The other day I was behind a lady buying two full loaves of po-boy bread, and the check-out guy said, “You making some po-boys?” And she said, “Naw, I’m gonna feed the ducks.” You should’ve seen the sad look on that man’s face. But I started dreaming about duck po-boys…because I had Po-Boy Fest on the brain! Seriously, I’d been waiting for it for months, because I’d never made it out to that particular fest. The whole thing lasts a mere 9 hours, so you’ve got to get up and get yourself there, and the earlier the better, before the booths sell out. I went looking for po-boys I don’t see on menus, for some new experiences. I could only handle two, but they were mighty tasty. Below, One‘s pate and pickled vegetables (rich & vinegary):
And Mahony’s Mississippi Rabbit Salad with a bit of pickled apple on top. Mustardy, rich, and good, with pecans for crunch:
The fest is a big, crowded, day-long love affair with a darn good sandwich, but that’s not all it’s about. That just wouldn’t be New Orleans.
Po-boys at Your Leisure
For a private po-boy tour whenever you come to New Orleans, I recommend using a cab or car to get out of the touristy areas and eat some po-boys that the people eat. You’ll drive a bit, but the resting time on the road will make it easier to eat again once you get to the next destination. And you’ll get awesome food for a lot less money than if you stayed on the beaten path.
* A Mother’s ham po-boy. This is why I go to Mother’s. Well, that and the sweet potato pie. True, this is still a touristy place and a bit overpriced, but their ham is divine. Another one worth trying is the Ferdi Special–ham, roast beef, debris, and gravy. What’s debris? The little bits of roast beef that fall off into the juice. The good stuff.
* Parkway’s roast beef, shrimp, or catfish (above photo is of Parkway’s fried oyster…sadly, a thing of the past, since last year’s oil spill caused oyster prices to soar). Be sure to try some gravy fries as well. [2013 update: Parkway has oysters again, on Monday nights]
* A Casamento’s catfish loaf. Casamento’s doesn’t serve their sandwiches on po-boy bread, but everything else about them is like any other high-quality po-boy: super-fresh seafood, battered tastefully and fried just until done; lettuce, tomato, and mayo.
* At Crabby Jack’s, roasted duck (above) or a shrimp-and-oyster combo (below). Crabby Jack’s is the lunch-place affiliate of Jacques-Imo’s, and it is outstanding. It’s only open during daylight hours, so make this one of the earlier spots on your tour, but DEFINITELY go. They serve traditional po-boys here, like the shrimp-and-oyster, but you can get a few specialty types that are worth a try: roasted duck, fried green tomato and shrimp remoulade, cochon de lait. Also, they serve Jacques-Imo’s famous fried chicken. I think the fried chicken batter is used on the seafood too, and I think that’s why it’s so good.
A Feastivus for Those East of Us
If you’re east or west or anywhere far from New Orleans, make a po-boy fest at home! As far as NOLA cooking goes, po-boys are some of the easiest things to pull off. If I was hosting a po-boy fest, I’d start by preparing them as po-babies–cut the bread smaller so eaters don’t get too full to enjoy several different types. I’d batter and fry some shrimp, oysters, and catfish to offer singly or in combination. Shredded roast beef or pulled pork in a rich gravy would be a good hearty filling choice, and I’d have to throw an Italian option in there–either meatballs, Italian sausage, or paneed veal (a fried veal cutlet), ’cause that’s traditional, too. Shred some lettuce (iceberg or romaine) or cabbage (awesome!) and slice some tomatoes, and put out some good mayonnaise for the traditional garnishes on the seafood and roast beef or pork versions. For the Italian ones, you’ve got to have some mozzarella and some good red gravy. What’s red gravy? In this case, it’s the kind of Italian tomato sauce you wish your momma made.
About the bread: if you’re in the vicinity of New Orleans, you can buy po-boy bread at the store. It’s usually sold in loaves 3 feet long. If you’re not nearby, I recommend some soft, uncrusty French bread, preferably the type that has no preservatives and only stays good for a day. The po-boy bread in NOLA is light and fluffy, with a very thin crust that doesn’t crunch much or detract from the filling. It’s a kind of like a baguette had a baby with Wonder Bread. I’ve made sandwiches at home with denser breads, ciabatta, hard baguettes, etc., and they take over the whole show. They’re too hard to bite through, and the contents will get squashed (especially seafood), and that ain’t right.