In fact, the restaurant didn't have the dressing on any of my three visits. One server shrugged when I asked what it tasted like: "It's green," she said, "and tangy, I guess. I've watched him make it, and it's fascinating. He throws a lot of unusual stuff in it."
Nearly a decade ago, Gosserand opened Kansas City's first urban Cajun-style eatery, the Cajun Seafood Restaurant, on 31st Street. It lasted long enough to make that midtown neighborhood hip again. (The Velvet Dog now occupies Gosserand's former space.) And two years ago Gosserand took over the first floor of a beautiful brick storefront on the edge of downtown ("If it's south of 15th Street," says a veteran Kansas Citian, "it isn't downtown"). Totally unpretentious -- right down to the old-fashioned screen door separating the nonsmoking section from the kitchen -- Danny's Big Easy now fills a couple of high-ceilinged rooms that have done duty as a half-dozen restaurants and saloons since the first World War. One 1960s incarnation was the provocatively named Show World Bar.
"It sounds like it was a strip joint, but it wasn't," says a seventy-something friend of mine who worked as an attorney in the neighborhood for years. "It was a blue-collar joint, but it was a good place to pick up girls."
That's a fitting history for a place named the Big Easy. It can get raucous on weekends, with servers banging that screen door as they burst out of the kitchen with white china platters loaded with jambalaya and shrimp étouffée or plastic baskets of pillowy yeast rolls called Louisiana Light Bread. It's easy, too.
"We only kind of bake it here," whispered one waitress. "The dough comes from someplace else, and the kitchen crew puts it in the oven."
One night I brought a couple of friends, including jazz singer Queen Bey, along for a meal. Queen's back stiffened the minute we walked in and she saw an old rival -- another local vocalist -- sitting at the bar. She pretended not to see the woman, and once we settled into one of the leatherette booths, Queen hid behind the pink menu for a few minutes, perusing the choices. But it was too late -- the other singer had seen her and came over to the table, attempting to engage Miss Bey in some friendly conversation. Queen Bey did her best imitation of Marie Laveau, the legendary Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. "Thank you for coming by, dear," she said, turning back to the menu. "Goodbye."
"Queen's bitchier than the host of The Weakest Link when she's in a mood," whispered my friend Bob, who had already decided on his dinner and was waiting impatiently for the waitress.
Queen Bey's mood improved dramatically when her rival left and the waitress returned, bearing plates of appetizers we had ordered: a small bowl of filé gumbo for Queen, spicy chicken wings for Bob and frog legs for me.
The peppery gumbo was lightly seasoned with potent filé powder made from sassafras leaves, which both flavors and thickens the silken sauce; the original Cajuns (French Acadians who fled Nova Scotia for Louisiana) adopted the cooking practice from Native Americans already living along the bayous. The pale green concoction had a burn, as did the fried chicken wings, which were meaty and crunchy under a light, fiery crust. But the chewy, stringy, vaguely fishy frog "legs" hid under an armor of deep-fried batter. I bravely gnawed on mine, while Queen took a modest bite and dropped the leg onto her plate: "Too froggy," she said.
House salads made up for the disappointment -- even without Danny's elusive dressing, they were little works of art: glass bowls piled with greens, chopped purple onions, baby carrots and artfully sliced cucumbers and tomatoes. But for $4.25, we expected them to look like Monets.
The dinners are more than generous, even the po' boy sandwiches (waitresses here call them "poor" because, after all, in the Midwest, "po'" isn't a word but an affectation), heaped with fat curls of golden fried catfish or crackly balls of oysters on soggy white-bread buns. I loved the steaming bowl of spicy jambalaya, laden with fat chunks of chicken, pink shrimp and chopped peppers in a vibrant red tomato sauce. And the three versions of étouffée stay true to their name (the word is French for "stuffed"), packed with ruddy crawfish, flavorful shrimp or tender bites of chicken breast. The chicken étouffée was especially luscious, swimming in a pale roux flecked with green, red and yellow peppers.
But Bob's "blackened" filet wasn't what we expected -- a hunk of beef dredged in garlic, pepper and spices and "blackened" in a hot skillet. What came out instead was an ordinary (but tender) filet drenched in a dark steak sauce. Queen Bey ordered a plate of boiled crab legs, which arrived in a visually sumptuous mound, garnished with wedges of boiled potato dusted with cayenne. Queen cracked a leg open, chewed on a piece of the meat, then silently handed me one.
Too salty, we agreed. And a shade on the soggy side. "But what do you expect? This isn't really New Orleans," Queen sighed, as she dipped a chunk of crabmeat into a cup of melted butter.
If it really were New Orleans, I noted, there would be better music. Wafting over from the bar side of the restaurant wasn't jazz, zydeco or the blues but the unmistakable sound of the Jackson 5.
Bourbon Street, it ain't. But as a relaxed place to kick back with a bowl of hot gumbo and a cold beer, Danny Gosserand's place is as easy as one, two, three.