Despite the prevalence of Louisiana Fried Chicken locations in Long Beach (a fact that continues to baffle me, as most are also under the same roof as a "Chinese food to go" establishment), there are few places that actually serve Louisiana-style soul food. Barbecued meats slathered in sweet and spicy sauce--along with classic, meat-steeped Southern sides--can be found at several places around town, but seafood po' boys and filé gumbo are nonexistent.
So when I heard Sal's Gumbo Shack was serving legit Nawlins grub from a corner unit in North Long Beach, I had to make a Lent-time run to Coolidge Triangle to see what was cooking.
Opened last year by a Belizian local named--yes--Sal, this gumbo shack lives up to its name with an inside that seats about 20 people and a menu centered on bowlfuls of her homemade seafood gumbo. Sal mans the register most days and is more than willing to tell you how she has been making gumbo out of her house for nearly 30 years. Though she's only been to New Orleans once, she considers herself an honorary resident.
The simple, daily menu is built to satisfy cravings for all kinds of perfect bayou lunches, from gumbo to jambalaya to po 'boys. And on so-called "Soul Food Sundays," Sal's fills up all the way to its outdoor patio, with diners clamouring for specialties unseen in Long Beach such as oxtails, baked turkey wings, fried turkey necks and fried turkey chops.
Eating Sal's seafood gumbo, however, is like going on an archaeological excavation. After using the spoon to dredge all the rice and cut crab legs to the top, spoonfuls of briny Lousiana sausage and tailless shrimp give way to chicken bones and cartilage chunks, all of which are soaked in a dark roux broth that by itself tastes like liquid Cajun meat. Even though its chicken-and-rice soup consistency could potentially leave the gumbo in appetizer territory, a hearty broth and more protein than a workout shake ensures that even a "small" 16-ounce portion ($7.99) can be a meal alone.
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At around $8.99 each (including a side of fries), the po' boys are also built for lunch budgets and appetites. Of all the ones offered, the Rex Special is my fave, not only because of its namesake--the chief of staff for the area's city council, who supposedly always sends over customers--but also for its perfect combination of fried shrimp and fried catfish on a white-bread roll. Covered in a crispy, crunchy, hand-battered shell, the bite-sized shrimp and catfish chunks are covered with a spicy remoulade that makes the Cajun-style fries seem utterly boring by comparison.
Sal's Gumbo Shack, 6148 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 422-8100.