CHICAGO (WLS) -- Like all gumbos, the first step is making a roux - that's just equal parts flour and fat - and at the new Epiphany in Lincoln Park, across the street from the old Children's Memorial Hospital - they go with butter and flour.
"A roux is a flour-based, almost gravy if you will, but has a consistency allowing you to have a base for your gumbo," said owner Carmelia Wrenn.
Her roux is cooked until dark, almost chocolate in color. After that, there's the "trinity" of celery, onions and peppers, plus spices like cayenne, not to mention chicken thighs, spicy andouille sausage, gulf shrimp and fresh crabmeat. It's served over white rice, and you'll notice no okra. They prefer to use file powder instead.
"My thickening is file. Not an okra fan so no okra in my gumbo," she said.
In South Suburban Blue Island, the venerable Maple Tree Inn has been cranking out pots of gumbo and other New Orleans specialties for 40 years. Here, thickening is done by making a roux first.
"In gumbo, there's typically three; you've got either roux, file and then okra. Gumbo in West African actually translates to okra," said Erich Wennberg, chef and co-owner of the Maple Tree Inn.
Caramelized onions are the secret here, along with homemade chicken stock.
"Then we add our house made, house smoked Andouille sausage, some wonderful Gulf shrimp, and then we do a simple roasted chicken that we break apart and add that to our gumbo as well," he said.
The resulting bowl is a bit thinner than what you might expect, but that's the intention. A scoop of white rice allows for a little extra starch and flavor absorption, and the hope is that this iconic bowl does more than nourish.
"Is this what I remember, does it evoke those feelings of 'oh my gosh, this is the greatest Cajun dish that I've ever had.' And ours is a traditional Creole gumbo where I think it does that," said Wennberg.
Now they're going to have expanded hours on Fat Tuesday, so reservations recommended because they're going to be making hundreds of gallons of gumbo and live music here on the Friday after Fat Tuesday. When you make reservations, request to sit out here in the main dining room - also known as the veranda - for a really unique experience.
734 W. Fullerton
Maple Tree Inn
13301 S. Old Western Ave., Blue Island
Other places to get in on the Fat Tuesday spirit:
1072 N. Milwaukee Ave; 773-772-4322
New Orleans native Brian Jupiter focuses on quality Southern comfort food, but on Fat Tuesday, Frontier pulls out all the stops with an authentic Louisiana shrimp boil. $33 will get you all-you-can eat shrimp, potatoes, and corn, plus a complimentary piece of King Cake (and plastic baby if you're lucky). They'll also have additional food and drink specials including Red Beans and Rice ($10), Shrimp Po'boys ($13), Hurricanes ($5), Sazeracs ($6), and Abita beer ($4). The Shrimp Boil will be held Tuesday, February 17 at 6 p.m.; tickets can be purchased here.
2523 N. Milwaukee Ave; 773-904-8567
This blink-and-you'll-miss-it Logan Square lounge (with no sign) offers a great lineup of unique, fairly-priced cocktails along with a menu of authentic Cajun food that goes beyond the basics. I highly recommend their gumbo, biscuits and stuffed mirliton (chayote squash).
Heaven on Seven
111 N. Wabash; 312-263-6443
224 S. Main Street, Naperville; 630-717-0777
If you're looking for throwback Cajun and Creole food to break up your workday this Fat Tuesday, you can't do better than Chef Jimmy Bannos' Heaven on Seven, with its convenient Loop location. Or you could stop by their Naperville location for dinner and enjoy a full menu of Louisiana favorites along with live music. True, there may be some stress in the air, due to the messy lawsuit with former partner Scott Harris and the recent closing of the Rush St. location, but the original location, in the Garland Coffee Shop space, with its festive atmosphere and live music is always a great little respite in the Loop at lunchtime. The gumbo is still great.
1636 Old Deerfield Road, Highland Park; 847-831-0595
Bluegrass is worth checking out for their fine Southern food in a casual atmosphere. And if you're looking for a change of pace this Fat Tuesday, they're hosting a Mardi Gras Cooking School event February 15th from $12-2:30 pm. For $50 guests will learn to make (and eat) an entire menu of Southern classics.
Gumbo a Fat Tuesday treat at Chicago eateries
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