If you love po-boys, you already know how you like them. It’s sloppy roast beef or crispy shrimp, thin-sliced ham or fat fried oysters. I bet you even have a precise combination for how you like it dressed.
Just listen to some po-boy pros when they order at the counter. In their confident cadence and specifics, they can sound like surgeons gloved up for an operation. “Hot sausage. Dressed. No lettuce.”
Still, one of the wonderful things about po-boys is the way the same basic idea of the sandwich can dial into our deepest New Orleans food cravings but also open the door for new flavors.
I think we understand that the humble po-boy is durable and ingrained enough to stand some tinkering and creative interpretation. So, even though we gravitate to the classics, we’re still bound to sample one that promises something a little different.
This is the time of year when po-boy possibilities are top of mind. The Oak Street Po-Boy Festival returns on Sunday, and the annual event has become a showcase for creative versions as vendors vie for awards and angle to lure festival-goers in a crowded field. This year you’ll find dozens of them out there competing along Oak (see details below).
But these ideas are by no means limited to the one-day wonders of the festival. New Orleans actually has a history of messing with po-boy tradition, and you can find examples old and new all across town. The Ferdi Special at Mother’s has to be one of the longest-lived hybrids, named for a customer who combined ham and roast beef.
Other shops have developed insider specials into house signatures. That explains the Bomb at Guy’s Po-Boys way Uptown, which gives you griddled catfish and shrimp stuck together with cheese that pulls apart in strands when you open the loaf.
There’s a spicy tuna po-boy at Seither’s Seafood in Harahan that looks like it visited the sushi bar on its way to your table, with avocado, eel sauce and sriracha, And in the Riverbend the Milkbar will make you a roasted lamb po-boy dressed with candy-apple-red Thai chili sauce.
I can’t drive down Tulane Avenue without thinking of Avery’s and its Buffalo shrimp po-boy, a two-fisted masterpiece of orangy, tangy, sauce and blue cheese dressing over reefs of shrimp on crunchy French.
Nearby in Mid-City at Bevi Seafood Company, try the Messi Swine, a three-pork harmony of ham, roast pork and crisp pork belly, with a bit of bite from pickled peppers.
In Gretna, Seersucker Restaurant presses some of the same buttons with its three little pigs po-boy – chunky hot sausage patties, ham, crinkly bacon, American cheese.
What I like about all these spots is how they start with a local staple, add a dose of imagination and come up with something delicious and original that still feels like it belongs in New Orleans. They have that crunch of our bread, we find them in perfectly ordinary, wonderful, unassuming New Orleans joints, and they have the company of the po-boy classics there next to them on the menu. They’re still po-boys, and we still love them, even if they are dressed a bit different.
When: Nov. 12, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
What: creative and traditional po-boys, four music stages, art and crafts. Free admission, $5 wristband required to buy po-boys.
Restaurants mentioned above:
401 Poydras St., 504-523-9656
5259 Magazine St., 504-891-5025
279 Hickory Ave., 504-738-1116
710 S. Carrollton Ave., 504-309-3310
2510 Tulane Ave., 504-821-4110
236 N. Carrollton Ave., 504-488-7503; and 4701 Airline Drive, Metairie, 504-885-5003
(note: Messi swine po-boy at Mid-City location only)
938 Hancock St., Gretna, 504-702-8040