A few weeks ago I had Eatonville‘s new vegan gumbo prepared by the restaurants new chef, Brie. Her first name is all I have for now, but the gumbo spoke for itself. I now have a gumbo alternative for my meatless days. However, on this evening, I didn’t come to Eatonville for the gumbo, but for the beer. There was a tasting of Abita beer, a brew from Louisiana.

I was introduced to Abita beer in 2007 in New Orleans. During Mardi Gras, I ducked into a liquor store in the French Quarter and ask them to recommend a local beer with a distinctive flavor. The guy at the counter mentioned Abita’s “Purple Haze.” Not to be confused with an after affect, Purple Haze is a grape flavored beer. Or purple for Mardi Gras. Why not? I had them pop the top and put the cold bottle in a brown paper bag to go. The only way I can describe the taste is a hint of “Grape Nehi” in a pale ale. Purple Haze was just kookie enough for me to keep an eye on Abita’s developments. These beer makers have guts. I didn’t have to wait to go back to New Orleans for another sample. About a year later, Abita had come to Washington, DC.

Eatonville Restaurant, Busboys and Poets, and Acadiana all serve Abita beers (among others). According to John Guhring, the area’s sales manager, Purple Haze is the most popular brew in this market. Whodathunk! Or was Obama right about Washington going purple…someday. During the tasting at Eatonville, I had the Restoration Pale Ale. I’m no expert, but it definitely paired well with Eatonville’s vegan gumbo. Refreshing. And I tend to gravitate towards something with a citric twist. I was surprised to see the Jockamo Indian Pale Ale on the bar. I thought this would be a local (LA) favorite since its named for the Mardi Gras Indians, though I wonder if the real Mardi Gras Indians have sanctioned it. It certainly has a kick. A bolder flavor than the Restoration. I drank it solo while waiting for food. I’ll have to come back to it in a pairing.

Abita’s been around for awhile — since 1986. Only recently have they made aggressive inroads into new markets and seem to be gaining traction. I’ll never forget the year I tried to locate Red Stripe (Jamaican) beer for a birthday party. Only specialty and gourmet stores sold it. It was the ultimate scavenger hunt. Now, Red Stripe is today what Coronas were in the 1990s. Like wines, even beers are being paired. And you may find a few sales people with the touch. Rodman‘s in DC was one of those places where I could rattle off a menu and come away with the perfect brew.

Today my sister treated me to a birthday lunch at Acadiana Restaurant (901 New York Avenue, NW). This is no secret in DC. I think it’s measuring up to Georgia Brown’s as a power lunch and brunch trip.

Acadiana’s gumbo doesn’t taste like commercial gumbo to please the fast food taste buds. While in New Orleans, I got hooked on po’ boys. Next trip I’ll have to do comparison shopping on the gumbo, then return home and do more taste testing. Beignets are the final exam on whether or not a cajun/creole restaurant makes the cut for me. Even with a good smoked chicken and andouille sausage gumbo with less salt and a spicy kick at the bottom of the bowl; and a fantastic calamari salad; and biscuit starters (be still my heart) — I wasn’t going to give the thumbs up until I had the beignets. And Acadiana delivered. Light, hot, and the chicory coffee creme anglaise pushed memories of Cafe du Monde aside. If only the prices for this delectable was compatible with Cafe du Monde; or maybe that would be too dangerous on the hips.

DC is rising to the occasion when it comes to food, restaurant wise, farmers market wise, etc. Though some neighborhoods are still in the “middle passage” when it comes to having nutritious, fresh food and produce, some things are worth the trip. I remember the days of catching a bus from Ward 8 to the Bethesda Farm Women’s Coop.

As I’m going through my gumbo files, I have to come back to Brie’s vegan version which may be one of several gumbo inspired courses at Eatonville for their upcoming Food and Folklore event on Tuesday, September 21 at 6:30 PM. The guest speaker is Marita Golden, author of Gumbo: A Celebration of African American Writing. Reservations: Tel. 202-332-6432; email info[at]eatonvillerestaurant.com.

Gumbo literally means okra, a key ingredient in the dish. Okra comes from the African continent. It was grown by the Egyptians and enjoyed by the Moors in Spain. Like figs, when I have okra or gumbo, I’m savoring the history of humankind.