What is known in some parts of the country as a "submarine sandwich" and in other parts as a "hoagie," is called a "po-boy" in New Orleans. And, like many other uniquely New Orleans and Louisiana creations, there is a festival to celebrate it, as well as a colorful story behind it.
The Oak Street Po-Boy Festival is held every year in mid-November along a commercial strip of Oak Street in the city's Carrollton neighborhood. Not only is the festival a culinary celebration of a famous sandwich, it also celebrates the rebirth of a once-thriving shopping district with roots as deep as the neighborhood itself. Carrollton was a separate city until it was annexed by New Orleans in 1874, and Oak Street was its commercial hub.
The one-day-only event, with hours from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., features live music, arts and handicrafts and – of course -- booths offering many different types of po-boys. Fried shrimp, oysters and catfish, along with ham and cheese and roast beef are the classics but there are many other choices as well. You can order them "dressed" with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and mayo or "naked" without the condiments. Either way they are yummy!
Past stars of the show included Vincent's "Godfather Po-boy" which consists of meatballs, Italian sausage, brisket, mozzarella cheese, basil and red sauce; Parkway's "The James Brown" which consists of slow roasted bbq beef, fried shrimp, torched pepper jack cheese with Crystal and Tobasco infused aioli, lettuce, tomato and pickles, and Voleos Seafood Restaurant's "Cajun Surf & Turf Smothered Rabbit Po-Boy".
During the festival, merchants along the Oak Street commercial corridor open their doors for browsers and buyers alike, offering a wide variety of merchandise ranging from vintage books and jewelry to works of art and unique apparel. Coffee shops and cozy little dining establishments offer their specialties, as do larger venues like Jacques-Imo's Restaurant and the world-renowned Maple Leaf Bar with its live music and large dance floor.
Festival organizers bill the event as an effort to "re-create that warm feeling of small-town Main Street," while displaying the extensive infrastructural improvements that have been made to the street in recent years. Not only has the street been resurfaced, improvements have been made to the sidewalks as well and a number of the businesses have set up tables outside. Thanks to these improvements, Oak Street has regained much of its earlier volume of commerce and prestige. With its early 20th century storefronts and facades, much of Oak Street retains its small-town ambience. In 2006 it was designated as a National Main Street by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Admission is free, but a $5 wristband must be purchased to access the po-boy vendors. Wristbands can be purchased from the various booths at the festival. The festival is fun for the whole family! VIP wristbands are available and get you access to the VIP lounge, as well as a "fast pass" to cut the lines.
The festival is not only pedestrian-friendly, it is also bike-friendly. Sufficient lock-up racks for bicycles are expected to be available by fest time.
The Oak Street Po-Boy Festival is fun for the whole family, with plenty of things for the kids to do, also. It is free and open to the public and is easily accessible from the French Quarter and downtown New Orleans. Take the historic St. Charles Avenue streetcar to the Oak Street stop and back. The fare is only $1.25 each way (exact change required).