Posts Tagged ‘gumbo’

Luella Southern Kitchen

Luella’s Southern Kitchen is just the sort of place you need to find on a dreary day when you could do with a dose of Southern Soul and some homely food to warm your heart. Located on North Lincoln, it is well worth the 10 minute walk south from the Western El Stop in Lincoln Square. There are so many great places to eat in this neighbourhood you would need a good month to work you way (sensibly) through them all. Luckily for me this had been my home base for several years so I have been able to dine and drink my way along this strip over the years.

I have had my eye on Luella’s for some time, on my last visit back to Chicago I had chanced upon the place but sadly on the day it was closed and I did not get a chance to dine here. This trip though it was still on my mind and I had already reserved a spot on the myfoodhunt ‘places to dine without fail’ list. I was to be very glad that I had made that mental note to return.

The Chef / Owner at Luella’s is Darnell Reed and he was there in the kitchen, cooking up my food and serving up my gumbo when I visited which that made the trip even more enjoyable. The place and the food is largely inspired by his great grandmother Luella. You can read about the story of his inspiration and journey on the restaurant website so check that out here on the ‘meet the chef’ page.

Inside this is one of those places where you order up at the counter and they give you one of those flag / sign type things so they know which table you are sitting at. I am not really a fan of restaurants where you pay for your food before you eat, but I kind of like that I can just move table with my number if I find a better spot.

Gumbo, po-boys, shrimp and grits, chicken and dumplings, and oh so much more good stuff it was so hard to choose! I really wanted everything!

But there were two dishes that jumped out at me. The lady at the counter convinced me that I could eat both dishes so I gambled and decided to be greedy and ordered both!

What did I choose and eat?

Short Rib Mac N Cheese

Short Rib Mac n Cheese

First up was a bowl of the ‘Forever Braised Shortrib Mac and Cheese’ served in a ‘Mornay Sauce’, with ‘Buttered Bread Crumbs’ for $12

It is hard to describe just how good this was, now OK I am doubtful about the style of the pasta, but I let that slide, just as I let each silky mouthful slide into my mouth. It was not just that the pasta was cooked perfectly, and that the sauce was rich and creamy and oh so decadent, no, it was the Soft, tender and plentiful short rib that was the kicker. It had amazing flavour, the juices of the meat mixed into the cheese sauce adding a depth that is usually reserved for the deep end of the flavour pool.

I could easily have eaten the whole bowlful. oh hang on I did eat the whole bowlful! I suppose what I am saying is that you will be surprised how easily you can, and how much you will ‘need’ to keep on and on eating this bowl of mac and cheese. Definitely one to share, or maybe just one to order and keep for yourself.

Whatever you think you need, I implore you to order this, even if you think you have too much food coming,

You need to eat at least one bite, and when you do eat that bite, you will find the desire to eat more than one bite.

Chicken Gumbo

Gumbo at Luellas Southern Kitchen

Second up was a bowl of their Chicken Gumbo for $8 described on the menu as Chicken Gumbo, Dark Roux, Creole Seasoning, Andouille Sausage, Carolina Gold Rice”

I liked that this was served up table side. Darnell came out with a bowl partly filled with white rice and then he poured the gumbo sauce into the bowl as I watched. Not sure why but I guess that it stops the rice getting too soggy. This was one of the best Gumbo I have had outside of Louisiana, the sauce or gravy is kind of half way between a soup and a stew, rich, dark, and deep.

It is like a big hug of Creole in a bowl. There is plenty of sausage and chicken in there and with the submerged rice is quite filling. Having said that, even though it is a rich dish, when you get to the bottom of that bowl, your mouth and taste buds still desire more of that magical Southern tang.

Just like the Mac n Cheese, even though  my brain was telling me I really should stop eating, my mouth was taking no notice. It really is a good job that I didn’t order three dishes.

I really like Luella’s Southern Kitchen next time I am back in the city I will pop to Lincoln Square to dine again.

I will find it hard to resist eating the same dishes again,

but I really want to try a PoBoy, the Chicken and Dumplings, and the Shrimp and Grits.

Luella’s Southern Kitchen is located at 4909 N Lincoln.

It is 5-10 mins south of the Western CTA station and about 15 mins around the corner from the Montrose stop, both on the Brown Line


Luella's Southern Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Old TownThe Spice House

I have only been to The Spice House in Old Town a handful of times, but there is just something about the place that takes you on an imaginary journey to a spice warehouse on the old Spice Routes between the old and new worlds. I think it is the aroma of freshly ground spices that hits your nostrils as you walk through the door, this combined with the rows and rows of glass jars all around the somewhat cluttered space. The air is filled with spice, probably as the staff are constantly mixing up blends in front of you and pouring or is it as they are decanting ground spices and spice mixes from the huge jars into smaller vessels and packets for the eager buyers?

Local Spice Blends Tomato Powder

There are so many blends, rubs, spices, teas and all sorts that it would be impossible to list them here, but they are all listed on their website so check that out. Each time I have been in here I have seen something new that I did not even know that you could get. This time is was Tomato powder, I had a taste and it was just the essence of tomato, I do not know what we are going to use it for, but we know have some in the store cupboard ready and awaiting. Apparantly  1 Tablespoon tomato powder is the equivalent of 1/4 Cup ketchup.

File Powder Cajun Creole Mix

What we were actually in search of was some File powder to add to some planned Gumbo. File powder is the powdered leaves of the sassafras tree. To be honest we didn’t know how this was used in Gumbo, or what it tasted like, we just knew that we needed some to get that true authentic flavour. The Staff in the shop were so knowledgable that the lady serving us gave us her personal Gumbo recipe and explained how she used the File powder herself. If you want to know how then you will have to go in and find her yourself, I am not giving up this trade secret just yet. Although I expect that practically every cajun cookbook will give you just as good advice. More details of the File Powder is on their website together with some links to it’s use in recipes; If her advice works then I will let you in on her secret.

On top of that to assist us with our attempts of some Southern style Cajun cooking  we got our hands on a pack of the “King Creole Lousiana- Style seasoning” which is “Hand mixed from: salt, paprika, high bulk garlic, onion, black and red pepper, Greek oregano, and thyme“. We actually had to make a second special trip all the way back down to Old Town just get some of this, as we regretted not buying a packet when we got the File powder. More details of the seasoning on their website;

Brisket Rub

I have recently become addicted to brisket, or is it obsessed? One or the other or probably both. As a result I could not resist getting one of the many rubs for meat that they have on mass in the jars at the Spice House. I was drawn to the “Brisket  of Love ” Barbeque Rub  – It’s quite hard to read the ingredients off the label so to make it easier they are as follows “cane sugar, brown sugar, Hungarian sweet paprika, salt, ancho chile, tellicherry pepper, worcestershire powder, cayenne, celery seed, garlic, New Mexican chillies, coriander, green onion, citric acid, and mesquite smoke powder.” I have no idea of the proportions, but it gives you an idea of what is in there. I am going to try this one out by rubbing onto my brisket , leaving to cure a bit and then slow cooking. I will let you know how good it is.

You can get more detail on the story of this particular rub on their website. It is a nice story worth reading and they give advice on how to use it as well. Advice that I will be taking, so thanks guys for that help;

The Spice House has one of the best websites by a purveyor that I have seen for sometime. Not only do they give a pretty comprehensive details of all their spices and rubs, but they also give links to recipes that people have used these spices in. I was particularly interested in the southern section and the different gumbo recipes. Well worth checking out, even if  you are not interested in buying any spices, it is worth it just for the cooking tips that are left in the comments sections of each recipe.

Big Jones

Last year we went to New Orleans and had some pretty decent Louisiana Southern Cooking, including some of that gumbo. I had heard from some local NOLA alumni that the place to get Southern Food in Chicago was at Big Jones in Andersonville. So I booked it for lunch to see what their gumbo was like and try some more of that Southern Food.

When I perused the menu I just could not really decide what to get, I wanted to try the gumbo, but I also wanted rice and beans, and I wanted the chicken and dumpling soup, and also I really fancied getting my hands and mouth around their butcher’s platter. I kind of figured that was not realistic, so we settled on sharing the ‘Butchers block’, and a small gumbo each.

Homemade Corn Bread

I wasn’t going to mention it as on the face of it, this is just cornbread. But I cannot lie, I have never had corn bread like this before. It arrived warm straight from the oven, it was savoury and sweet at the same time. The soft bread was interspersed with chunks of fresh sweetcorn. If this was anything to go by, then I had a feeling that we were going to be in for a good meal.

Butcher's Block

The Butchers Block is listed as ‘Authentic Cajun charcuterie made in house’. On the face of it the board does not look that big or overwhelming, but we were pretty full by the end of eating it, and we had not even got the gumbo yet. But lets get back to that board.

Left to Right we had

On the top left some ‘Potted Guinea Hen’ which was “Local guinea fowl preserved in its own aspic with Madeira and herbs, served with sweet quince pickle, bourbon-brown sugar mustard” I was really quite taken with this one. The guinea fowl meat was nice and gamey, the aspic was well flavoured kept the whole piece quite juicy. It came with slices of sweet quince which really added light sweetness to each mouthful.

On the bottom left was the Tête de Cochon, a hog’s head pâté, made with brandy and peppercorns. This was accompanied with bourbon-brown sugar mustard. You really needed to use the mustard to cut through the strong flavour. I enjoyed this one the least, it was good but the strong flavour from my initial bite, became stronger with the next bite.

Top Middle was the black pudding or rather the official name was Boudin Rouge. This was a cajun blood sausage, I am not sure exactly what was in it, but it did have a mild cinnamon flavour which I thought was a bit unusual. I really liked it.

Bottom Middle was the Andouille sausage which is Slow-smoked over pecan wood, quite nice but this had the least distinctive flavour of all the charcuterie items on the board.

Top right was my favourite item of all the board. This was the Tasso Ham, the menu describes this as ‘Heavily spiced, dry cured and smoked for two days’, it had a really good mild curry flavour, it went well with the pimiento cheese, and piccalilli. There were also some house made benne crackers which also were good with the cheese.

Overall this was a really good butcher’s board. I would have liked a little more explanation of everything on it, but that was just a minor thing. I had taken a picture of that section of the menu on my phone, so we just kept referring back to that to see what we were eating.


After all that a nice warm bowl of the Gumbo Ya-Ya arrived, the menu describes this as a ‘Traditional Cajun chicken & sausage gumbo in dark, smoky roux, with buttered aromatic rice from Arkansas’ It was a little different from the gumbo that I had in New Orleans, it certainly had the right dark colour for the roux which showed me that it had been cooked down for the right amount of time, it was however a little bit more bitter tasting than I remembered. I still enjoyed it, but the bitterness and the deep richness of the sauce made me glad I had only got the starter size.

I quite liked Big Jones, but it made me realise that some of that food I got down in New Orleans may not have been quite the same, maybe I was just getting the stuff they give to tourists. I may not go back to Big Jones, but I have a resolve to go back down South to see if I can get some better local cajun food.

Check out the menu and the details at

Big Jones on Urbanspoon