Chef Ron's Gumbo Stop (2309 N. Causeway Blvd., Metairie, 504-835-2022; www.gumbostop.com) is located on a major traffic artery in Metairie that connects five hotels in less than two miles. Word of mouth among guests and hotel personnel keeps the family-style eatery packed.
"You got to want to get here, and sometimes you need a shoehorn to get in the door," says chef Ron Iafrate, who has served Creole comfort food in the small strip mall spot since 2012.
Iafrate grew up in his Italian mother's kitchen, and the rule she taught him infuses his Creole cuisine: use fresh, local ingredients. "Keep it simple, keep it fresh," Iafrate says.
Considering the abundance Louisiana has to offer to gumbo — shrimp, crab, crawfish tails, okra and rice all can be locally sourced — it's no wonder Iafrate decided to call the South home after leaving his native Rhode Island.
Iafrate believes okra is essential to another trinity of Creole cooking: flavor, texture and meaning. Okra not only adds depth of taste and acts as a thickener, it also connects the 21st-century cook to the inception of Creole cooking itself.
"Embrace the slime," Iafrate says, chuckling.
Iafrate and his team of chefs and cooks make many menu items in house, such as boudin and hot sausage patties. Along with crispy fried catfish or shrimp, these comprise Iafrate's favorite dish: stuffed gumbo. Customers pick a protein that is smothered in gumbo and rice. A chicken breast or a fillet of black drum smothered in Jefferson sauce, a savory concoction of white wine and seafood, is available on request.
Gluten-free options at the Gumbo Stop abound. Many traditional Creole dishes are naturally free of gluten, and Iafrate has created a blend of gluten-free, all-purpose chickpea and rice flours to make roux for gluten-free gumbo.
"I apply the same Creole tricks to the gluten free-style cuisine as I do the regular menu cuisine, and that helps elevate it — it gets some really good flavors," he says. "I may secretly replace my seafood gumbo with the gluten-free gumbo and see if anyone notices. It's that good."