, you can get to the lot from Cork, but you can’t do so if you’re coming from the east. You would have to turn in to Flair Interiors to access the J. Gumbo’s lot which I do see a lot of people do.
The entrance to the restaurant for most people is from that back parking lot. However, that entrance is not ADA accessible due to a small flight of stairs just inside the door. If you can’t make it down those stairs, you will have to go around to the front of the building where the patio is and enter from there.
The restaurant has gone under a lot of renovation since the days from when it was a bagel shop. The order process is set up like a Moe’s Southwest Grill which was actually kind of annoying. I was doing carry-out for three items and I had to keep bringing the server back to me once she finished what she was making. She assumed I was done and was moving on to the next person.
The menu at J. Gumbo’s was a little intimidating at first. In all honesty, I’ve never really had much in the way of Cajun or Creole food. I really didn’t understand what gumbo or Po’ Boys are, so I went in a little blind, but left with a new appreciation.
The first thing I ordered was an appetizer. J wanted to try the VooDoo Nachos, so I got those for us to split. I really want to point out here how great the employees were and how much care they took in making these so they didn’t get soggy on the drive home. When I said all my order was to go, the lady working the counter told me she was going to pack the chips and the toppings separately. Doing it this way prevented the chips from steaming and getting soggy on the way home.
This tactic worked out amazingly well. The chips were pretty simple tortilla chips. The toppings consisted of VooDoo Chicken, cheddar cheese, jalapenos, sour cream, and VooDoo spice. These nachos were spicy! VooDoo Chicken on it’s own is supposed to be pretty spicy…I’ve never made it or had it before this lunch trip….but adding in the jalapenos took the spice level up a couple notches. (is this where I yell, “BAM!”?) The chicken is pretty finely shredded and the toppings were loaded on pretty liberally. I think I liked this one a little more than J did, but tend to like spicy things (to a point).
J went with something much milder for her meal choice. She did the Bourbon Street Chicken Big Bowl. The bowls are done with the choice of white or brown rice then topped with the chicken. The topping choices are the same as for the nachos….cheese, jalapenos, sour cream, green onion, and VooDoo Spice. The Bourbon Street chicken is the mild chicken choice on the menu. It’s made with Hoisin sauce which gives it a little bit of sweetness. J told me after eating the bowl that it was different, but different in a good way.
I don’t really like rice, so I went for the other option on the menu with the Po’ Boy. I ordered the Drunken Chicken Po’ Boy and like with the nachos, the bread was packed separately from the meat and toppings. Like I mentioned earlier, I don’t really have any experience with Po’Boys and since it wasn’t totally made for me, I put it together like a sandwich. there were two slices of French bread in the Styrofoam container, so that’s how I made it. The menu says they’re served open face, so I probably did it wrong. Whatever, it was delicious.
J. Gumbo’s claims their Drunken Chicken is famous. The chicken is simmered with garlic, tomatoes, and Cajun spices, so it has a little bit of a kick to it, but not too much. The Po’ Boys are topped with green onions, but I also added some shredded cheddar cheese to mine. This sandwich would have been much if the bread wasn’t so thick. There was quite a bit of chicken for me to put on the sandwich, but there was also A LOT of bread, so that is really the flavor that dominated. I really do like the shredded, tender, flavorful chicken so this is definitely a sandwich I would order again.
There’s not a lot in the way of sides at J. Gumbo’s. J’s bowl actually came with a slice of french bread, but we didn’t find it in the bag until after lunch was over. My sandwich came with a bag of Zapp’s Chips. They had quite a few flavors to choose from, but I kept it simple with the Regular Flavor.
Our meal at J. Gumbo’s cost a little over $20. J. Gumbo’s was a really good introduction into Cajun/Creole food for me. I know it’s a fast casual chain and that there will be better stuff out there if I try, but having no previous experience with that type of cooking (other than blackened chicken), I can say I really enjoyed it. The biggest advantage right now is that there just isn’t any other place like it in the area. That will be the draw for a while, but I think people will keep coming back for the unique flavors and dishes from this humble little chain.