Boasting the best in fast-casual Cajun and Creole cooking, J. Gumbo's has tried hard to decorate to get you in a laissez les bon temps rouler mood by decorating the place with beads and masks hanging from the lamps and reproductions of primitive paintings of New Orleans music icons on the walls. You know the kind I'm talking about; the ones with the frame painted to look folksy.
The menu is fairly simple and straightforward with an assortment of protein/rice bowls, po' boy sandwiches and wraps. They are clearly marked with the expected spice level according to the number of hot sauce bottle icons next to the item, and in fact the house hot sauce was actually pretty good. I'd say it's closer to Crystal than Tabasco, which is always a positive to me. The flavor profiles of the bowls are described well, which is fortunate because looking at the steam table it was difficult to discern between Bourbon Street Chicken, Drunken Chicken and Voodoo Chicken. Servers were very generous with samples and advice if you want some assistance in making your choice.
The reason that many of the entrees look similar is probably attributable to something I saw on the website before my visit, something I have to admit made me a little nervous. Under the FAQs for potential franchisees, they list only three pieces of cooking equipment necessary to open a franchise:
• Toaster for preparing French bread
• Microwave oven for reheating small batches
• Rethermalizer for heating food
A rethermalizer? I had to look that one up. Basically it's a huge "boil in bag" unit that can be used to prepare all the food except for the French bread. Again, according to the FAQ, "We cook and package our authentic Cajun & Creole menu items at our USDA-approved kitchens, remaining faithful to Billy Fox Jr.’s proven recipes. This guarantees consistency across stores and protects the J. Gumbo’s brand.
"Your food order is shipped precooked to your store. You simply heat and serve. What could be easier? And with our nationwide supply chain, you can have confidence you’ll get your order when and where you need it."
You can get J. Gumbo's meals in a bowl of rice served with a hunk of French bread, or you can go the extra step and they will pour the same stuff that goes into the bowl on top of a piece of the same bread, top it with another piece of bread and call it a po' boy. At least they serve Zapp's chips to add an element of Louisiana authenticity.
If you're looking for quick, cheap Cajun fare or maybe you happened to accidentally leave your lunch box at home, J. Gumbo's is another downtown option for you.