How do you know a bowl of gumbo is truly worthy of an award, such as the Best Gumbo trophy handed out at this past weekend's fourth annual Gumbo Smackdown? When it's judged blind—that is, when the panel of tasters have no idea where each of their 16 bowls of gumbo to sample came from—and when those judges unanimously agree that the rich, mahogany-colored, dark-roux'ed dish filled with lump crab meat, shrimp and jalapenño sausage was the best they'd tried all day, if not perhaps the platonic ideal of what a gumbo should be.
That's how The Rouxpour took home the Judges' Choice award for Best Gumbo on Saturday afternoon at Sugar Land Town Square, where over 700 people turned out to partake in the all-you-can-eat gumbo smorgasbord, washed down with all-you-can-drink Saint Arnold beer and Jack Daniels cocktails. Defending its home turf, The Rouxpour was one of two Sugar Land Town Square-based restaurants (the other being Fish City Grill) out of the 16 competitors, located just around the corner from where the smackdown was held outside City Hall.
Also playing defense: Main Kitchen, which was back to defend the title it earned as People's Choice winner in last year's Gumbo Smackdown. And sure enough, chef Jelle Vandenbroucke and his team took home the trophy once again, garnering the majority of crowd votes for its smoked chicken and andouille sausage gumbo served with your choice of hot sauces: the staple Cajun trio of Crystal, Tabasco and Louisiana hot sauce or that Houston favorite, Sriracha.
The festive Mardi Gras-style decorations at the Captain Benny's Seafood tent, which encouraged attendees to "Keep Calm and Eat Gumbo" via a colorful, glitter-painted sign, earned the 50-year-old Houston stalwart the award for Best Table Decor. But it was the attendees themselves who really won out on Saturday, with a wide range of different gumbos to enjoy throughout the day.
The Burger Joint mixed it up with a Japanese curry-based gumbo built on a Gulf seafood stock and thick with catfish and Black Hill Ranch andouille sausage while Saint Arnold let its beer shine through in its Spring Bock-based spicy tasso and crawfish gumbo. The brand-new Beaver's on Westheimer brought out brisket, boudin and smoked duck for its thick, creamy gumbo while past defending champ Peli Peli jazzed up its chicken and sausage gumbo with chef Paul Friedman's signature, oh-so-spicy South African hot sauce.
The gumbos weren't the only hit of the day, however: Freedom to Indulge brought back its popular bananas foster "nachos" dessert from last year's Gumbo Smackdown, while Christy Kroboth and "Gator Chris" Stephens of local non-profit Texas Gator Squad brought an adorable pair of baby alligators complete with kiddy pool, using the young gators to teach the crowds about respecting the reptiles' habitats.
Best of all? Proceeds from the sale of hundreds of raffle tickets went to support Fort Bend County's own Lunches of Love, which prepares healthy sack lunches for low-income kids in Sugar Land, Richmond and Rosenberg, while no food at all went to waste: Food rescue organization Second Servings collected more than 400 pounds in uneaten gumbo and rice. It was served that evening at the Magnificat Houses, Inc. shelter, where we're told the gumbo was just as big a hit the second time around.