Monday, April 11, 2011

The Roast Beef Po-Boy


If the po-boy is New Orleans' iconic sandwich, then the roast beef version probably best represents perfection on a loaf of Leidenheimer. But what defines a great roast beef po-boy? Last week I was overhwhelmed with an inexplicable craving for roast beef, to the point where I knocked out 3 po-boys in 5 days (with a Friday in Lent included in that time frame). From this recent stretch run as well as years of painstaking research, a few common denominators have emerged as representative of the city's truly great specimens of roast beef.

Gravy Quantity - This should be blatantly obvious, but dry roast beef is a cardinal sin. When the sandwich sticks to the roof of your mouth, that's not a good thing. On the other end of the spectrum, a roast beef po-boy should not be so gravy-laden that it falls apart before taking the first bite. I have a friend who measures the deliciousness of a roast beef po-boy by the number of napkins required for consumption. Perfection lies somewhere in the middle.

Gravy Quality - A roast beef po-boy is not some bastardized version of a french dip (though vice versa may be true). Au jus is reserved for lesser culinary conquests like prime rib. Nor should roast beef taste of canned beef gravy or broth thickened with Kitchen Bouqet. We're looking for a gravy built from a foundation of beef drippings cooked down and thickened to concentrate the flavor.

The Beef - In my opinion, there is no correct answer to this question. I like debris style roast beef such as Parkway.  I like sliced roast beef such as Sammy's. I like chopped roast beef like R&O's. And I like all hybrid versions in between. What's most important is that the roast beef tastes like roast beef. Augmentations such as garlic or pot roast vegetables in the style of Mahoney's, while not traditional, are acceptable.

Composition - If there is one small step which can tansform a good roast beef po-boy to a great roast beef po-boy, it is toasting the bread. Hot and crunchy french bread provides a solid foundation for piling on the beef and is an added level of protection from gravy breaching the sandwich like floodwaters pushing through the 17th Street Canal. But do not toast the bread with all of the fixings; we want crunchy and cool lettuce, tomato, and pickles.

And thus it was written.

Currently, my favorite roast beef po-boy is from Parasol's. No, I didn't mean Tracey's. The subject of much controversy at the end of last summer, Parasol's stock has actually risen in my book due to a strong to quite strong performance by a roast beef po-boy composed of debris-style beef, thick gravy, toasted bread and a lagniappe of garlic butter and heavy dash of parsley flakes across the top layer of bread (pictured above). It's like eating your favorite roast beef on garlic bread.

Tell us about your favorite roast beef po-boy in the comments.

24 comments:

Archibald said...

The best one on the West Bank is in a tiny little place called Juneau's Sandwich shop. Debris style, just the right amount of gravy, and fantastic roast beef flavor.

Ned said...

What about cheese? Is swiss the only way to go?

Rene said...

Archibald,

Am partial (very) to Gattuso's roast beef po boys. But will check out Juneau's. Where is it?

Ned,

Cheese does not belong on a roast beef po boy.

Megan said...

Parkway's Roast Beef Po-Boy takes the cake for me.

Snakebite said...

That picture looks amazing.

Double Chin said...

Haven't been to Parasol's since the great schism. Sounds like those tourists from Florida who bought the place actually know what they are doing. I'll have to give it a shot this week.

S said...

Cafe Navarre in Lakeview - the recipe for the roast beef remains top secret, but these po-boys are exceptional.

Charles said...

Tracey's buys Kitchen Bouquet by the gallon.

Good Eater said...

I had a fantastic roast beef from Guy's this weekend. Highly recommended! In regards to cheese, I used to be a purist but my brother made me try swiss on it recently and that is heaven.

NOJuju said...

Huh. I thought Kitchen Bouquet was just a browning sauce, not a thickener. Guess not.

Susan said...

This is making me miss Acy's Pool Hall, on Sophie Wright Place.

Celeste said...

NOJuJu's right: Kitchen Bouquet is a coloring & flavoring agent. It doesn't thicken. And there's nothing wrong with a little KB in your gravy, cher.

Anonymous said...

Guillory's in Metry has a great roast beef. It's behind the Burger King on Airline between Cleary and Severn. My all time favorite used to be Smilie's (before the new ownership). Also, Tracey's is too dry for my taste.

jeffrey said...

I like to use a little Kitchen Bouquet when I do roast beef po boys at home. Not a thing wrong with that at all.

Haven't tried the new Parasol's yet but ever since I read about the garlic butter I've been meaning to give it a try. I was always partial to the old Parasol's and should add that two weeks ago I picked up a roast beef from Tracey's and I swear they've gotten better. If that's the KB talking, all I can say is, I've got a fever for it.

Peter said...

I don't have much personal experience with Kitchen Bouquet other than one memorable Thanksgiving when a recipe-challenged Aunt was taxed with making the turkey gravy and I swore off Kitchen Bouqet forever. Perhaps it's time to give it another shot.

Thanks for the comments everyone.

DubbaYa said...

I like Di Martino's on the Westbank, thin sliced, drowned with good gravy. All the other crap in the media fall's short.

Archibald said...

Rene:

You want to google map Juneau's. It's in the middle of a neighborhood in Harvey next to a school. Not anywhere near any major streets. Total hole in the wall.

Archibald said...

Rene:

I also like Gattuso's. Juneau's is better.

Daryl said...

Come give us a try at Kid Creole on Airline.

Benjamin said...

Hey bud,

Used to enjoy reading your blog, but it's gettin old and I can't abide by the Tracey's bashing!

Get with it bro!

Rene said...

Benjamin,

Tracey's bashing? Pretty certain Peter gave it Par/birdie a few months back. The controversy was about places that dont take cards but charge an ATM fee.

Get with it, BRO!

Anonymous said...

I haven't tried the roast beast at Parasols since the new ownership, I guess I'll give it a try.

I grew up eating an equal portion of Parasol's and Short Stop (in metairie) roast beef poboys, and at this point I like short stop the best--but it literally is pure debris. There are no big chunks of meat. You need to eat it in like 2 minutes before it turns into a smoothie.

The roast beef at Liuzza's looks really good though, and I will try that soon.

Scott

Jonathan said...

i'll go ahead and say it now. i used to be a firm believer in parkway RB. But after a parenton's roast beef, dressed, hold mayo, add provolone, i had an epiphany. it blows parkway out of the water. it's a little hole in the wall in my hood, off central, about 1/2 block fro Blue Tomato, keeper of the best lasagne in the city. parenton's is legeazy

Anonymous said...

Try Donewar's in Gretna for a great roast beef po boy.