Posts Tagged ‘gumbo’

Small-town culinary greatness: Patty Queen’s Cottage

Patty Queen, chef of the Cottage in Plainville, Connecticut

One of the pleasures of touring rural France, Italy, or Spain is discovering amazing country restaurants far from population centers. The U.S. has some places like that, too. But few of them can match the Cottage Restaurant & Cafe (427 Farmington Ave, Plainville, Conn.; 860-793-8888, for staying power and consistently terrific food. Located at a nondescript crossroads in Plainville, Connecticut, a little southwest of Hartford, the Cottage should be celebrated as a Nutmeg State treasure. Full disclosure: We met Patty Queen at a 1996 book party celebrating the publication of Julie Stillman’s Great Women Chefs ( Queen was among the youngest chefs featured. Ever since, we’ve been driving more than 100 miles to eat at the Cottage three or four times a year. We’re never disappointed.

Queen has connections to our neighborhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After graduating from culinary school in 1986, she worked in the kitchen at Harvest (, then as a line cook for Jasper White in Boston. She made the obligatory chef’s pilgrimage to Paris, Burgundy, Bordeaux, and London and even cooked a while in Florence. Her bona fides are impeccable. But we think she found the soul of her cuisine when she followed Susan Spicer (another ex-Boston chef) at the late, lamented Bistro at Maison de Ville in New Orleans.

red snapper special at the Cottage in Plainville, Connecticut

Bon temps rouler

Even the name of the town tells you that Plainville is a long, long way from New Orleans, but a taste of Patty Queen’s gumbo sure shrinks the miles. With Mardi Gras coming up this week, Queen has been reviving some less obvious homages to the rich culinary traditions of south Louisiana. Certainly it’s food to celebrate.

That dish above was a recent special. It’s a big fillet of fried red snapper topped with some of the tastiest okra we’ve had in a long time. Queen coated the okra pieces in a buttermilk batter and fried them until they just tender and still full of flavor. Think of it as okra tempura—light and nutty. The fish (which was also topped with some large fried prawns and a few fried oysters) was served on a bed of sweet and crispy sweet potato shoestrings and topped with a very Cajun sweet-hot chili sauce. The plating with thin slices of scallion was picture perfect.

pork chop at the Cottage in Plainville, Connecticut

Generous spirit, generous servings

There’s something of a throwback spirit at the Cottage. Even at lunchtime, most plates are large enough to serve two people. It feels like the Queen family wants to make sure no one leaves hungry. (Patty’s mother Dorothy runs the front of the house and her brother Dave is the sommelier and bartender.) The grilled pork chop shown above was close to two inches thick. Demonstrating her great knack for balance, even on a plate of excess, Queen served it with grilled bosc pears for sweetness, and grilled endive for a bite of bitterness. The pairings are so simple that we smacked our heads, wondering why we hadn’t thought of them. One bonus of eating at the Cottage is that we always leave with a good idea to try at home.

desserts at the Cottage in Plainville, Connecticut

Extravagant endings

If you think the main dishes look over the top, then the desserts might make you swoon. We can usually count on a nice lemon tart (above, lower left, with raspberry coulis and whipped cream). That and the apple fritters with caramel sauce are standbys. But we love to anticipate a stunning dark chocolate cake (upper left), a butterscotch tart (lower right), or even a creation of the season. That would be the pear spice cake with butterscotch chips (upper right).

Prices at the Cottage are shockingly low for those of us accustomed to city menus. Dave Queen has also assembled a wine list full of food- and pocketbook-friendly pours that are as unexpected as the restaurant itself. By the way, the photo at the top shows Patty Queen at the end of a busy lunch where she cooked without assistance in the kitchen. She deserved a standing ovation.

Mixing it up with authentic New Orleans gumbo

A bowl arrive at the Gumbo Shop in New Orleans
A hearty bowl of gumbo is a powerful argument for open borders. It took four different cultures to create Louisiana’s leading contribution to American cuisine. French settlers contributed the cooking technique, while the Spanish brought bell peppers, onions, and celery—the so-called “trinity” of seasonings. Africans added okra for flavor and as a thickening agent. For variation, some cooks thicken their dish with the filé powder favored by the local Choctaw tribe.

Local choice

Dining room in the Gumbo Shop, New OrleansMade with sausage and either shellfish or poultry, gumbo is a forgiving dish that allows each cook to put a personal stamp on it. I sampled many versions when I was in New Orleans and was never disappointed. But I ate my favorite at the Gumbo Shop (630 St. Peter Street, 504-525-1486, I shouldn’t have been surprised. The restaurant is a perennial winner in the Best of New Orleans readers’ poll conducted by the Gambit.

The Gumbo Shop was established in 1948 and features the traditional New Orleans style of ceiling fans, a large bar, big windows on the street, and decorative murals. It was hopping when I stopped in for a late lunch, but the waiters and waitresses were models of calm, even chatty efficiency. I opted for the chicken and andouille sausage gumbo over the seafood okra gumbo. While I waited for my bowl to arrive, I listened to the waiter at the next table chat with a couple of visitors. To relax, he said, “I’ll get a strong cup of coffee and sit outside and blow through a pack of cigarettes.”

My server Tyler (at top of the post) ceremoniously delivered my bowl, along with a hot loaf of crusty French bread. He also pointed to the array of hot sauces on the table. “Take a taste and then add a little hot sauce if you like.”

My gumbo was rich with okra, tomato, chicken, and sausage and had a pronounced green pepper flavor to the broth. I decided to forego the extra heat. The flavor was deep and satisfying. Initially it seemed a bit mild, but the heat snuck up on me. I was wiping sweat from my brow by the time I sopped up the last bit of broth with my bread.


Gumbo at the Gumbo Shop, New OrleansThe Gumbo Shop in New Orleans uses whole chickens in their gumbo, but I like to stick with chicken thighs because they impart an intense chicken flavor. Many cooks also use canned tomatoes, but I think fresh tomatoes make the dish brighter. The only tricky part about making gumbo is having the patience to brown the roux without burning it. Keep keep stirring and watch the color!


4 pounds chicken thighs
2 quarts water
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil plus 1/2 cup olive oil
1 pound fresh or frozen okra in 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup flour
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 cup chopped celery
3 cups peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes
12 ounces andouille sausage, sliced in 3/4” rounds
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons sea salt


Simmer chicken thighs in water with bay leaf for 45 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside to cool. Remove bay leaf and reserve cooking water as chicken stock. When thighs cool, strip meat from the bones and reserve.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and fry the okra for 10-12 minutes, stirring frequently to keep from burning. Cook until the stringy strands disappear and okra is lightly browned. Set aside.

In a large Dutch oven with a heavy bottom, heat 1/2 cup olive oil over medium high heat. Add the flour and stir and cook until flour browns into a roux. When color reaches dark brown, stir in onion, green pepper, and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally and scraping up brown bits from bottom of Dutch oven.

When vegetables are tender, add tomatoes, sausage, and sauteed okra and cook for 15 minutes. Add the spices and mix well. Pour in 8 cups reserved chicken stock, bring to slow boil, and simmer for an hour. Add cooked chicken and additional stock if necessary. Adjust seasoning and serve in large bowls with steamed white rice.


12 2016

What to eat at the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival

Cindy Harris of Houston TXWhen it comes to the food vendors at the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, the food isn’t all crawfish, but to quote a good friend’s catch phrase, it’s all good. Well, most of it. I’d been given a big buildup from a couple of locals about Cajun pistols or pistolettes, which are buns stuffed with seafood and cheese and then deep-fried. As someone said, “they musta changed the recipe.”

Bon Creole Cindy Harris from Houston, Texas (above) opted for Giant Shrimp on a Stick from the same vendor selling Gator on a Stick (“tender and delicious”). In fairness, I tried the alligator on a stick and found it more tender than most alligator I’ve tried. And, no, it doesn’t taste like chicken. It tastes like alligator.

Food on a stick always does well at outdoor gatherings where few people can get a place to sit. In addition to the shrimp and gator, one vendor had the venerable corn dog (hot dog on a stick dipped in cornmeal batter and deep fried). More popular than all the meat on wooden sticks were the original meat on a stick: both frog’s legs (deep fried) and turkey legs (grilled over charcoal).

Boiled crawfish Having sampled many of the offerings, I will venture the opinion that the best tasting and probably healthiest options were some of the classics: crawfish etouffée on rice, jambalya, and seafood gumbo. (As the T-shirt says, “All creatures great and small taste better in gumbo.”) But this being the Crawfish Festival, my vote goes to the plates of boiled crawfish. (Watch for a future post on the technique for peeling boiled crawfish.)

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