Arkansas has seen its fair share of chain restaurants. It’s probably easy to brush them aside when they arrive for the first time—burgers, tacos, sandwiches are all expected offerings at most of these operations. But it’s not every day that you see a Cajun/Creole chain make its way to our state. I don’t know of many such chains in general, so I was intrigued when I heard about the arrival of J. Gumbo’s to West Little Rock, the first branch of this nationwide operation to hit Arkansas. I’m usually a little dubious as to quality and personality of menus at most chains, but I’d passed the roadside signs proclaiming the place to be “Now Open” enough times to sufficiently lure me in this last weekend. Located just off Cantrell Road, this small restaurant is situated in a strip mall just west of the Pleasant Ridge shopping complex. We stopped in for a quick dinner and walked out pleasantly surprised by the wonderful food coming out of that kitchen.
The restaurant is a fast casual joint—the inside in clean and comfortable. Diners walk up to a long counter (much like something you’d find at Chipotle or Subway) housing all the different entrée options simmering under a row of heated metal containers. The nearby wall is plastered with a large menu listing all the various options. You order at one end, they assemble your food in front of you, to-order, as you move down the line, you pick up your food and pay at the opposite end—a quick and seamless system. The menu is a good size, not overly complicated but with a substantial list of diverse options. There’s a list of appetizers on one end, rice based stews, gumbo, and soups under the entrée section, and a list of po’ boys and wraps at the other end. There are also a number of gluten-free and vegetarian dishes for those so inclined to order such a thing.
We passed up the appetizers this visit, though it was hard to do so. These included various dips including a “Crawfish Cheese Dip” with cheddar cheese and red chili served with tortilla chips. “Voodoo Nachos” were another option which came smothered in spicy chicken, cheese, sour cream, and jalapeños.
We elected to sample a few of their more popular entrees based on the recommendations of the kindly staff behind the counter. The majority of these dishes are various forms of stews served over rice with a side of soft French bread. One of the attractive things about their setup is that they’ll literally let you sample every dish available before you decide what to order (so long as the line permits). There was no one else in line as we walked up to the counter, so we were able to sample at least a half dozen options.