When people tell me about their favorite new lunch spot these days, it's pretty likely it will be a gourmet burger joint, a Vietnamese noodle shop or the expansion of a well-marketed national chain. Diversity is great and new food options are exciting, but the pace of change for casual eats around New Orleans is enough to give some pause about the future of our homegrown food traditions.
That's why I was excited to stumble upon Avery's Po-boys, a hole-in-the-wall place with a few new ideas for New Orleans standards and a way with the classics that reminds diners why they became classics in the first place.
Avery's is on a stretch of Tulane Avenue that has long needed more entrepreneurial investment and finally seems to be getting some. The space has a bootstrap feel to it, a tidy blank slate given a few dashes of color here and there. It's a family-run shop opened in April by Christy and Justin Pitard, who named it for their daughter. Justin is a New Orleans native, and Christy hails from Buffalo, N.Y.
That explains one of Avery's prime specialties, and perhaps the best argument for trying the place: the Buffalo shrimp po-boy. Wing-style sauce on fried seafood is not a new idea, but attention to detail and composition makes Avery's example a standout. Shrimp are coated in a properly tangy Buffalo sauce with more pucker than heat, and the masterstroke is a chunky blue cheese dressing with the right balance of velvety richness and pungency.
The excellent roast beef is of the long-simmered, falling-to-bits variety, held together by a toasted Leidenheimer loaf. If you want to show someone how a good, country-style gumbo should taste, Avery's chicken and andouille version makes a fine alternative to a trip to the River Parishes.
Another interesting specialty is an oysters Rockefeller dip that would not be out of place on the buffet at a fancy party. It's about a quarter-cup of cream away from being a soup, with fresh-tasting spinach and a backbeat of anise. It's served in small bowls, but it should be a contender for a future po-boy filling in its own right.
A badly overcooked burger was a rare off note, which was a shame since its thick, hand-formed patty seemed to have potential. Daily specials follow the traditional plate lunch schedule, though one more thing I like about Avery's is how often unique items crop up. Fried potato salad is molded into baseball-sized orbs under a crisp panko shell and drizzled with creamy horseradish sauce.
The changing landscape of New Orleans lunch is cause for some handwringing. But at Avery's, you can keep those hands happily occupied juggling gravy-laden po-boys, gumbo and a little Buffalo sauce.