In other towns, you’ll run into grinders, subs, and heroes. You’ll taste banh mi, hoagies, and tortas. In New Orleans, there is only one sandwich that has its own festival, inspires heated debate and, indeed, has the potential to influence your life in unexpected ways – ways you may only discover after knockin’ on heaven’s door. Everyone who loves the po-boy has a story about one in particular – the day you fell in love with a fried oyster po-boy, celebrated a milestone over a dripping roast beef, or consoled a failure with anything served between two pieces of Leidenheimer’s bread. In a culinary paradise like New Orleans, you’re bound to run into some great, even life-changing po-boys. Here are five to test the theory….
1. The Roast Beef at Parasol’s (2533 Constance St., 504-302-1543)
When the legendary Irish Channel bar Parasol’s – famous for its fall-apart roast beef po-boys – changed ownership in 2010, its kitchen staff struck up a second line and moved up 3rd Street to Tracey’s, a revived joint with higher ceilings and more televisions. Along with the move came a narrative: Parasol’s new owner was painted as an outsider (he’s from Florida, but his wife is from New Orleans) and an opportunist. The tale conjured up moneybags and a monocle-sporting businessman. In reality, Johnny Hogan is a friendly, Hawaiian shirt-wearing regular at the bar with an abiding love for his adopted home. And while Tracey’s has gone the sports bar route, Parasol’s has maintained the charm of a local watering hole, with both a bare bones dining room and a cozy, dark bar. Parasol’s kitchen has maintained the classic taste of its roast beef – slow-cooked and debris-like, soaked in gravy – while adding a slight, delicious twist: its French bread is lightly toasted and kissed with garlic butter.
2. The Surf and Turf at Parkway Bakery & Tavern (538 Hagan St., 504-482-3047)
If there’s a po-boy standard-bearer in New Orleans, it’s likely Mid-City’s Parkway Bakery and Tavern. The family-owned restaurant is 110 years old and was the site of an incredible Katrina comeback, reopening less than four months after taking on six feet of water in the flood. The vibe is laidback, family-friendly, and decidedly vintage, with antique signs covering the walls. President Barack Obama brought the First Family to Parkway in 2010, opting for the famous fried shrimp po-boy. However, if you happen to be traveling without Michelle, go for the gusto: the Surf and Turf, a roast beef and shrimp monster that should sate your appetite for about a week. Don’t fret, vegetarians: there’s a delicious Caprese option, or pig out with the carbolicious golden fried potato (read: French fry) po-boy. Add a bag of Zapp’s chips and a bottle of Barq’s, and you’ve got a meal fit for the Commander in Chief.
3. The Duck at Crabby Jack’s (428 Jefferson Highway, 504-833-2722)
You are going to need a car, and the hours are sometimes prohibitive – Crabby Jack’s is a lunch-only proposition – but sometimes you’ve got to do some seeking to get ahold of something really special. Across the parish line on Jefferson Highway sits Crabby Jack’s, a shack that ain’t much to look at, but locals in the know flock here when they want something transcendent. Order the slow-cooked duck po-boy and grab a thick handful of napkins. You’ll need at least one to hide your first-bite face. If duck isn’t your favorite, go for the excellent shrimp remoulade and fried green tomato po-boy, another fan favorite.
4. The Half and Half: Shrimp and Oyster at Domilise’s (5240 Annunciation St., 504-899-9126)
Think up the most picture-perfect, old-fashioned, no-window, wood paneled rec room you can. Now cram a sandwich shop, a bar, and a few ancient tables inside. Sure, Domilise’s isn’t a fancy place, and it isn’t easy to find (smack dab in the middle of a residential block), but good golly if they don’t serve one of the best po-boys in the city. Just ask the Nevilles and the Mannings, who have been known to favor Dom’s. Grab a numbered ticket and order the combination oyster and shrimp po-boy. (Nevermind that the Travel Channel’s “Food Wars” picked Domilise’s shrimp po-boy over Parkway’s in a po-boy face-off. Get the combo.) It isn’t cheap (an actual poor boy couldn’t afford to spring for a $16 sandwich), but you aren’t likely to forget the big, hot-sauced, dressed, messy bite of heaven any time soon.
5. The Hot Sausage at Gene’s Po-Boys (1040 Elysian Fields Ave., 504-943-3861)
There are going to be those times. Having started the night at the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel, stumbled through the French Quarter, and ambled from club to club on Frenchmen Street, you’re going to be hungry. And where is your phone? And didn’t we start off the night with five people? And, my God, it’s four o’clock in the morning, is anything even open? There are going to be those times you somehow wander into that 24-hour, hole-in-the-wall, big pink building with the huge yellow signs on St. Claude and Elysian Fields. Welcome to Gene’s. Order a hot sausage po-boy and your complimentary soda and be happy, for a moment, to be consuming something without a proof. The rowdy atmosphere is not for the faint of heart, and the food is greasy, fatty, and messy. But…there are going to be those times.