Sometime in 2005, I fell in love with a small eatery on Frankfort Avenue called Gumbo A-Go Go. It served a short menu of Cajun-style dishes, served over rice in big white bowls. The beer-infused Drunken Chicken became a favorite meal for me in an affair that would last for many years.
For a time, I went there for dinner every Tuesday, in part for the $1 PBRs, but also thanks to the addition of a super-spicy dish called Voodoo Chicken, which always satisfied my craving for spice.
But when the small company began to focus on franchising, and the named changed to J. Gumbo’s, I started noticing inconsistencies from spot to spot around town.
A Fourth Street Live location came and went, and many different franchise stores also opened and closed. I eventually stopped going, even though I never really meant to.
But a new location opened in the Highlands in March, and the brand remains in 11 different U.S. states. More recently, the original Frankfort Avenue location, still owned by co-founder Billy Fox, recently underwent a closure, renovation and reopen.
Based on a recent experience there for lunch, the future looks as bright as it did in 2005.
The space is the same size, but plenty of changes have occurred. A colorful mural has been added to one side of the building, and the original Gumbo A-Go Go sign hangs in tribute.
The dining area feels much cleaner and less haphazard than it once did. The front part of the room is made up white blocks with red and dark green trim, with New Orleans-flavored décor.
The back portion feels a bit more modern, with dark green and charcoal black walls, black metal chairs with wood and tabletops and a tan concrete floor. Copper plates along the walls help give the space an almost industrial feel.
Chandeliers hang from the ceilings along the center in the dining area dominated mostly by two-tops.
The front deck area is still open for outdoor dining with a gray block border and festooned in hanging planters with colorful flowers.
One tradition I always loved at J. Gumbo’s was that if you wanted a sample of anything on the menu, they would happily serve one up as you walked in to order, fast-casual-style.
I went in for lunch with my girlfriend, Cynthia, who had never dined there, and the young man at the main counter was more than happy to make recommendations, offering samples of Bourbon Street Chicken, the house jambalaya, Bumblebee Stew and Honey Sriracha Chicken. (I had never tried the latter and found it to be a pleasant balance between sweet honey and rich Sriracha.)
Not terribly hungry, she opted for just a side of Bumblebee Stew, a vegetarian option made with sweet corn, black beans, stewed tomatoes and onions in a creamy base.
But I was determined to revisit my favorites. I asked if one of my other favorite J. Gumbo’s traditions — mixing two different dishes side by side in a single bowl — was still an option and was pleased to find out it was.
Back in 2005, anything on the menu was $5 a bowl. Thirteen years later, the price has increased to just $6.99, and it’s a buck extra to get a mix of two. And the cashier told me that the special of the day was a free peach cobbler with any entrée.
Our food came out in mere moments, including the dessert, and we got to work. Cynthia loved the sweet, chunky stew with just a hint of spicy kick, while she also noted a fondness for the Drunken Chicken, which she said she may get on her next visit.
For my part, I was simply happy to see ample portions that transported me back to the mid- to late-2000s. The Drunken Chicken was exactly as I remembered it: full of flavor, with plenty of garlic, tomatoes and Cajun spices, a bit floury (almost fluffy, in a way) and packed with big chunks of pulled chicken, both white and dark meat. The dish is just spicy enough to please most any palate.
Meanwhile, my Voodoo Chicken was another happy trip down memory lane. The thick, tomato-based stew was what might happen if Drunken Chicken got sober and had a love child with some really spicy creole. The spices are amped to the point that by the third bite, I thought, “Yep, there it is,” and my taste buds came alive.
I had a bite of the cobbler, but donated the bulk of it to Cynthia, who finished every morsel. Interestingly, it was like a bread pudding with fresh peaches added. Quite nice.
We both were full, even though Cynthia had only a side and a dessert.
“That’s a pretty hearty lunch,” she said. “It’s like we would have fuel to wrestle a gator once we got done. Not that we’re going to.”
Beer is not currently available at the Frankfort location, but it should return by early July. In addition, there are several options that are different from back when I frequented J. Gumbo’s, such as dishes like spinach and mushroom etouffee, Cajun Corn Stew, a make-your-own-nachos option, and mac and cheese as a side.
My guess, however, is I’ll be sticking with the chicken. I need to make up for lost time.
J. Gumbo’s in Clifton is located at 2109 Frankfort Ave. and is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. A third location, in addition to the Highlands, is at 8603 Citadel Way in Stony Brook.