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A bowl of dark stew with a head on shrimp displayed on the side.
“All in” gumbo at Filé Gumbo Bar.

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Find the City’s Best Gumbo at This Tribeca Hidden Gem

A Cajun-Creole restaurant perfect for Fat Tuesday, or any time of year

Cajun and Creole food from Louisiana have had a checkered past in New York City, where few restaurants that have served it have gotten it right. Even its most famous proponent, Paul Prudhomme, couldn’t make a go of it when he opened a branch of his famous K-Paul’s here in 1985. He first popped up on the Upper West Side, tangled with the health department, and four years later opened what he thought would be a permanent location in Tribeca, which lasted only three years.

While I have liked many local restaurants that offered these conjoined cuisines (among them Infirmary and Gumbo Bros., both now defunct), Good Cajun-Creole has finally found a righteous home. Filé Gumbo Bar, located at 275 Church Street, near White Street, has been around for nearly two years. It’s helmed by chef Eric McCree, who was born in Idaho, but whose grandfather, a traveling construction worker nicknamed Tiny, schooled him in New Orleans cooking.

The dining room is deep and narrow, with tables pressed up against one wall opposite what might be the longest bar in Tribeca. It ends in a glassed-in kitchen, where the chef may wave to you as you enter. The room has a slight fin de siècle glitz, helped along by mustard-yellow upholstery, stamped tin ceilings, and whitewashed brick walls on which booze bottles are plainly displayed in neat rows.

A storefront seen from an angle with name etched in glass.
Tribeca’s Filé Gumbo Bar has been open two years.
A bar on right, tow of tables on left.
The interior of Filé Gumbo Bar.

As the name says, the menu concentrates on gumbo. Indeed, the highlight of the menu is called Tiny’s gumbo ($29), based on grandad’s recipes and finished right at the bar in a series of gleaming metal contraptions. These gumbos are based on a very dark roux made with duck and chicken fat. Additional ingredients such as filé (sassafras) powder ensures the flavor is as rich and nuanced as any version in the Crescent City.

Tiny’s gumbo ($29) is available in nine permutations featuring chicken, andouille sausage, shrimp, and crab, or some combination thereof, but I recommend you begin with the “all-in,” with each of the four components contributing a flavor jag to the bubbling stew.

Since today is Fat Tuesday, the final day of celebration before Lent, you might get a jump on the religious observance by trying gumbo z’herbs ($24). This Lenten vegetarian version is available all year round. It incorporates leafy greens and fistful of fresh herbs, and is every bit as enthralling as the meat options. (There’s a New Orleans brass band tonight, too.)

A man stirs a soup in a metal pot on the bar.
Making gumbo z’herbs.
A bowl of brownish green gumbo.
Vegetarian and lenten gumbo z’herbs.

While Hank Williams prominently mentions filé gumbo, along with crawfish pie, as culinary staples of Cajun country in “Jambalaya,” there’s an alternate recipe for gumbo that uses okra for thickness and texture ("gumbo" is an African word for okra). While this isn’t strictly available on the menu, the crispy okra and crawfish etouffee ($25) comes pretty darn close — although the wonderful mucilaginous quality of okra is dispelled by frying, and the roux is mild, sweet, and tomatoey.

A bowl of red fice with sausage.
Filé Gumbo Bar’s jambalaya.

Other main courses worth checking out include the jambalaya of Hank Williams’s song, a pleasing reddish heap of rice studded with shrimp and andouille; and a fried chicken smothered in red beans, sided like the gumbos with a long-grained Louisiana rice as fine and sticky as any rice in the world. Note that all the entrees at Filé Gumbo Bar constitute full-plate meals, and you could easily just order a gumbo, jambalaya, or etouffee and skip the apps.

A round sandwich and metal cone of french fries beside it.
A muffuletta and spice-rubbed potato chips.

Of course, then you’d miss some of the restaurant’s quirkier offerings. Barbecued shrimp ($25) is a Sicilian-influenced dish popular at places like Mosca’s, in an industrial district south of the Mississippi River. It tastes like the shrimp have been poached in a cross between marinara and barbecue sauce. Another Italian flourish is the muffuletta sandwich, presented as is conventional on a round spongy loaf, but with “too much cheese,” a friend groused, then admitted it’s still quite good.

That sandwich comes with some amazing spice-dusted potato chips, freshly fried and still glistening, which may be ordered separately for $10 (ouch!). Better to get them for free with the fried oyster po’ boy ($25), available at lunch and dinner, and containing four cornmeal-encrusted bivalves.

For dessert, the choice is clear. Rather than getting the bananas foster — a banana sundae too long on flaming booze and short on ice cream — dive into the supremely wonderful brown butter bourbon bread pudding ($18). Dense and lightly glazed, it is too rich for one person to eat after a dinner like this, so plan on sharing it with a friend.

A hunk of bread pudding in sauce.
The luscious bread pudding at Filé Gumbo Bar.
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