NEW ORLEANS: I’M JUST A PO’ BOY, I NEED NO SYMPATHY
You are just going to have to forgive the first picture of this post
It is a bit steamy. But then, so is New Orleans. Particularly right now when the humidity is hateful and leads to thunderstorms about, oh, every 30 seconds or so.
It makes walking around jolly difficult even allowing for the fact that, being British, I have a brolly permanently to hand.
Fortunately for me, I did not have to walk much today because my chum, the afore mentioned, Chris MacMillan, legendary cocktail maker etc etc and all round good egg, had offered to be my guide for a tour around some of New Orleans’ finest food offerings and to chauffeur me in his big green Lincoln Town car to boot.
First stop, The Parkway Bakery & Tavern next to Bayeux St John in Mid City. I had been told by an impeccable source, that this place, one of a dying breed, served up amongst the best Po’boys in the city and so, we just had to try it.
For Chris, as straight forward Shrimp affair while I went for the half and half split between catfish and shrimp. Chris asked for them both to be “fully dressed” which, I am told involves them coming with lettuce, tomato, Creole mustard and mayonnaise.
While we waited, Chris, being a historian as well as a superlative cocktail maker, gave me a lesson in the origins of the Po’ Boy. Apparently, they were originally a local version of a chip butty with the dressed bread being filled with fried potatoes. Alternative versions now include spectacular looking beef versions, but originally were spread with the drippings of the beef for people who could not afford the meat.
By the time he had given me Po’Boy 101, the sarnies had arrived. Damn, no wonder some people in this country are the size of a house. I couldn’t help but wonder if a few of them had laid down in front of the Levee during Katrina, if it may have not kept back the waves.
The sandwiches were good and Chris assured me they were as good as you can get. The seafood was crispy coated and sweet, sweet, sweet in the inside and the sloppy dressing complimented the crunchy French bread to perfection.
We waddled out of there and back to Chris’ car and he then took me on a tour of the lakeshore because he said it was important that people saw what Katrina had done to this amazing city. Not just the 9th Ward which had become a poster cause for the city but for other neighbourhoods both wealthy, poor and right down the middle.
I have to admit that my thoughts about fat people blocking the Levee became progressively less amusing as Chris drove, and drove and drove through various neighbourhoods and I could see the remains of the devastation even now two years on from the cataclysmic event.
House after house still unoccupied by owners who have decided to make lives elsewhere. Communities, once thriving, are now ghost areas and schools and hospitals have been left gutted and empty. A chilling and eye opening experience.
As we drove, Chris turned on the radio to WWOZ, the home of New Orleans jazz. It seemed a fitting soundtrack as we drove and our conversation petered out amongst so much damage.
But, as Chris pointed out, this city is nothing if not resilient and he insisted that we go and try another New Orleans speciality, the Muffaletta.
In his mind, there is only one place to have this famous NOLA sandwich and that is at the source, The Central Grocery.
As ever, he was very specific about how it should be served. In this case with the dressing of olive salad on both sides. In effect, it is a sandwich made with salami, ham, two types of cheese and a dressing made of brined olives, capers, chopped carrots and olive oil. The end result is an enormous butty that is, perhaps, too much on the messy side of enjoyable for me and which contains cheese and meats of no distinct provenance. But, sitting there with Chris, as he filled me in on the history of Peychaud bitters, made about a block from where we were sitting, I could not have been happier.
A quick beer later at Tujague’s, another New Orleans stalwart, and my host had to head off to make drinks for people who would not appreciate them and I had to go back to my hotel and have a nap in preparation for my supper in The Garden District.
Hard work this writing a book business