Gator's gumbo.

Soul food. Those two words go so well together. Down in San Mateo (a nice little drive to a walkable and charming Main Street when you feel like getting out of the city for the evening), chef Glenn “Gator” Thompson, an Oakland native, recently opened Gator's Neo-Soul Café. The new space is airy, modern, very warm. Last Friday, a lone musician sang the blues at just the right volume throughout the meal. And if you sit at the chef’s counter abutting the open kitchen, Gator will likely come chat you up.

Chicken cakes, not crab cakes.

The menu is one big bowl of comfort, from gumbo and crawfish bisque to etouffee and jambalaya. Spongy, flavorful cornbread arrives with your drinks. My favorite appetizer was a duo of “chicken cakes,” somewhat like crab cakes but made with smoked chicken and wild rice. The buttermilk-fried chicken entrée with lumpy mashed potatoes and lemon-pecan green beans was crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside, and the blackened catfish, served with an addictive cornbread-crawfish stuffing, was perfectly cooked.

Bananas foster aflame.

After all of this, plus some wine, you’d think we’d be no match for dessert. Not so. We tried the bananas foster, which Gator himself brought to the counter and lit to a bluish-orange glow. We waited until the bananas began caramelize into a toasty edge, then dug our spoons into the rummy, ice creamy, fruity concoction until we could stand no more. If you crave a N’awlins fix, Gator’s is likely the best place in the Bay Area to get it.
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