Locally made items at Dawson’s Market, a new Rockville Town Square eatery, and more
Gumbo Yes Yes
As I draw my spoon through the large bowl of “Super Gumbo” at Gumbo Ya Ya, a Rockville Town Square spot that husband-and-wife chefs and owners Rick Ferrell and Elizaida Galarza-Ferrell opened in November, it passes a first inspection. I spot chunks of chicken, tiny curled crawfish tails, plenty of sliced andouille sausage, lots of shrimp and, most important of all, a deep mahogany color to the liquid holding it all together. That’s an indication that the roux, a flour and oil concoction used as a thickener, has been cooked just right.
“I add file [dried, ground sassafras leaves, a thickener that imparts a faint, licorice-like flavor] to the roux to take out the bitterness, and lots of pureed garlic,” says Ferrell, a New Orleans native. What he doesn’t add are okra and the “holy trinity” of finely diced onions, celery and green pepper—ingredients many consider de rigueur in gumbo-making. He explains that when he first started selling his gumbo, at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George’s County, the military personnel were more familiar with traditional gumbo and loved those ingredients, but customers in Rockville complained about them, so he took them out. Though I like tradition, I have no complaints with Ferrell’s gumbo. It’s full flavored and chock-full of goodies.
Ferrell and Galarza-Ferrell met in 2015. Galarza-Ferrell’s empanadas, a specialty of her Puerto Rican heritage, inspired Ferrell. “Man, we can sell these things,” he told her and they started Gumbo Ya Ya, a food truck featuring Galarza-Ferrell’s empanadas and Ferrell’s New Orleans gumbo and po’ boys. Soon Ferrell retired from the military after a 23-year career to concentrate on the nascent enterprise. Galarza-Ferrell, who has been in the pharmaceutical business for 25 years, still works full time at her regulatory job at AstraZeneca in Gaithersburg.
When an opportunity arose to open a brick and mortar spot in Gaithersburg in 2017, the couple did just that. It turned out that the space was too large for them to handle and the foot traffic wasn’t sufficient. The smaller Rockville Town Square space was a good deal, so they moved the eatery.
The restaurant, which has a full liquor license, seats 66. You order at the counter, and the food is brought to your table. While you wait, peruse the paintings depicting jazz scenes that the couple purchased in New Orleans. Ferrell explains the restaurant’s name: “In New Orleans, Ya Ya means ‘everything else,’ as in, ‘What are we eating today? Gumbo. What else? Ya Ya.’ To Elizaida and me, the what else is the Puerto Rican food.”
The menu offers a variety of gumbos and flaky empanadas (the ones with beef ribeye cubes, peppers, onions and garlic are excellent), as well as baked-then-fried chicken wings and authentic New Orleans po’ boys. Lightly fried and succulent catfish strips dusted with Zatarain’s Creole seasoning star in one of those sandwiches, served on a toasted bun with shredded lettuce, pickles and Ferrell’s 16-ingredient condiment, a sriracha, mayonnaise and ketchup–based remoulade sauce. At brunch, don’t miss Galarza-Ferrell’s oxtail guisada (stew), slow-braised for hours with beer, wine and bay leaves. At any meal, start with an order of her delicate plantain fritters (tostones).
Gumbo Ya Ya, 101C Gibbs St., Rockville, gumbo-yaya.com