Best Bet: Gumbo

Gumbo at Stone Soup Café & Market.

Photo by Michael Donahue, Michael Donahue/The Commercial Appeal // Buy this photo

Gumbo at Stone Soup Café & Market.

Sharon Johnson's gumbo at Stone Soup Café & Market is chock-full of chicken, shrimp, sausage and vegetables. It's thick. It's a meal in itself. It's excellent.

The surprise? "I've never even been to New Orleans," said Johnson, who is co-owner with Emily Bishop of the Midtown restaurant. "I've never stepped foot in Louisiana."

Johnson came up with the recipe a year and a half ago. "I started scouring recipes and came up with my own concoction."

She wanted something "spicy, not too hot" that you could "taste all the flavors. Three meats in it kind of pleases everybody."

The gumbo is made with shrimp, chicken thigh meat -- "the dark meat" -- and green onion-smoked sausage, which is made in Mississippi, and the "holy trinity -- celery, peppers and onions." Her roux is a "mid-color roux, not dark."

She originally made the gumbo for the Stone Soup Social Club, an every-Thursday-night social gathering at Haynes Knight's house in Cooper-Young. "They licked the pot clean."

People said, "You need to put that on a menu at a restaurant."

She responded, "OK, I will."

Johnson, who owned Buns on the Run for 111/2 years and helped open the Trolley Stop Market, asked Knight if she could call her new restaurant "Stone Soup Café."

"It epitomizes community, which I feel I'm all about," said Johnson, who was on the founding board of the Cooper-Young Farmers Market and was a board member of the Cooper-Young Neighborhood Association and the Cooper-Young Development Corp.

The gumbo was on the menu when she opened Stone Soup Café 12 weeks ago.

It's not her biggest seller; her Stone Soup is the most popular item. She made the soup for years at Buns on the Run, but she called it Beef Cabbage Soup. Before she opened her restaurant, she did some research on the name "Stone Soup" and discovered it was in fact a beef cabbage soup.

"Total irony."

Stone Soup Café & Market is located at 993 S. Cooper; (901) 922-5314.

-- Michael Donahue: (901) 529-2797; donahue@commercialappeal.com

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