There were plenty of traditional po-boys to be had at the 2011 Oak Street Po-Boy Festival, though there’s no doubt that the festival has become an annual showcase for new and imaginative interpretations of our city’s gift to the world of sandwiches.
I never pass up a shot at an old school Vaucresson hot sausage, a favorite at many local festivals, but the unique pleasure of the Po-Boy Festival is the chance to sample lots of different twists and novel combinations inside the po-boy loaf. The festival’s official judges seemed to agree, based on their picks for the event’s 2011 awards, which were announced this week:
• Best of Fest: WOW Wingery’s Shanghai Shrimp Po-boy
• Best Specialty Non-Seafood: Saltwater Grill’s Bread Pudding Po-boy
• Best Specialty Seafood: Ridge Deli & Bistro’s Shrimp Remoulade Po-boy
• Best Specialty Seafood/Non-Shrimp: Redfish Grill’s Flash Fried Oyster Po-boy
• Best Specialty Seafood Shrimp: WOW Wingery’s Shanghai Shrimp Po-boy
• Best Poultry: Sammy’s Ray Ray Po-boy
• Best Meat: Blue Dot’s Pork Doboy Po-boy
Most of those are self-explanatory, if unorthodox. For the uninitiated, though, the Ray Ray, a menu mainstay at Sammy’s Food Service & Deli in Gentilly, is a combination of fried chicken, ham and Swiss cheese. Meanwhile, the “pork Doboy,” a Thai-style pork po-boy made on a donut, was a festival creation from Mid-City’s Blue Dot Donuts.
The festival roster lists more than 40 restaurants and caterers that participated this year, though that doesn’t include the Oak Street businesses that set up booths outside their own doors to serve the crowds too. These added options ranging from hot dogs from an enterprising Ace Hardware to hamburger po-boys and satsuma cocktails from Tru Burger.
Chiba, a new Japanese restaurant now under construction along Oak Street, served a panko-crusted oyster po-boy dressed with daikon radish, wasabi mayo and sheets of crisp lettuce (above). Perhaps the most unusual po-boy I tried at the festival came from Z’otz Café, a post-modern coffee house that brought vegetarian options to the mix, including the “BBQ jackfruit po-boy” (below). Loaded with sauce and slaw, it certainly looked like a barbecued pork po-boy at first glance, though the firm, mildly sweet tropical fruit tasted quite different.
While I wasn’t able to sample even close to the full range represented here, some aggressive eating across the festival turned up many other unique and delicious entries. I particularly liked the paté po-boy with good, crunchy, pickled vegetables from One Restaurant & Lounge.
Another standout for me was the rabbit salad from Mahony’s Po-boy Shop, done in the style of chicken salad with big chunks of meat, herbs, pecans and pickled onions.
While many of the most unique po-boys at the festival are one-day wonders inspired by the challenge and competitive vigor of the big event, there is a precedent for some hits here to survive on restaurant menus. See, for instance, Grand Isle Restaurant's shrimp Caminada po-boy, a 2010 Po-Boy Festival award winner, and the bread pudding po-boy pioneered by — and still available at — Ye Olde College Inn.
Here's to keeping the creative po-boy juices flowing like gravy.