Bad Weather and a Big Ass Bowl of Gumbo at Hay Merchant

I love Hay Merchant. No, really -- I love Hay Merchant. I'm there at least once or twice a week. What can I say? I'm a girl who loves craft beer and Hay Merchant is a place for craft beer lovers.

But it's also a place for food lovers, and I love food too. Everything I've tried at Hay Merchant has exceeded my expectations. I crave the crispy fried pork ears on a daily basis and the brown fries are sinful. The crowd is laid back and the bartenders, like Kyle Pierson, are knowledgable and friendly. It's starting to be my own personal Cheers.

I found myself there this last Friday night, a busy night. Although the crowd had died down by 11 p.m., the rain was still coming down fast and furious. So with nowhere to go and 80-something beers to try, I needed to fill up. For some reason, the rain brings on my soup cravings and so the Big Ass Bowl of Gumbo was calling my name.

The menu states the gumbo comes without rice...just like their beers. Chef Antoine Ware's gumbo is the "ya ya" style he grew up with -- it's incredibly simple, consisting of chicken and andouile sausage in a rich, dark broth garnished with nothing more than green onions.

It's that deep smoky broth that's key. The cayenne gives it a subtle heat reminiscent of a Texas chili -- without beans, of course. A friend of mine was not as enthusiastic about it as I was, saying it was more of a chicken stew than a gumbo, so it's definitely not for those who prefer more "traditional" gumbos with rice, okra and all the fixin's.

It is, however, a flavorful bowl of Southern comfort and you will definitely want to use all the accompanying French bread to sop of every last bit of it. I paired it with an IPA; the hoppiness of the beer was a perfect complement to the spiciness of the gumbo and a perfect rainy (or any day) combo.

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