It is not the coldest corner of the country in the middle of February but I nonetheless had a certain trepidation in traveling to Columbus, Ohio for a week on business. They promised that it wouldn't snow but The Weather Channel assured me most wickedly that the high temperature all that week would not be greater than 40 degrees. Northern Texas was already heading in to the low-60s where the citizens were breaking out big hair and flip flops again, happy to be alive and living "Deepinahearta." We so spoiled!
As mentioned part of my desire in traveling is to experience restaurants and foods only the locals know about. Well, J. Gumbo's is something that only the locals will know about but at the same time it was yet another example of "Who goes to Ohio for good cajun cooking?" Wednesday afternoon for lunch one of my co-workers acquainted us with this new establishment, built in the shell of a former Panera outlet. Squeezed in beside an orthodontist office it would easily have been missed on Granville Street in Gahanna but we arrived just ahead of the lunch rush and were served quickly.
The style is cafeteria with a large menu on the wall that divides the entrees in to four heat levels so diners will know exactly what they can tolerate within the burst of flavors served over rice. All dishes are arrayed behind a large glass sneeze-guard. Being new to the area, small samples of the dishes are available with me trying both the Bourbon Chicken and the Voodoo Chicken, the latter of which I ultimately settle on with a mix of red beans and rice, absolute staple of Louisiana cooking. My co-workers went with the Voodoo chicken and the white chili which was supposed to be only mildly spicy. Our selections were served in a large bowl with what appeared to be a full half loaf of hard crust bread for dipping.
For less than $7 per serving the price was right but my one grudge was in the size of the portions. Cajun food is served in massive quantities given that much of it is based on stews, soups and small critters; no slab of beef with two sides, it is a potent mixture of spices, vegetables, small bits of chicken and or shell fish. Maybe we only received the lunch portion but it was still filling enough with the rice and the loaf of bread.
Voodoo is a subtle form of magic and the namesake food compliments it well. Where the single-spoon sample was instantly alive with cayenne peppers and other strong spices it wasn't initially hot enough to be intimidating. My serving did not include the cayenne spice dusting that comes with the dish but my co-worker's did. The front of my face had a nice warmth to it at the end of the meal where my colleague was shedding funeral tears by the time it was all over.
The point of Louisiana cooking is not heat for the sake of it with exotic ingredients underneath but merely to evoke the feeling of being in the moment within the atmosphere. J. Gumbo's pulls in the middle of suburban Ohio.