Bad Weather and a Big Ass Bowl of Gumbo at Hay Merchant

Categories: On the Menu

gumbominh.jpg
Photo by Minh T Truong
I love Hay Merchant. No, really -- I love Hay Merchant. I'm there at least once or twice a week. What can I say? I'm a girl who loves craft beer and Hay Merchant is a place for craft beer lovers.

But it's also a place for food lovers, and I love food too. Everything I've tried at Hay Merchant has exceeded my expectations. I crave the crispy fried pork ears on a daily basis and the brown fries are sinful. The crowd is laid back and the bartenders, like Kyle Pierson, are knowledgable and friendly. It's starting to be my own personal Cheers.

I found myself there this last Friday night, a busy night. Although the crowd had died down by 11 p.m., the rain was still coming down fast and furious. So with nowhere to go and 80-something beers to try, I needed to fill up. For some reason, the rain brings on my soup cravings and so the Big Ass Bowl of Gumbo was calling my name.

The menu states the gumbo comes without rice...just like their beers. Chef Antoine Ware's gumbo is the "ya ya" style he grew up with -- it's incredibly simple, consisting of chicken and andouile sausage in a rich, dark broth garnished with nothing more than green onions.

It's that deep smoky broth that's key. The cayenne gives it a subtle heat reminiscent of a Texas chili -- without beans, of course. A friend of mine was not as enthusiastic about it as I was, saying it was more of a chicken stew than a gumbo, so it's definitely not for those who prefer more "traditional" gumbos with rice, okra and all the fixin's.

It is, however, a flavorful bowl of Southern comfort and you will definitely want to use all the accompanying French bread to sop of every last bit of it. I paired it with an IPA; the hoppiness of the beer was a perfect complement to the spiciness of the gumbo and a perfect rainy (or any day) combo.



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The Hay Merchant

1100 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Music

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WatcherintheRye
WatcherintheRye

Gumbo has many different faces depending on what you like, where you live, family influence. I did NOT like this gumbo.What I don't like even more???  The pig ears.  That's stupid. They suck.  Pig ears are for dog treats.  These are sweet and they are spicy so the taste is there only because of the seasonings.. the texture is hard and unpleasant.. not chewy or crispy but HARD.  The food at this place is horribly inconsistent. Seems as though they are trying too hard to be cool and just not getting it right.    They have been out of about 1/2 the items I've ordered in my half dozen visits.I like the beef chips, the fried chicken was tasty when they finally had it available and I love their beer list.They need to tone down the creativity, up the effort on quality and consistency, increase their grocery/food supply orders and they should be good.    

Kylejack
Kylejack

 I think just the opposite. I'm delighted that the menu is always changing. Every time I come in there is something new to try.

WatcherintheRye
WatcherintheRye

I'm not talking about a changing menu. I like seasonal changes. I'm talking about food that is good one time and not the next trip. They need to get their kitchen in line.Ultimately doesn't matter to me. I probably won't go back anyway.

Texmex01
Texmex01

They need to open for lunch......

Woodlands Mama
Woodlands Mama

As soon as I saw "broth" in your description I lost interest. No Cajun or Creole would even try to call that a gumbo. I'm born and bred Louisiana Creole and the only place that is remotely okay for gumbo in Houston is Richmond Ave's Ragin Cajun. My wintertime and cold weather missions are to cook big pots of gumbo and serve it up to friends and my kid's teachers. I'm showing REAL gumbo to Houston one pot at a time. It's trinity, roux, and 6 hours of love OR crap!

SirRon
SirRon

I grew up in Louisiana and this is a very Yelp-ish comment. I ate a lot of gumbo at shopping center restaurants, from my friend's mamas, and at outdoor parties. While there are some distinct styles, interpretations are very broad. In fact, the whole dish itself is pretty much intended to be interpreted broadly. As an adult, the only thing I believe is that gumbo must have roux and okra. And I prefer lagniappe to crap in my gumbo.

Bruce R
Bruce R

" It's trinity, roux, and 6 hours of love OR crap!"

Crap is cheaper and easier to come by. I'd use that.

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

Bringing a friend from out of town tonight! Not sure I'll go gumbo. Dying to try the pig ears (they were out last time). The pork cracklins weren't my thing, but I'm ready to have another go at the food menu.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

 I'm putting together a "best mac & cheese" list (trying the supposed top 20 in town has been a chore) but theirs will easily finish in the top 5.  The only downside is that it only comes with fried chicken...

Devonlangoria
Devonlangoria

Ever try the fried chicken at Haven? It comes without the mac n cheese.

Gilly3108
Gilly3108

It's a "secret" side menu option.  Next time, just ask your server for a side of mac.  We'll (yes, I'm a server - as well as completely addicted to our Mac and Cheese) gladly ring you in a cup.

SirRon
SirRon

The pig's ears are pointless snacks and not really spicy or sweet. I'm glad I tried them, but I liked talking about them *way* more than I liked eating them. That opinion is the exact opposite of my dog, who liked eating pigs ears *way* more than he liked talking about them.

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

For a pointless snack they are popular as hell. Second time in two weeks I've gone & they're out! The mac & cheese was pretty epic.

SirRon
SirRon

Saying that they are great devalues the word great. They're way more greasy than sweet, they need several notches of spicy, but we are getting away from the issue. These are pointless snacks. Fun. Interesting. But pointless. (And again, never anywhere near the best item on Hay Merchant's amazing menu.)

Kylejack
Kylejack

 I've tried the pig ears, and they're awesome. They're definitely sweet. I think the spice could be kicked up a notch, but they're already great as-is.

SirRon
SirRon

Please try the pig's ears. Then we'll compare notes.

My guess is that they haven't had them (or haven't been able to get many) for a while and not that they are selling out every night.

If your mother-in-law makes better mac and cheese than these places, then I'm really jealous. (note: points to Beaver's mac b/c I can dump their hot sauce on it too. And to Shilcutt's point about Asian texture, Beaver's puts crunchies on top of their mac)

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

I know popular doesn't equal good. I'm just annoyed that popular equals I don't get to try them and decide for myself.

I've only had Beaver's mac & cheese once and it was awhile ago. I'd have to have one more go at both to decide. I'd probably choose my mother-in-law's over either, though. :)

SirRon
SirRon

Popularity and good food are not always the same thing (see Whataburger ;). I'm being honest when I say that I love that sweet and spicy crispy pig's ears are on the menu. I'm even glad I tried them. More than half of the conversations that I have with people new to Hay Merchant are about the pig's ears. That's great.

But the snack itself isn't that great. It doesn't taste horrible, but they are horribly pointless. Plus, they aren't even close to being in the top half of the best food on the menu from week to week. I'm just stating my opinion.

I had the mac and cheese last night too. Narrowing the list of possibilities, if you could only have Hay Merchant's or Beaver's mac and cheese, what would you choose?

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I love 'em. The pig's ears are the perfect side item for the super-hoppy IPAs I like to order, and far better than any other pig's ears I've had in Houston. And I've had a lot. As with a lot of Asian foods, texture is as important as flavor -- and pig's ears done correctly have lots of character in both respects.

Kylejack
Kylejack

 In just several blocks on Westheimer, there's a pig ear cake at Feast, crispy pig ears at Hay Merchant, and a pig ear salad at Nabi.

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

I had to try the hot dog, but I was sorely tempted by the steak--and those sides looked ridiculously amazing. Good to know there's uh, nothing to see.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I wonder if anyone but you would enjoy a Top 5 pig's ears countdown... Heh.

SirRon
SirRon

Preface... I love Hay Merchant. The food. The drink. The people. The fact they have pig's ears on the menu that Shilcutt loves.

Howevah, if the pig's ears show up on this year's Top 100 dishes list, I will comment bomb the hell out of that post. That is all. :)

Aside... I participated in my first steak night at Hay Merchant yesterday. Holy crap!! uh er, I mean, nothing to see here people.

Bodl
Bodl

You really have had a lot of pig's ears in Houston?! If so, I would love to see a Top 5 porky lobe countdown. We're waiting....

SirRon
SirRon

Very respectfully disagree, Shilcutt. Not about the Asian part though.

Melissa
Melissa

It kind of reminds me of the traditional southern dish Brunswick Stew. Maybe a marriage between the two?

Matt
Matt

I ate the gumbo on my first trip to Hay Merchant. I was thrown off when I expected to taste a typical bowl of gumbo, but got a thick gravy like dish instead. The taste was really familiar to me, then I realized it tasted almost exactly like my grandmothers mole. While it was flavorful I just couldn't  get into it. I probably won't order it again.

Corey
Corey

 Agreed I much prefer BB's..

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