My colleague Mark Richens sent me an e-mail saying I needed to check out the Grits & Gumbo at Flying Fish.
He wrote: "After the whole debate about using potato salad instead of rice with gumbo, this is the next step."
Jennifer Biggs, our food editor and dining reviewer, heard about gumbo over potato salad when she was in Cajun country in Louisiana a while back. When she wrote about it, someone called and told her she was insane and that nobody serves gumbo with potato salad. She was told you serve gumbo only with rice. She got some other responses saying she was totally wrong.
Kelly English, chef/owner of Restaurant Iris, stepped up for her. English, who is from New Orleans, told her he was very familiar with gumbo and potato salad. It's a country thing in Louisiana.
That said, I went to Flying Fish to try their Grits & Gumbo.
Don't expect a little bowl with soft grits on the bottom and gumbo poured on top; this is a 3-inch-or-so square block of deep-fried grits on a large plate with dark, rich gumbo and shrimp on top.
"It's a Southern thing," said John May, Flying Fish general manager.
Restaurant owner Shannon Wynne came up with the recipe, May said. The Memphis restaurant is one of five that began in Little Rock. "Flying Fish is a Southern concept, so it made sense to have some kind of grits," May said. Grits and gumbo are the "perfect pairing."
I agree. They're delicious and only cost $6.99. Flying Fish introduced them two months ago. They're not even on the menu.
It takes four hours to make the gumbo, which includes andouille sausage. "The roux takes 40, 45 minutes alone," May said.
The roux gives the gumbo its "thickness and richness." The heat of the cayenne pepper hits the back of your throat.
They didn't want to use soft grits because they'd be too mushy, like rice. The deep-fried grits cake, which includes Parmesan cheese and seasonings, "gives it a different texture that's nice."
May knows a thing or two about gumbo. "I have relatives down in Louisiana."
His Aunt Beverly makes gumbo down in Chackbay, La., but she makes a broth-based file gumbo instead of a roux gumbo. She also uses alligator tails and crawfish. "The whole swamp is in there."
And she uses a whole chicken. "The chicken makes the broth."
May also makes gumbo. "Mine is spicy. I like to kick it up when I cook mine."
But the Flying Fish gumbo is "the best I ever had," May said.
By the way, May invented another Southern dish served at Flying Fish -- BBQ Catfish Tacos. I'll save that for a future story.
Flying Fish is at 105 S. Second; 522-8228.
-- Michael Donahue: 529-2797; email@example.com