1761 Alcatraz, Berkeley, (415) 347-5640. easycreole.com.
"Gumbo is like sex. Even if it's bad, I'll still have some more," says Grant Gooding. Gooding is the chef helming Berkeley's newest kind-of-sort-of Cajun joint, Easy Creole. And, maybe due to his lifelong obsession with the stuff, the man makes a mean gumbo.
Now he's partnered up with Jeron Thomson and Jess McCarter, and the trio has done an artful job of shimmying a brick-and-mortar from a Louisiana-inspired pop-up, and then something homey from an old, decayed space. Easy Creole sits on what used to be a quiet stretch off Adeline Street in South Berkeley. Easy Creole itself is comfortable with its own genre-bending tendencies with the tagline, "Cajun. Creole. Kind Of." To start (better plug your ears, New Orleans), half of the menu is vegan, and three quarters is gluten-free. And still, Gooding does a bang-up job with proteins.
The gumbo is a hearty, smokey affair, and the red beans with hot links are thick and luscious, slow-simmered, and fired up by a quick bourbon deglaze. The "kind of" points to tendencies like throwing curry spices in the spinach and mushroom étouffée, and offering things like a turkey rendition of Mexican pozole.
"The history of Cajun food is the story of something endlessly fluctuating. It's been based on whatever is available for convenience's sake," Gooding says. "When the Sicilians came, so did sausage. They got new ingredients when new groups arrived. 'Authentic' is really for the tourists."
Gooding got his Cajun cooking chops at a restaurant in Indianapolis, fleeing out west about six years ago with the assumption that he had given up the restaurant business. Three years later and he was manning the pans at his homegrown pop-up inside La Victoria in the Mission and The Residence in Duboce Triangle.
Together with third partner Jess McCarter, the trio has done an artful job of shimmying a brick-and-mortar from a Louisiana-inspired pop-up, and then something homey from an old, decayed space. Given a few pickle barrels and reclaimed furnishings from thrift stores, the three can make a space jive and sing. The walls are a hectic mash of strange paintings, with a few antique signs and mirrors thrown in along the way.
The menu changes daily, but you can always count on the gumbo and the étouffée, as well as that thick, homey Louisiana red beans and rice. Though the food strays outside the confines of Louisiana, a certain kind of hospitality leaks from the baseboards here. And, on the rainiest days, it's the kind of place that takes better care of you than you're ever likely to yourself. And most of the time, that's almost better than a bowl of righteous gumbo.