With Mardi Gras upon us, foodies have a hankering for hearty, classic-style gumbo.
After all, gumbo was named the official cuisine of Louisiana in 2004. But there's no need to travel to New Orleans for a taste. You'll find it at least two nights a week (Thursday and Friday) at Wiechec's Lounge in Kaisertown.
The tasty stew, loaded with sausage, bay scallops, okra and rice, is a meal in itself. If you want some before Mardi Gras, swing by and get a quart to go to enjoy on Fat Tuesday.
While traditional gumbo is a mixture of creole and Cajun flavors, Matt Klopfer, who has worked for the Wiechec family for more than a decade, said it's a secret recipe keeps people coming back to Wiechec's for bowl after bowl.
Question: What’s the secret to your seafood gumbo?
Klopfer: It’s a highly guarded recipe. Mike Wiechec has been doing it for a long time. I can make most of the soups, but he does the gumbo when no one is around. Usually we have gumbo on Thursday and Friday. I’ve been here 12 years, but I still don’t know the gumbo recipe.
Q: So you can’t figure out what the secret ingredient is?
A: I don’t know. Mike sees stuff and he puts his own spin on it. He decided one day to make gumbo and people went for it. He makes crazy soups all the time. All the soups are homemade and they’re fantastic. A ton of people come here just for soup. We sell quarts and bowls, you name it. We make chicken soup every other day.
Q: A lot of people are eating garlic Parmesan wings with hot sauce. How did you come up with that?
A: Those are Red Sox – that was my creation. I used to get garlic Parmesan wings and ask for a side of hot sauce and then one day my brain just clicked and I said, “Why not put the sauce right on it?” It’s a Yankees bar so I named them Red Sox. I just like to hear the Yankees fans have to order Red Sox. Our honey Cajun and regular medium wings are also very popular.
Q: How are you gearing up for the Lenten fish fry season?
A: The fish fries are crazy. We have to put extra people on to work. People wait two hours for a table. I’d like to remind people that you have to be patient. Our fish fry comes with macaroni salad, potato salad, coleslaw, French fries and rye bread. During Lent, we don’t do wings until 9 p.m. on Friday.
Q: How many people order unusual items like fried liverwurst?
A: Fried liverwurst is a big seller actually. It’s one of those things you can’t really get. It reminds people of eating at grandma’s house. I mean that’s what I used to eat at my grandma’s. Cube steak is very popular, too. Some people don’t know what it is and we have to explain it to them. It’s the stuff that reminds people of home cooking - that’s the stuff that sells.
Q: Do you rely on repeat customers?
A: Oh yeah, I bet we have the most regulars than a lot of places. We probably have at least 100 people who come here at least once a week. Wiechec’s speaks for itself. You go anywhere and people say, “Wiechec’s? Yeah I’ve been there. And they have great fish.” People like what they like. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
INFO: Wiechec's Lounge, 1748 Clinton St. (823-2828). Opens at 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sundays.
*Read Elizabeth Carey's last interview, on a versatile Clarence restaurant: