Miller Union’s pop up chef gumbo
September 29, 2011 § Leave a comment
I’m pretty sure that the best part of street food Thursdays in Atlanta is the pop up chef tent at 999 Plaza on 10th & Peachtree. Since it rotates out every week with a multitude of talented chefs serving up a limited special menu, you’re likely to get something more interesting than you’ll get from the food trucks. At the very least, it adds some variety, and it’s temporary so there’s that allure of limited time only sampling that gets the best of me. It’s also a great opportunity to chat with the people who make your food in a great laid-back environment that you don’t always get a chance to do in the restaurant. I had the luxury of some good conversations with the crew there today for certain.
I missed the Miller Union tent the last time it was there months ago, but I heard that what I believe was pulled pork and corn cakes was quite good–good enough that they’ve not been lost in the memory of the person who ate them and they feel the need to fondly remind me of their transient existence. I was determined not to miss it this time, and I was pretty intrigued to hear that gumbo was on the menu.
If you weren’t aware, my father is Cajun and I grew up in Louisiana. Gumbo is one of those things that’s extremely near and dear to me to the point of being sacred. I know visitors in Louisiana talk about how good the Cajun food is there, but honestly, I find the gumbo, jambalaya, and crawfish etouffee at most restaurants that I have tried to be disappointing at best. It is extremely rare that I even bother with a Cajun restaurant because it’s just not the same as what it is at home. I know it’s easy for everyone to believe that what they grew up on was the best, but there really is a soul and a spirit in a properly made gumbo. It can be anything and everything in there, but it shouldn’t be, and it’s really all about the technique that make it good. The stock and the roux are key, and it’s not often that you can find that perfect harmony outside of a good home kitchen for some reason. The first time I was blown away by gumbo that wasn’t my father’s was at that special meal I had at Kerageorgiou’s La Provence. It was velvety and rich with a lovely stock base that made it warm and comforting. Ever since then even sampling some of Prejean’s in Lafayette that was reasonably good, but way too rich and heavy, I’ve just been at a loss. So going into this experience with Satterfield’s version, I was intrigued, but unsure due to my history of dissapointment. He and the Miller Union crew have not let me down in the past, though, so I had good faith in what I was sampling.
The rest of the special menu was kind of nice as well and the prices were really reasonable. I was happy to see that there was a fresh salad that could accompany the meal too and figured if it wasn’t too heavy I’d delve into the sweet portion of the menu to give their desserts another go. $10 for three courses? You can’t argue with that!
The first thing I noticed was the lovely reddish color from the dark roux, and I could see that the texture was velvety and spoon-coating just the way I prefer it. Taste confirmed that the texture was sublime and certainly evoked the version of the La Provence gumbo from nearly twenty years ago in my memory. A proper amount of care went into the roux, and it was made with a tasty stock and the right melding of ingredients that came together in a nice unity that was rich with roux and depth of flavor but not too heavy. In a way it reminded me of the renowned farm egg’s delicate balance in the way the flavors worked well together within a velvety texture, only it was playing with a deeper spectrum of tones.
Interrupting the velvety base were the two bits of bay leaf that I had to remove; however, this inconvenience made me smile a little bit due to familiarity. When you pluck a bay leaf out of your mouth when eating gumbo, it strangely feels right. Simply adorned with fresh okra, green onions, and bites of chicken, this gumbo felt effortless and not overdone which is perhaps why it wins my approval.
I got a chance to chat with Chef Satterfield about the gumbo, and he talked about his own subpar gumbo experiences in New Orleans and shared a few of his techniques with me including the addition of okra at the beginning as well as at the end and a lighter, finer flour for the roux. I was also informed that they make their own andouille in house, and that this was now on their dinner menu with oysters, shrimp, and andouille. I put my stamp of approval on this version, so I’m pretty confident that one is every bit as good. Please let me know if you check it out; I’m curious as to how someone with a different gumbo past perceives this version.
Also, not to let the salad go unmentioned: it was a simple, refreshing, and pretty trademark farm to table staple. The field peas and green beans were super fresh and mingled with the juice from the slices of late summer heirlooms adorned simply with salt and a tiny bit of basil. When your ingredients are this good, they just play well with each other without much interference.
Unfortunately for my caloric intake of the day, I had a little bit of room for dessert, and I got pressured into consuming the combo of two desserts: banana pudding ice cream and chocolate peanut bar. After I mentioned my previous disappointment in their ice cream in the past, I found myself in a pretty involved conversation about ice cream. The important note was that they had changed their recipe all around, so I was encouraged to try the new version. I can say with authority that it has much improved. They say they swapped the cream and milk ratio and got rid of some of the egg yolk. What resulted was the flavoring ingredient of the ice cream wasn’t drowning in what tasted like butter and was instead happily coexisting with the cream. It was a tiny bit on the icy side, but it had more of an old-fashioned back porch feel and I liked that the bits of wafer still had a bit of bite left to them and I was able to bite down into some creamy bits of frozen banana. The chocolate bar was really simple, but there was a really nice quality to the chocolate and it was deep without being heavy. The texture was nice and silky and chocolate was the clear star with little bits of fibrous oat bits dotted through for texture. Apparently, this was a family recipe from Satterfield’s home, and it had that nice family picnic feel to it.
Final Verdict: Miller Union conquers gumbo, improves their desserts, and gives me some fresh vegetable love on the side. What more could this girl want?
For more of my thoughts on Miller Union, check out my other post.