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Bringing Cajun Flair to the First Coast

Posted by WRITINGABOUTJAX on MAY 22, 2016

A few weeks back I had the opportunity to meet with Robert Alley the executive chef and co-owner of Gumbo YaYas, a New Orleans inspired dining spot here in Jax. Like many other places I had previously driven by this establishment on several occasions, but on this day I decided to pay them a visit. As Robert and I sat down and began talking he informed me that he and his wife Lauren were originally from New Orleans but had moved to Jacksonville in 2003 to work for one of the regional auto groups. When the economy took a turn for the worse Robert and his wife found themselves planning out the next phase of their professional careers. Robert had grown up in the food service industry as his parents had been restaurant owners back in New Orleans and he had developed a love for cooking since the early age of five. Everything Robert knows about cooking comes from his family’s knowledge in the business and many of his recipes go back several generations.

Robert and his wife opened Gumbo YaYas back in May of 2009. I am very familiar with several New Orleans staples such as gumbo, po boys, and jambalaya but I had no idea what “YaYas” meant. Robert told me that, “YaYas is a term of endearment in New Orleans. It means the equivalent of Nana, or, Grandma and that is what we are striving to create here. An experience that brings our customers to that special feeling of going to Grandma’s house for dinner on Sundays. Building that anticipation of a great home cooked meal.” Robert also told me that the restaurant’s best sellers are the Oyster or Shrimp YaYa. They get their oysters from Louisiana, shrimp from the gulf, catfish from Mississippi, and their ship bread from New Orleans. Robert also told me that they make their own hot sauce called, “YaYa’s Hot Sauce”, which is sold in store for $6 per bottle.

During the football season Gumbo YaYas has become the place in town for LSU and Saints fans to catch their favorite teams in action. Every time either team scores a touchdown Gumbo YaYas gives away free jello shots. The interior is also decorated in festive fashion that is inspired by the mom & pop shops located in New Orleans. Other than jello shots Gumbo YaYas also offers several beers as well as wines and frozen hurricanes which is a popular beverage amongst the regulars.

Gumbo YaYas stays involved with the local community by contributing to the JayFund, Brew at the Zoo, and Toast To The Animals with the Humane Society. They also offer a military discount for lunch at 10% off which is also extended to police and fighter fighters. They also have a limited kids menu with offerings such as chicken tenders, fries, and mac & cheese. In case you can’t make it in and have a craving for some great New Orleans cooking, Gumbo YaYas has also teamed up with Door Step Delivery which will bring the grub to you.

Gumbo YaYas Jacksonville story and pictures by Mike Kuusela

Gumbo YaYa’s a New Orleans Delight

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 bread is 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.