Way back at the beginning of May, I finally had the chance to catch up with my old friend A. We work in the same area, and try to get together for lunch every now and then, but for awhile, our schedules just weren't lining up. Finally, we got a date on the calendar, and A, her co-worker J, and I headed to J. Gumbo's to grab some lunch.
J. Gumbo's is a Cajun / Creole chain, primarily in the Midwest, but slowly expanding to the South. I can't speak to the authenticity of the New Orleans flavors, since I've never been there, but I can tell you that the food was packed with flavor and delicious.
The three of us got there and managed to find a parking spot with relative ease (no small feat if you've ever tried to park anywhere in Downtown Columbia at lunchtime in the middle of the week). The restaurant isn't especially large (it used to be the Quizzno's on Sumter Street), but there were enough tables to seat everyone there. J. Gumbo's is only open for lunch (except on Thursdays - then it's open until 7:30 p.m.), and it wasn't super busy, which worked well for us. We took a quick look at the menu, ordered, grabbed our drinks, and claimed a table.
If I remember correctly, J had the White Chili. I didn't try any (this was the first time I'd met J, so if I'd started reaching across the table and digging into her food, it may have been a bit on the awkward side), but it looked tasty. J thought it was a bit on the spicy side, but she also admitted that she doesn't really have much of a spiciness tolerance. The White Chili comes served over rice, which J decided not to have. It was still a huge bowl of chili, and she had plenty of leftovers.
A went a little more traditional and had the Shrimp Etoufee. Clearly I wasn't going to any of it, but I can tell you that it looked a lot better than the time I tried to make etouffee last summer. I think A would have liked it to be a bit on the spicier side. That said, she enjoyed it, but thought she would try something new the next time she was there. I believe A got her etoufee served over rice, but in Columbia, you can also order it served over grits.
I decided to break out of the giant bowls of food mold and ordered a sandwich. The Jean Lafitte Po' Boy to be exact. It's a combination of the Bumblebee Stew (corn, stewed tomatoes, and black beans) and the VooDoo Chicken (chicken in Cajun tomato sauce with red onions and celery), topped with sour cream, green onions, jalapenos, and shredded cheese served on French bread. It was awesome. The VoodDoo Chicken had just the right amount of heat for me, while the Bumblebee Stew was just perfect enough to take the burn out of said heat. My only problem? Too much bread. I ate half of the sandwich, and then picked out the insides on the other half. The bread actually seemed to take away from the insides, and I actually enjoyed it more once I started ignoring the bread. Thankfully, J Gumbo's has a Jean Lafitte Burrito Bowl option, which is basically the insides of the sandwich served over rice. Guess what I'm getting next time?
Overall, we had a nice and inexpensive lunch. All of our meals were under $7 (before drinks). And all were big enough for leftovers. If you can find somewhere else in town that has that kind of a deal, I'd love to know where. Plus, J Gumbo's runs assorted weekly specials that change on a monthly basis. And the food is good. It was also really quick, which is another must for anyone trying to lunch downtown. I'd suggest you check it out.