Battle of the Gumbo: Hey, Waiter, There's an Embryo in My Soup

In the Other Corner: Baby Kay's Cajun Kitchen
2119 E. Camelback Rd. in East Phoenix
602-955-0011

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This baby's got the holy trinity!
​Baby Kay's also tries for the New Orleans vibe -- think brick walls, candlelit tables, and live jazz and folk music. The black-and-white parquet floor's a little retro, but hey, I'll suspend disbelief and imagine the place used to be a diner or something. They've got a great location in the Town & Country shopping center, shaded by lovely trees with a lovely brick patio wrapping around the side of the restaurant. The only downside is the view of the parking lot you'll get from most indoor tables.

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Is retro flooring common in Louisiana?
​The grub at Baby Kay's is typical Cajun: crawfish etouffee, po' boy sammies and several types of gumbo served by the cup or bowl. My dining companion and I elected the chicken and sausage gumbo, which came highly recommended by a Louisiana transplant friend. Plus, I figured this one wouldn't come with any creepy-looking sea critters.

In less than ten minutes, we received our order of shrimp etoufee, crispy hush puppies and gumbo. Baby Kay's version is closer to a bayou-style gumbo, with a thicker soup base and the traditional holy "trinity" of bell pepper, onion and celery. The dish had a muddier taste -- not quite tomato, but more like watered-down beef gravy. The andouille sausage bites were thick and meaty, with a smoky flavor and a slight heat that crept up a few minutes after eating them.

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​"This is closer to what I think of as real gumbo," said my friend, who hails from the South. "It's pretty tasty, but not as spicy as what you'd get back home. I don't even need the hush puppies to cut the burn!"

Personally, I didn't mind. We get enough heat from the Southwest/Mexican/Tex-Mex cuisine that's so popular here that it was nice to let my mouth -- and stomach -- take a rest. The rice was tender and added texture to the dish, and the white and dark meat chicken chunks soaked up the moisture of the gravy-like sauce. My only complaint was that the vegetables were mushy and too plentiful.

The Winner: This one's a tough call. Faux fetus aside, the gumbo at Pappadeaux had a lovely, pungent tomato broth. But Baby Kay's take on this Cajun classic was closer to the real thing. Drum roll please....

Baby Kay's wins by a smidgen, though I'll be back to try the shrimp gumbo at Pappadeaux.


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