Sava tha Flava of James Brown’s Gumbo

Sava tha Flava of James Brown’s Gumbo
Sava tha Flava of James Brown’s Gumbo

James Brown’s Gumbo House and Grill has been making a name for itself throughout Southeast Texas for nearly two years by serving up not only scrumptious soups and gumbo, but also chicken fried steaks, burgers, sandwiches, and fried seafood with Cajun flair. Not long after purchasing the former Jody Leigh’s Restaurant, a popular mainstay Vidorians were familiar with for nearly two decades, Brown opened the restaurant and finally fulfilled his lifelong dream.

Simma Down!

Many Southeast Texans may recognize James Brown as their smiling meteorologist, or maybe their morning show guy who’s always joking with his buddy Dan, but these days James can be found with an apron on in the kitchen, instead of telling the 5-day forecast.

Brown, who has made a name for himself by writing two recipe books, including one with the catchy title, “Simma’ Down with James Brown,” took his passion for cooking one step further after retiring from KFDM and opening his own restaurant in March 2013.

This place even looks like a good time! Large, bright yellow signs against a red barn-like building put your mind at ease, as this is a great place to unwind and relax after a long day. But the outside is just the beginning. Once you walk in through the doors, several smiling faces greet you with a heart-felt welcome. Beautiful decorative crosses hang on the walls; many are gifts brought in by patrons to show their support of the booming restaurant. The service is unlike any other, and Momma would be proud. Regulars are called by their first names and given fast service and big smiles. First timers, have no fear. A friendly waitress will walk you through the menu and answer any questions you may have. Yes, there is okra in the gumbo, and no, the batter for the seafood isn’t too spicy. They even left a special “Have a Blessed day” message on our to-go boxes — in two different colors! The personal touch is what this place is all about.

While the menu contains many of the old favorites from Jody Leigh’s, particularly the lunch buffet, Brown has added his own touch with many recipes from his cookbooks and years of experience. Even the homemade dressings are his own recipes. After hosting his cooking show for nearly six years, JB knows his way around the kitchen and is still very hands on with his business. You can even catch a glimpse of him cooking in the back, as he is there every day, ensuring the quality and freshness of your meal.

What we ate

JB’s Trio Sampler – Popcorn shrimp, cup of gumbo and a side of onion rings. We were surprised by the size of the “popcorn” shrimp; those were some big kernels. The crunchy shrimp were not overly battered, and had a wonderful light flavor. And you can’t go to a gumbo house and not leave without trying the gumbo! Chicken and sausage is our favorite kind, and we were not disappointed. Thick, generous chunks of chicken and juicy slices of sausage were in every bite. The gumbo was not too spicy, a concern most customers have when trying true Cajun food, but had just enough heat to make every spoonful enjoyable. The roux wasn’t too dark, while the spices and vegetables offered a delicious mix of savory flavors. On to the onion rings. The hand-cut, freshly battered and dipped onion slices melted in our mouth! We could make a meal with just those, definitely a must try.

Fried Pickled Jalapenos – A heaping pile of sliced and hand-battered spicy peppers. Don’t be fooled by their size; the little bites really bring the heat! Chili-heads will not be disappointed by these crispy morsels.

Don’t forget about the dessert! Cheesecakes are made in-house and can be ordered by the cake or the slice. Chocolate, lemon and coconut pies are made fresh by Phyllis Ross, a longtime family friend from Port Neches. Brown always told her that if he opened a restaurant, he wanted her to make the pie.

JB and his crew know how to do gumbo right! So next time you are feeling a little chilly in the upcoming weeks, take a drive down Main Street in Vidor for food and atmosphere that will warm your tummy and soul. 


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