Ask any New Orleanian and he will tell you a po’boy starts first with proper po’boy bread, which is available only in New Orleans, said culinary authority Poppy Tooker, host of Louisiana Eats!, a popular radio show program on WWNO in New Orleans. “It’s the only place you can create the loaf with the crispy outside and soft, tender inside,” she said. “And it’s only good for 24 hours and then is turned into bread pudding.”
A cookbook author who treasures the foods and food history of New Orleans, Tooker is a happy advocate of the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival, not just because it’s fun, but also for its celebration of an iconic foodstuff that she feels is endangered.“There are only three French bread bakers for po’boy bread left in New Orleans,” she said, listing Alois J. Binder Bakery, John Gendusa Bakery and Leidenheimer Baking Co., the city’s preeminent baker of po’boy bread. At one time there were as many as 200 French bread bakers in the city.
“This is why the po’boy festival is important and why it happens. The po’boy is a vital, iconic piece of New Orleans culinary culture. My motto is ‘You’ve got to eat it to save it.’ You have to create a taste for it and a market for it or it will become extinct.”
While even the most casual po’boy consumer probably couldn’t imagine a day when the sandwich no longer existed, one need only reference a tragedy like Hurricane Katrina, which wiped out city businesses that never recovered or rebuilt.
Today, the city has no better culinary ambassador than the po’boy. In fact, the Leidenheimer trucks are painted with cartoon characters saying “Sink Ya Teeth Into A Piece of New Orleans Cultcha — A Leidenheimer Po-Boy!”
A delicious bite of culture it most certainly is.
Bring your appetite when you’re hunting down a New Orleans po’boy. A full sandwich is about 12 inches long. A half size is sometimes called a “shorty.” A po’boy, by the way, is never enunciated as “poor boy.” If you take your sandwich “dressed” that means it’ll come with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and pickles.
• Parkway Bakery & Tavern: Tracing its history to its founding in 1911, Parkway began making po’boys in 1929. It closed in 1993 and was purchased by Jay Nix who reopened it in 2003. The restaurant was under 6 feet of water after Katrina, but reopened in December 2005 serving its famous hot roast beef po’boys. The menu includes fried potato po’boys (an homage to the earliest humble po’boy filling), as well as a “surf and turf” (roast beef and fried shrimp covered in gravy), alligator sausage link, barbecue beef and hot dog po’boys. Graced with a lively full bar, Parkway is a sprawling neighborhood joint with a lot of personality. 538 Hagan Ave.; 504-482-3047, www.parkwaypoorboys.com/. Sandwiches range from $8 to $12.
• Mahony’s Po-Boy Shop: Opened in 2008, this newcomer quickly became a local favorite for its high-quality ingredients and culinary imagination. It won the Po-Boy Preservation Festival (now called Oak Street Po-Boy Festival) two consecutive years with its fried chicken livers and Creole coleslaw po’boy and its now signature “Peacemaker” po’boy stuffed with fried oysters, bacon and cheddar cheese. Its grilled shrimp and fried green tomatoes with remoulade sauce also is a highlight. The wait for a table and for the food may try your patience but the po’boy rewards are great. The menu also includes daily specials (gumbo, spaghetti and meatballs) as well as salads and desserts. 3454 Magazine St.; 504-899-3374, mahonyspoboys.com. Sandwiches range from $6.95 to $13.95