100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 10, Seafood Gumbo at Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg Yeah, yeah, the oysters are good. But this is all about the gumbo.
My mother, who is decidedly not Cajun but is a very good cook, taught me how to make gumbo years ago. She explained that it's all in the roux. If you don't have a proper roux for your gumbo right at the start, the end product will not be worthy of the name gumbo. She stressed that it should be dark, almost like chili or mole. If it's too light, the gumbo won't be rich enough.
I've carried this advice about gumbo with me since then, and as a result, I can generally tell instantly by looking at a bowl whether it will be worth my while. The vast majority of gumbo here in Houston -- even though we're frustratingly close to Louisiana -- is not up to par. It's too thin or too bland or too light in color to have the richness needed in a good bowl of gumbo. Most Houston gumbo, frankly, sucks.
Except, that is, for the gumbo at Danton's.
From the first time I ate at Danton's, I fell in love with everything about the Louisiana-style eatery, from the oyster bar to the gumbo, to the charming owners, Danton Nix and Kyle Teas. In spite of the fact that Nix, the chef, isn't from Louisiana, his Cajun/Creole cuisine is spot-on.
What makes Danton's gumbo the best is the roux. Nix takes the time to let his roux get to a good, dark, smoky brown before adding in vegetables, shrimp, crab and whole oysters. It's velvety smooth, spicy and full of salty seafood flavor. It's served with rice on the side, a garnish that I didn't think I'd want until I got the full force of the gumbo's heat a few bites in.
No need for extra hot sauce here. The gumbo is perfectly spiced, even for a heat-seeker like myself. The thick roux, redolent of garlic and filé powder, coats the tongue, allowing the full force of the heat to sink in before your mouth is suddenly cooled by the pop of a whole oyster or the delicate chew of fresh crab meat.
Unlike many bowls of gumbo I've had in Houston that try to cram in every protein possible (I'm looking at you, Liberty Kitchen), Danton's keeps it simple with either seafood gumbo or chicken and sausage gumbo. In my opinion, though, if you're gonna go gumbo, go for the seafood. Danton's really packs it in -- no skimping on claw meat here -- and the gumbo has a bright salinity to show for it.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the wonderful desserts at Danton's, but honestly, I rarely eat them. One bowl of gumbo, and I'm down for the count. And it's so, so worth it.
See the full list of favorites on the next page.