Last Updated on Monday, 10 December 2012 09:48
Dozen Best Roast Beef Poor Boys
The roast beef poor boy is alive and well, with more shops making better versions that at any time in history.
I think the hunger for a roast beef poor boy is cyclical. Like sunspots. (I checked to see whether it's caused by sunspots, but found no evidence.) About every four or five years people start asking me about favorite makers of the New Orleans classic. And that motivates me to make the eleventh or twelfth list like the one below. Today in my mail came two requests for this inventory. So here's a new revision.
We begin by noting that the classic roast beef poor boy flavor is found nowhere else but here. And that there are many variations on that taste. Most people think otherwise, believing that the first roast beef they ever had was the definitive one forever. I feel that way about the extinct Martin's Poor Boy Restaurant (the originator of the sandwich) and Clarence and Lefty's (a bar, which in the golden age was the best place to look for a good roast beef).
But there are others, as this list proves. Some people like their beef sliced; others like it shredded ("debris style"). Some like so much gravy that the sandwich is almost disintegrating towards the end of the eating. Others like just enough to keep the beef moist. To me, the most underrated aspect of a great roast beef poor boy is that the French bread is not only warm and crisp at the crust, but actually toasted a touch after the sandwich is assembled.
That roast beef sandwiches should be such an icon in New Orleans eating seems strange, given where we live. It's another proof that we are general masters of cooking and eating, not limited to a small range of ingredients and flavors as other places are.
Don't compare my list with yours or anyone else's, unless you're willing to acknowledge that nobody can do a statistically significant survey of the hundreds of roast beef poor boys out there. These are the ones I've enjoyed the most since the last sunspot cycle.
1. Johnny's Po-Boys. French Quarter: 511 St Louis. 504-524-8129. This is the closest to the flavor I remember from my fateful first roast beef poor boy at Clarence & Lefty's. Classic.
2. Pontchartrain Po-Boys. Mandeville: 4700 LA 22. 985-792-0499. This tiny, sparkling-clean little shop does what seems like an improbably huge lunch business. Eat the sandwich, and all becomes clear. Roots in St. Bernard Parish may explain everything.
3. Parkway Poor Boys. Mid-City: 538 Hagan Ave. 504-482-3047. A tremendous renaissance for one of the legendary names in the poor boy sandwich biz. Great beef and gravy and other sandwiches all made from scratch.
4. Liuzza's. Mid-City: 3636 Bienville. 504-482-9120. I always get the idea that the servers here would prefer you order something other than a roast beef poor boy from their big Creole-Italian menu. But this is a very hard sandwich to pass up.
5. Bear's. Covington: 128 W 21st Ave. 504-892-2373. The oldest Bear's--owned by a different side of the family--is the one in Covington. Its sandwich is a classic. The other three (below) have a more modern style, with lots of thinly-sliced beef and a light gravy. All the Bear's are capable of making you say theirs is the best ever.
5. Bear's Grill & Spirits. Slidell: 550 Gause Blvd . 985-201-8905. || Mandeville: 4700 LA 22. 985-674-9090. ||Old Metairie: 3206 Metairie Rd. 504-833-9226.
6. Parran's Po-Boys. Metairie: 3939 Veterans Blvd. 504-885-3416. Consistently the best bread of any shop on this list, particularly if you emphasize that you want to see actual toasted darkening on the top of the loaf. Tender beef, first-class gravy, all made in house.
7. Giorlando's. Metairie: 741 Bonnabel. 504-835-8593. Long one of the great roast beef sandwiches in Metairie, Giorlando's now has a full menu in a much nicer dining root. The poor boy is as good as ever.
8. Mandina's. Mid-City: 3800 Canal. 504-482-9179. It seems strange to order a poor boy here, what with all the great seafood and specials. But few are better made.
9. Guy's Po-Boys. Uptown: 5257 Magazine. 504-891-5025 . Throughout history, there have always been poor boy stands where one guy (or woman) makes all the sandwiches, one at a time, with high standards. Guy's is the current exemplar of that. Beautiful, delicious, way oversized poor boy.
10. Radosta's. Old Metairie: 249 Aris Ave. 504-831-1537. This former grocery store has at times been on the top of this list. It hasn't declined; the poor boy milieu has improved. Still consistent and home-cooked.
11. Monster Po-Boys. Mandeville: 1814 N Causeway Blvd. 504-626-9183. Neither the name nor the premises--a narrow space in a strip mall with low visibility--seem to promise much. In fact, these folks really know how to cook, and their roast beef poor boy has been wonderful for thirty years.
12. Shortstop's. Metairie: 119 Transcontinental Dr. 504-885-4572. Shortstop's roast beef is unique: it's almost entirely debris. Some people find this offputting, but the eating is fully enjoyable, with the classic roast beef poor boy flavor.
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