Girl With The Gris Gris, 18 Market Lane, Melbourne. Phone: 9514 4577
Bennie and I pause midway along Market Lane.
I’ve said nothing about our destination or the variety of food we will be eating once we arrive.
Gesturing to an eatery with a rather anonymous but extremely large doorway, I say: “That is Australia’s most famous Chinese restaurant!”
But then, pointing to the smaller doorway more-or-less directly opposite, I say: “But that is where we’re going!”
Up the stairs we go into what is a typically Melbourne sort of scene – a live music venue with a funky eatery attached.
In this case, the food being served is, by all reports, purebred New Orleans.
And I’m all a-tingle with excitement, as the restaurant’s tucker is being cooked by a real live New Orleans cook.
Most readers will be aware that the diversity and depth of food deriving from the American South available in Melbourne has bloomed in recent years. Indeed, several such joints have been written about right here at Consider The Sauce.
I’ve enjoyed trying these places out.
But I have had to keep a firm grip of any notions about authenticity based my own experiences travelling to the US, and to New Orleans in particular.
Let me put it this way …
Gumbo is a soup, not a stew.
Thanks to the roux used in making it, gumbo should be almost dark as night.
It should not be poured over a stack of rice; the rice should be just a part of the soup – maybe a quarter of a cup, or better still a tablespoon.
Unless their names are celery, capsicum or onion, vegetables have no business being in gumbo.
And finally, while seafood gumbos of various kinds are revered in some quarters, the king of gumbos – the benchmark – is chicken and sausage gumbo.
Will I find such a beastie right here at Girl With The Gris Gris?
Will be it be as fantastic as I’m hoping?
We do and it is!
Our chicken and sausage gumbo costs $14 for a bowl ($8 for a cup).
It’s easily the best gumbo I’ve had in the southern hemisphere – and the includes those I’ve made myself (though it’s been a while now …).
The restaurant is dimly lit, so while I secure good lighting for our other dishes, I wuss it for the gumbo – this is as good as I snap:
Our gumbo is magnificently dark, full of well cooked sausage discs and shredded chicken.
It has strong flavour of roux, oregano and other gumbo goodies. It has a nice spice glow on, too.
It IS fantastic.
In some ways, this photo is more revealing.
One sure sign of a good gumbo is that the roux remnants will leave “tide marks” down the side of the bowl as the volume of soup decreases.
If your gumbo does not leave such signs, you’ve been had.
I very much wish we’d ordered a bowl of this stuff each.
But we love everything else we have.
Onion rings ($8) are superb in their fat, deep-fried decadence, and are wonderful dunked in the tangy (remoulade?) sauce.
Roast beef po’ boy ($15) also sets a high water mark (thinking tidal again!) for New Orleans sandwiches we’ve had in Melbourne.
The bread is a just-right, scooped-out French loaf.
The beef is plentiful and plenty juicy without completely overwhelming the bread.
And the dressings are wonderful and zesty.
At this point, I really am seriously suggesting to Bennie that we order more gumbo – but he gets a bit stroppy about wanting one of the dessert items he has clapped eyes upon.
Ice-cream sandwich ($12) is a fantasia of “housemade peanut butter banana ice-cream between graham crackers, caramel, caramelised bananas, honey”.
Wow – it, too, is so very New Orleans.
It’s gone, shared by the two of us, in seeming seconds.
There’s no degrees of separation between Consider The Sauce and Girl With The Gris Gris.
The restaurant and the Ding Dong Lounge that adjoins it are both run by Bill Walsh, formerly of crazed rockers the Cosmic Psychos and a former long-time colleague of mine at PBS-FM.
I’d spied that fine bloke, sitting at the bar, on arrival.
But as he didn’t seem to recognise me – perhaps it was the dimness, perhaps it was the moustache – I let it pass so Bennie and I could enjoy our dinner and I could play the role of “anonymous food blogger”.
But as we’re paying, Bill does recognise me – or rather, recognises my voice!
It’s swell chatting with him about the restaurant, his endeavours in employing New Orleans chef Chris Weysham and their menu.
Bill even recalls the story I wrote about his band in the now long defunct afternoon Herald newspaper at the very start of my Melbourne music-writing career.
From the old broadsheet Herald of February 2, 1987 … when yours truly had yet to become Kenny!
I reckon the menu (see below) is superb.
I love that it’s minus any high-falutin’, high-priced slabs of meat or extravagant seafood, instead focussing on a tight list of affordable New Orleans classics.
They’re the sorts of things found at bars and neighbourhood joints right across the Crescent City, such as the most fondly remembered by me Liuzza’s.
Hey, Chris! How about some deep-fried pickles?
The phrase “can’t wait” mostly strikes me as nonsense.
But, frankly, I “can’t wait” to return to Girl With The Gris Gris.
Check out Girl With The Gris Gris stories in The Age and the Herald Sun.