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Ragin’ Cajun

At Gumbo’s Cajun Restaurant in Fayetteville, it’s all about farm fresh ingredients, made-from-scratch recipes, and—of course—that perfect bowl of gumbo.

Photo Courtesy of Gumbo's Cajun Restaurant

For Susan Jones, owning and operating Gumbo’s Cajun Restaurant has been a culmination of influences and aspirations. Her parents lived in the Low Country of South Carolina, so she grew up eating traditional Cajun dishes. “I remember gumbo as what happens at the end of the turkey. First you make turkey sandwiches, then you make turkey casseroles, and last was the gumbo,” Susan says. She has spent years working in restaurants, from her first job at the age of 14 to numerous cooking jobs around Fayetteville since she moved to town in 2001. When Gumbo’s went up for sale in 2009, Susan knew she had to snatch it up. “I was ready to make a change in my life, and this restaurant seemed like such a good fit.”

It has proven to be a great fit. Gumbo’s operated under different ownership prior to Susan’s possession of it, and she’s enjoyed taking what they started and making it her own. “It’s neat to see how it’s evolved and where we’ve arrived,” she says. One of the first changes she made was in sourcing. “I support local farms as much as possible. It’s important to me,” she says. “I don’t want to feed anyone something that I wouldn’t feed my family.” She gets her beef from Randolph County, and she works with the local farmers’ markets as much as possible. All of her shrimp and crawfish comes from the Gulf, and her fish is shipped fresh daily from a dock in Hawaii.

Not to mention, Susan and her staff constantly work to tweak recipes and prepare food that is authentic and delicious. For Susan, that means an occasional trip to Louisiana for inspiration. “I have friends in the area, so I get the local experience,” she says. Days are spent eating in small restaurants hidden on street corners, or visiting potlucks with homemade etouffee, red beans and rice, and gumbo. “There isn’t one tried and true gumbo. Everyone does it differently. We’ve spent four years exploring to get one that we’re happy with,” she says.

A namesake dish, the gumbo is incredible—a roux-based sauce with 11 herbs and spices, oysters, Andouille sausage, shrimp, and crawfish served over aromatic white rice. “It’s not creamy, but it’s thick with a rich, dark flavor,” Susan says. You won’t want to miss the shrimp and grits, either. This classic Southern dish starts with a sauté of garlic, Andouille sausage, and applewood bacon before adding peppers, onions, and nine large Gulf Shrimp. It’s served over a heaping portion of stone-ground grits mixed with a generous helping of Gouda cheese. If you’re looking for some customization, a steam pot is the way to go. “We’ll add whatever seafood you want in the pot along with Andouille sausage, corn, potatoes,” says Susan. “It comes out in a giant pot. It’s great for sharing.”

Andouille sausage and seafood are fixtures in Cajun cooking, but Susan has enjoyed finding ways to open the dishes up to vegetarians and vegans. “I have a lot of friends who don’t eat meat or animal products. They should be entitled to the opportunity to enjoy a real meal when going out, wherever they choose to go,” she says. Gumbo’s uses oil instead of butter when possible, and diners can substitute tempeh, tofu, Portobello mushrooms, or veggie patties on burgers and sandwiches. The tempeh reuben is a favorite, as is the tempeh muffaletta—but a vegetarian gumbo? It may be on the horizon. “I’ve been working on that one for a while,” Susan says. “It’s tricky. We haven’t perfected it… yet.”

Vegetarian or omnivore, Gumbo’s is the place to be for Sunday brunch in Fayetteville. It’s possibly the only place in the state where chicken and waffles is served alongside West Virginia’s favorite breakfast dish, biscuits and gravy. But the real treat is Susan’s eggs benedict. “Who doesn’t want to eat hollandaise sauce?” she says. “I play around with it a lot. I’ve made Meyer lemon, key lime, cilantro variations. It depends on what’s available.” She’s put brunch on hold until the end of August, when they move in to their new space next door. It’s the corner location where The Vandalian used to be, and Susan is excited to have more space. “We have a line out the door most nights. It’ll be nice to have the extra room to keep those people inside,” she says.

With business booming at Gumbo’s, Susan feels like she has found her stride. “I love the freedom. I get to work with my children, and having the opportunity to give my sons a skill while spending time with them is a gift.” Not to mention, she’s doing something she’s passionate about that is supported by the community. “Cooking is a meditation for me. It’s a creative outlet,” she says. “There’s nothing I love more than to see a crowd of familiar faces in my restaurant. Sharing it with them, seeing them react to that first bite—there’s something to be said about it.”

Gumbo’s Cajun Restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Gumbo’s Cajun Restaurant, 101 South Court Street, Fayetteville, WV 25840, 304.574.4704

 

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