Locals drinking beer and peeling crawfish filled the Washington County Fairgrounds. The tantalizing scent of sizzling Cajun spices drifted through the air as chefs passed out bowls of gumbo. The sounds of jazz music, barking dogs and chattering people filled the air.
Ales and Tails is a festival that aims to celebrate crawfish and bring aid to local nonprofits. Attendees received fresh all-you-can-eat boiled crawfish, corn and potatoes. Ales and Tails combined with the Fayetteville Gumbo Cookoff this year, said Maudie Schmidt, the organizer of both events.
Schmidt is the owner of Cafe Rue Orleans, a restaurant that has been in Fayetteville for 19 years. Located on College Avenue, Cafe Rue Orleans serves New Orleans style food such as gumbo, etouffee and crawfish, Schmidt said.
Schmidt learned to cook from her family members, who are from restaurant families in New Orleans, she said. Schmidt was a teacher for 25 years in Louisiana before she moved to Fayetteville in 2000 to open a restaurant.
“Brandon Karn, the owner of Jammin Java, and I own an event company called Ales and Tails, LLC. We started Ales and Tails to bring Louisiana crawfish to Northwest Arkansas and to raise money for nonprofits in Fayetteville,” Schmidt said.
Gumbo is a soup made with duck, chicken, shrimp, sausage or squirrel, Schmidt said.
There were nine teams who participated in the Fayetteville Gumbo Cookoff, Schmidt said.
The only rule for cook-off participants is that they must make the gumbo on site, Schmidt said.
Louisiana Influence took first place during the 2019 Fayetteville Gumbo Cookoff, Schmidt said. Brooke Crosby owns Louisiana Influence, a food truck located in Bentonville at the 8th Street Market.
“I am from Lake Charles, Louisiana, and have always had a passion for cooking. I left my full-time job to open Louisiana Influence,” Crosby said.
This competition was Louisiana Influence’s first year participating, Crosby said. The gumbo was a chicken and sausage filé, which is made with ground sassafras leaves. Louisiana Influence serves speciality po boys, gumbo, jambalaya, popcorn shrimp and red beans and rice.
Attendees enjoyed the New Orleans style jazz music at Ales and Tails, which included a performance from the Crescent City Combo.
Jeff Gray started Crescent City Combo five years ago, band member Jeff Gray said. All of the members of Crescent City Combo are NWA musicians. Crescent City Combo plays all New Orleans music.
“The trombonist grew up in New Orleans, and I grew up 45 miles from New Orleans, so it's a lifelong love of the sound,” Gray said.
The team that has won the Fayetteville Gumbo Cookoff the last two years in a row is Cypress Roux Paddlers. This team stands out because they pair their gumbo with a special side: potato salad, team member Joe Soignent said.
Originally from Thibodaux, Louisiana, the Soignet family moved to Fayetteville in 2010. The couple was certain about the success of pairing potato salad and gumbo, Joe said. At the cook-off, customers waited in line for second servings of their gumbo.
“With potato salad and gumbo, it’s like sour cream on a taco. You can’t have gumbo without potato salad,” team member Dennise Soignet said.
The cook-off team Underwood Lawn and Tree Service makes gumbo with historical origins extending back to the 19th century, team member Larry Underwood said. The shrimp, sausage, breakfast sausage and vegetable gumbo has been made in the Underwood family for 50 years. Brothers Larry and Jake Underwood cook together in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, to keep family tradition alive.
“The recipe’s from my great great great great grandpa’s Choctaw, half-French and half-Cajun wife in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1850,” Larry said. “ It means a lot to me to teach my little brother how to cook this gumbo.
The proceeds from Ales and Tails went to the Humane Society of the Ozarks and Ranger’s Pantry, Schmidt said.
At Ales and Tails, there were adoptable dogs available to pet from the Humane Society of the Ozarks. One small dog named Annie will benefit from the money raised from Ales and Tails.
“Annie is a dog who has surgery for a broken pelvis three weeks ago. We’ll use the money from Ales and Tails to pay for her surgery,” said Allison Kimbrough, a director for the Humane Society of the Ozarks.
The Humane Society of the Ozarks has an emergency outreach program that is used when shelters won’t take dogs, Kimbrough said. The Humane Society of the Ozarks also offers assistance to people who might not be able to pay for their animal’s medicine or surgery.
Ranger’s Pantry is a community nonprofit group that provides kitty litter, dog food and cat food to those who can’t afford a pet, Schmidt said.
“The main beneficiaries of Ranger’s Pantry are senior citizens who want the companionship of a pet but don’t have the money to take care of one,” Schmidt said.
Ales and Tales hope to donate $1500 to the nonprofits from this years event, Schmidt said.
“We had a great day combining Ales and Tails and the Fayetteville Gumbo Cookoff and plan on combining the two events again next year,” Schmidt said. “We are happy to raise money and awareness for animals in NWA.”