After last year’s launch of his highly successful Gator’s Rustic Burgers food truck, Glen “Gator” Thompson has started the New Year by opening his first Creole and Cajun restaurant in the North Bay, Chef Gator’s Rustic Burger and his Creole Friends.
Thompson spent his formative years in Bayou Pigeon, Louisiana. Dubbed “The end of the world,” Bayou Pigeon is about as bayou as a place can be and certainly explains Chef Gator’s penchant for Cajun flavors.
“My mother was always cooking,” Thompson said. “She was a dietitian and ran her own catering company, so I learned a lot from her.”
It was later while in the Army, after wrestling an alligator, that Gator received his nickname.
Although both Creole and Cajun cultures and cuisine descend from the French, they did it by different paths. When it comes to distinctions in cuisine, it is said that Creole is a more refined “city cuisine,” while Cajun is “country food,” relying on more seasoning than fancy ingredients.
Because the city slickers had access to markets, with more ingredients, their cuisine was similar to that of Europe, where the country Cajuns were more in tune with living off the land, using all the parts of the animal, and relying on herbs and spices to enhance their flavors. Louisianans joke that a Creole feeds one family with three chickens, while a Cajun feeds three families with one chicken.
A common misconception is that Cajun food is simply spicy hot food. Many restaurants have done this cuisine a disservice by taking any one of their common menu items, over spicing it, and calling it “Cajun.” Spices are merely one component of Cajun cuisine, and are not meant to burn. Nothing we had at Gator’s was too spicy, even for our faint of heart.
After years as a professional chef, Gator wanted to start a burger food truck and he did just that. A couple of successful, and lucrative appearance on the Food Network’s “Guy’s Grocery Games,” hosted by local food legend Guy Fieri, certainly helped him with this endeavor. At that time, his next goal was to open a brick and mortar restaurant, which he has done in short order.
When not helping his staff in the kitchen, you will find Gator checking in with his guests. In fact, it was difficult to keep him focused during an interview, because rightly so, he was constantly turning to greet incoming guests, check on diners, and sharing mardi gras beads to thank his newfound friends as they finished up and left. Gator truly loves to serve.
Gator is a consummate professional, which helps explain why during our recent visit, he closed the kitchen to new orders for a short time. Although always looking to the future, wanting to introduce as many people as possible to his food, Gator also pays special attention to make sure he is not overextending himself or his staff, which could compromise the quality of his food.
Other than the chicken and waffles, which are excellent, the entire Creole menu is available in half-orders, which is a nice touch because it gives cautious diners a chance to ease their way into menu items they may have never heard of or tasted before. This made it easy during our three visits to sample a large portion of the menu without breaking the bank.