Dixie's vs. Forum: Gumbo Smackdown

Categories: Food Fight

Lu Lippold
When you order the gumbo at Dixie's, you get a warning
During the Mardi Gras time of year, when people in New Orleans are dancing and drinking and generally behaving in a very un-Minnesotan manner, northerners might decide to loosen up enough to try a mysterious Louisianan food like gumbo, the traditional Louisiana stew usually made with shrimp, andouille sausage, and okra.

The Hot Dish, in a bons temps mood year-round, flung on some sparkly beads and went out to see if there's any decent gumbo around here. We put to the test two restaurants that are justifiably proud of their versions of the stew: Forum Restaurant and Dixie's.

Maybe this isn't a fair food fight, because of the two contestants, one charges over twice as much for its gumbo as the other. Ponder the following descriptions and guess which is the spendy one:

  • A lemony, light roux with generous hunks of chicken, andouille, okra, peppers, and large, flavorful shrimp.
  • A dark, spicy roux with bits of chicken, catfish, and smallish shrimp.

You are correct. The first one is the Forum's, and it costs $16 (only available on the lunch menu). The gumbo at Dixie's is $6.95 for a bowl, $4.95 for a cup. But this isn't to say, "You get what you pay for." It's entirely possible you might like the one at Dixie's better.

When you order the gumbo at Dixie's, the waitress issues a caveat: You have to taste it before you order it. Apparently customers have been outraged by the roux, considering it burnt-tasting or too spicy. In Louisiana, it would not be considered unusual, according to sous chef Erin Lege, who comes from those parts. They cook the roux in the oven, not on the stovetop, to the point that it's almost--but not quite--burnt.

"Some people come here just for the gumbo," says Dixie's executive chef John Sievers. "Other people don't like it at all. It's got cayenne, jalapenos, a lobster base, fish stock. That's just too much for some folks." They don't use some ingredients that gumbophiles might expect: no andouille ("that would make it too similar to our jambalaya") and no file ("made from sassafras, which is a carcinogen.")

At Forum, there's nothing excessive at all, except maybe the slightly too-salty broth. Each ingredient is distinct and lovely. The meats, shrimp, red and green peppers, and okra are a delight to behold. But if you're looking for a fiery New Orleans piquancy, forget it. This is a refined, elegant gumbo. Why does that sound like an oxymoron?

The essential elements in Forum's gumbo

According to Forum's executive chef Christian Ticcaro, the gumbo is the result of trial and error in their test kitchen. When Forum made its comeback last summer (recall its illustrious history here), they tried a series of "destination menus," of which New Orleans was one. "We use bacon fat in our roux," says Ticcaro. "But we keep it light. We think the lighter roux has a better flavor." The broth is chicken and vegetable, with a little Worcestershire, tomato juice, white wine, a dash of file powder. There's no fish in it at all, and the only seafood element is the South Carolina shrimp.

The winner: It's a toss-up, but if we have to lay down our beads on one of them, we'll go with Forum: Those big ol' shrimp are irresistible, and the chunks of peppers and okra are beautiful to behold. The Dixie's version is so different from Forum's, it's like comparing Fat Tuesday with Ash Wednesday. If you like a dark, spicy, fishy broth, go to Dixie's. If you prefer a concoction with a light, fresh taste, then go to the Forum. Each is delicious in its own way. Neither one is going to make you think you're on Bourbon Street, which is just as well, given all the morally reprehensible behaviors going on down there during Mardi Gras. We are Minnesotan, after all.

40 S. Seventh St., Minneapolis
612.354.2017; Forum website

695 Grand Ave., St. Paul
651-222-7345; Dixie's website

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As a longtime visitor to NOLA, I'd say both do terrible things to an otherwise lovely dish --that's sadly been the case for most restaurants here. Not surprising, but one can hope. (that goes for Indian food too)


In my opinion the quality of food at Dixies has gone down hill. Gone are the mix rib combo's that were very well prepared, and now it seems to have the run of the bill flavors in it's food.The management needs to do a reality check to be honest. The food is presented sloppy, and the quality variance is massive.


We ride on a Mardi Gras float every year and host a major Mardi Gras party. Here is some authentic gumbo.

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method-------- ------------ -------------------------------- Seasoning Mix 2 bay leaves, whole 2 teaspoons salt 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1/2 teaspoon white pepper 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 1/4 teaspoon oregano 1/2 teaspoon thyme 2 cups chopped onions 1 cup chopped celery 1 1/2 cups chopped green bell pepper 3/4 cup vegetable oil 3/4 cup flour 1 tablespoon minced garlic 5 1/2 cups seafood stock OR 5 1/2 cups chicken broth 1 pound andouille sausage 1 pound shrimp 1 dozen oysters -- in their juice 3/4 pound crabmeat 2 1/2 cups cooked rice

Combine the seasoning mix ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl combine the onions, celery and bell peppers.

In a large heavy skillet (preferably cast iron), heat the oil over high heat for about 4 minutes. With a long handled metal whisk, gradually mix in the flour, stirring until smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until roux is a very dark red-brown. Remove from the heat and immediately stir in half of the vegetables with a wooden spoon. Continue stirring and cooking for one minute. Add the remaining vegetables and cook and stir for two minutes. Stir in the seasoning mix and continue cooking for about two minutes. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, place the stock in a 5 1/2 quart saucepan or a dutch oven. Bring to a boil. Add roux mixture by spoonfuls to the boiling mixture, stirring until dissolved between each addition. Bring mixture to a boil. Add the andouille and return to a boil; continue boiling for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and add shrimp, crabmeat and oysters. Return to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and skim any oil from surface.

Serve immediately. To serve - mound 1/4 cup rice in bowl and spoon 1 cup gumbo over top.

NOTE: this recipe can be made with any combinations of shellfish.

Peter Kenefick
Peter Kenefick

As the owner of Dixie's I am very sorry to read your comment. We take all feedback very seriously and work tirelessly to continue to improve the quality of our food, the service and if we are developing menu items that are flavorful southern American fare. I feel that is why we just celebrated our 25th year.

I hope that you will please stop in and give us another try.

Thank you


 Hello Peter,I think that as the Grand Ave has become more popular and places have up the ante on quality my recommendation is two fold:Firstly, offer better value on some of the items - and maintain a degree of quality.  The rib combo, in my honest opinion that you guys used to have was amazing... Country style ribs were great.  In fact the smoked meats were all very good.  Now, they are replaced with products that seem or presented as poor quality and the consistency just isn't there.I think it wise to improve the consistency of the food.  Often I have eaten there with friends, and one can tell a good day from a bad day.Secondly, as tastes changes and mature, I'd look to refine or add a few new items that really show off the tastes of the south - all too often things are a little bland, and boring.

Good luck and I wish you the best!

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