“People who come back from heaven all say the same thing… Try the gumbo”.
Gumbo. Just say the word and watch me start to drool. Everybody has his or her favorite. And, I’m sure there are as many variations as you would care to count. But, there’s only one that could get me to make a forty minute car ride into the city for absolutely no other reason.
In the Chicago loop, next to the “el” tracks on Wabash, tucked away on the seventh floor of an otherwise ordinary looking downtown professional building, is my personal gumbo mecca. The place is appropriately named, Heaven on Seven.
It’s housed in an old school Chicago building. A small convenience counter selling newspapers, gum and assorted sundries greets you when you make your way through the revolving doors. An attendant still directs you to the correct elevator. Even though the only place to go is up.
When you reach the seventh floor and the elevator doors push back you can only hope that the line of other salivating diners doesn’t stretch the full length of the hall. Usually it does. It’s a small space, compared to the mega eateries opening today. The line does move.
There’s usually a way to avoid the wait. It’s not a big insider secret. The counter. Yes, a full on coffee shop counter. And, most times there’s one vacant seat. You can settle in to a cramped stool, order a cup of gumbo and a jalapeño corn bread muffin and watch the frenetic pace of a Chicago dining landmark.
Since I don’t spend as much time in Chicago as I used too, I sometimes get an uncontrollable urge for their thick, super rich, Andouille laden stew. Especially around this time of year. But, at Heaven on Seven “It’s Mardi Gras All the Time”.
I have been mostly disappointed with all other surrogate gumbos I currently have access to (although some have come close. I couple of my favorites are listed at the end of this post). I figured this year I should try my hand at creating the real thing.
Back in 2000, chef/owner Jimmy Bannos put out a cookbook containing some of the restaurants signature dishes. During the planning and editing process, someone made the very unselfish decision to include the world’s best gumbo. Thank you.
Lucky for me I had a signed copy my wife gave me years ago sitting on a shelf in the kitchen for just this very occasion.
As I read through the recipe it became immediately clear that making great gumbo doesn’t happen by accident. This isn’t for beginners. The recipe itself includes no less than four ingredients that have their own individual recipes (something like, see page 134). No one said this would be a stroll through Jackson Square.
I’ve got a great old cast iron Dutch oven that was just meant for this dish. I figured it would be best to approach the process in two parts. I made all of the side recipes and prepped on the first day. On day two, I put it all together.
Usually, I would post the recipe here. But, it’s pretty widely available in print and on the web. You can find it without too much trouble. So instead, here’s the recipe for the Roasted-Garlic Puree that you’ll need for the finished product.
1 cup, garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 300. Place all of the garlic in a small ovenproof dish. Cover completely with the olive oil. Cover dish with foil and place in oven. Roast 1 hour or until garlic is soft and golden brown.
When finished strain the garlic from the oil. Place the garlic in a blender or small food processor. Puree until smooth. Add a small amount of the infused oil to get a nice pasty consistency. Store the finished puree in a small container and top with a thin layer of the oil. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. It will keep for a few days. You can store the infused oil separately. The oil would be an amazing base for a great Caesar salad dressing.
There a lot of ingredients in the gumbo recipe. So, be careful to follow the directions carefully. Double check.
Here’s my finished gumbo in all of it’s rich deliciousness.
I have to say it was right on! It turned out great. I was shocked at how close it was to the restaurant version. Amazing! Oh, you can’t have Jimmy’s gumbo without a corn bread muffin or two.
If you don’t want to go to the effort to make the original version you can still get a damn good bowl right here in Sarasota. These are my favorite local gumbo spots.
HALF SHELL OYSTER HOUSE
1991 Main Street
Sarasota, Florida 34236
LEE ROY SELMON’S
8253 Cooper Creek Boulevard
Sarasota, Florida 34201
Do you want to own a copy of Jimmy’s Heaven on Seven Cookbook? Click the book jacket below to you can order one of your very own.
Recipe adapted from: Roasted-Garlic Puree, The Heaven on Seven Cookbook, Jimmy Bannos and John DeMers ©2000, Ten Speed Press