Voodoo Stu likes his gumbo dark.
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Voodoo Stu’s & Black Magic Mael’s Gumbo Shack & Juke Joint

Pasaje Rodriguez (between Third and Fourth on Revolución), Baja

Voodoo Stu probably could have gotten away with calling his cooking “Rural-Creole-Baja Cuisine” or some drummed up stuff like that, but he didn’t. Instead, the Atlanta-raised chef simply calls it “Southern comfort food,” and it speaks volumes about what the two-month-old eatery is up to.

Stu and Mael met in Atlanta and set up shop in the Pasaje March, 2015.

Stu and Mael met in Atlanta and set up shop in the Pasaje March, 2015.

The most recent addition to Tijuana's re-reinvigorated Pasaje Rodriguez

The most recent addition to Tijuana's re-reinvigorated Pasaje Rodriguez

Located in the art-centric passageway of Pasaje Rodríguez, Voodoo Stu’s & Black Magic Mael’s Gumbo Shack & Juke Joint serves home-style dishes on paper plates to the tunes of Delta blues oozing from a vintage stereo. A gold gator head grins next to a time-worn Coca Cola marquee. The close-quarters eatery is stenciled in Moroccan wallpaper and the tables are fashioned from old doors. Stu flips shrimp in the open kitchen while his girlfriend Mael, a Tijuana local, brings sweet tea to guests. The overall effect is just enough tongue-in-cheek kitsch to be charming without becoming a caricature.

Fried catfish, with a local take on mustard greens

Fried catfish, with a local take on mustard greens

Banana pudding, just like Grandma used to make

Banana pudding, just like Grandma used to make

Following the origins of Creole and Cajun cooking, Stu draws on locally available ingredients, improvising with Baja produce while focusing on authenticity.

Case in point? Stu’s classic Louisiana hot sauce makes use of whole chiles de arbol in place of Tobasco peppers. His fried catfish is a local river catch (sometimes he substitutes corvina) and is served with Hopping John black-eyed peas and a chard-like market leaf steamed a la mustard greens. The fish batter is crispy, light, and flavorful, crumbling around the fork to reveal moist and flaky fish inside.

Similarly, Stu’s Holy Trinity is derived from the French culinary base of equal parts onion, celery, and carrot. The South substitutes peppers in place of the carrot, and Stu makes it his own by using local poblanos and serving over rice. The hearty bowl goes for just over two bucks and is a fitting addition to the vegetarian-friendly Pasaje. Even better, because Stu favors olive oil over butter, all veggie dishes are by default vegan and everything feels light on the gut.

“There’s a lot of debate about what makes a true gumbo, but I just make it the way I like it,” Stu says of their namesake dish. For him, that means marinated chicken and browned, homemade Andouille sausage; slow-cooked roux (Stu uses peanut oil and flour for a dark, nutty base that carries the meats); and a smattering of filé (ground sassafras) just before serving. A bowl goes for 50 pesos (about $3.25) or 70 with pan-seared shrimp. The ample stew comes out spicy, earthy, and bitter, with a lingering parsley zing.

Fried Chicken Fridays. Tasting is believing.

Fried Chicken Fridays. Tasting is believing.

Batman is known to frequent Voodoo Stu’s.

Batman is known to frequent Voodoo Stu’s.

Fried chicken is the house special every Friday, and it’s some of the best I’ve ever tasted (and easily the best in town). The chicken is marinated overnight and breaded with Stu's own Cajun mix. It’s substantial yet light and explodes with Southern spice.

Saturdays are blackened fish, Sundays are shrimp and grits, and daily sides have included boiled peanuts, pimento cheese, seasonal veggie plates, coleslaw, and many others.

If you can’t make a Fried Chicken Friday, stop by on a Sunday and check out the Pasaje’s new weekly market, which brings the tianguis market tradition of interior Mexico to a local forum.

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