Gumbo Ya Ya's makes a jambalaya that literally brought me to tears. My dad was from Mobile, Ala., and up until now, I have found no one who could make jambalaya like that man did. But I'll be darned if this little shop on Beach Boulevard (at the corner of San Pablo) doesn't come pretty close.
And the jambalaya wasn't the only surprise. From the red umbrellas outside to the smartly clad staff inside, this restaurant serves the most authentic New Orleans-style food I've ever had in Jacksonville.
During a recent lunch, my husband had to peel me off the dessert case to order, and I went nuts, ordering a slew of items for our table. Everything we had was delicious and clearly made with quality ingredients. The crispy, dense breads were a standout, the sandwich meats were plentiful and the seasonings in the Cajun dishes? Well, they are flat-out perfect.
The Chicken and Sausage Gumbo ($5.45 cup) came loaded with rice, white breast chicken and what the owner tells me is a sausage shipped all the way from Louisiana, one with little to no fillers. In addition, while there is a kick to everything - including the gumbo - it is the right kind of spiciness, one that enhances with a complex and arcane mix of ingredients rather than a handful of cayenne.
The Shrimp Poboy ($7.95 regular) came loaded with crispy-fried Gulf shrimp, fresh lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise. The shrimp were tender and coated with a light batter of roughly ground cornmeal and just a bit of flour. When you add Gumbo's homemade hot sauce to the top, you have a bit of New Orleans right in your hand.
We also loved the Jambalaya ($4.95 cup) and fisticuffs almost broke out over the last bite. This dish is done right, with the appropriate mish-mash of flavors required in true jambalaya. We detected chicken, sausage, green and red peppers, onions and perfectly cooked rice, one that had absorbed all that Cajun goodness. I am certain that a dark brown roux was involved somewhere in this process.
And finally, we come to the Muffuletta ($9.95). What can I say? From the fresh olive salad to the round, Italian style bread, it was wonderful. Get it baked and let the juices from the salad seep into the bread and dress the sweet ham, salamis and cheese.
The lovely owners behind all this fine food, Robert and Lauren Alley, hail from New Orleans and have extensive restaurant experience.
They should. This is the way restaurants are supposed to look - clean, neat and professional - and the food is authentic and made from the top-of-the-line products. Gumbo YaYa's is a winner all the way.
Gumbo Ya Ya’s is one of Jacksonville’s hidden gems. Before you even come in, the aroma from the kitchen gives you a hint of how amazing the food will be. Walk in and there’s a mom-and-pop kind of atmosphere, with a kick of sports bar. When an LSU (Louisiana State University) or Saints game is on, it’s packed full of local fans from both teams watching the games on the two big screens in the main dining area. Plus, you never know who might stop by, maybe a member of the Jaguars or one of their coaches if you’re lucky.
But there’s another side to Gumbo Ya Ya’s, the main reason you go to a New Orleans style Cajun and Seafood restaurant. To listen to the zydeco music, and admire the Mardi Gras beads and masks of course! You may also be stopping by for the delicious cuisine, such as the boudin balls filled with rice, pork sausage, onions and seasoning, double-battered, and fried to perfection. There’s also the Baked Ya Ya with your choice of oysters or shrimp. I chose the oyster in this amazing garlic butter sauce with cheese on top. It also comes with fresh bread straight from a bakery in New Orleans. Trust me when I say, when the oysters are gone, you will be dipping the bread in the sauce until it’s gone.
Gumbo Ya Ya’s has ample portions, but what I love about them most is the fast and friendly service, not only from the staff but the owners Lauren and Robert Alley, who grew up in New Orleans. They have been open for five years since May 2009 and are still going strong.
If you live near their location on Beach Boulevard, then you have the option of calling (404-3663) to order in instead of going out. They also offer catering. With good food and good service there’s nothing left to say but LAISSEZ LES BON TEMPS ROULER! (LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL!)