A unique pleasure of the Oak Street 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.
"Best of Fest" went to WOW Wingery's (citywide; www.wowcafe.com) Shanghai shrimp po-boy, and winners in other categories included a bread pudding po-boy from Saltwater Grill (710 S. Carrollton Ave., 324-6640; www.saltwatergrillnola.com); Thai-style pork on a donut from Blue Dot Donuts (4301 Canal St., 218-4866; www.bluedotdonuts.com); fried chicken with ham and Swiss from Sammy's Food Service & Deli (3000 Elysian Fields Ave., 947-0675; www.sammysfood.com); and shrimp remoulade from Ridge Deli and Bistro (1827 Hickory Ave., Suite E, Harahan, 305-4195; www.ridgebistro.com). The Redfish Grill's (115 Bourbon St., 598-1200; www.redfishgrill.com) oyster po-boy was the lone traditionalist in the winner's circle.
The festival roster listed more than 40 restaurants and caterers participating this year, but Oak Street businesses also set up booths outside their doors to serve the crowds. Chiba (8312 Oak St., phone n.a.; www.chiba-nola.com), a new Japanese restaurant under construction, served panko-crusted oyster po-boys dressed with daikon radish, wasabi mayo and sheets of crisp lettuce. Perhaps the most unusual po-boy I tried came from Z'otz Cafe (8210 Oak St., 861-2224), which served the vegetarian barbecue jackfruit po-boy.
While I wasn't able to sample even close to the full range represented at the festival, some indulgent eating turned up other unique entries. I particularly liked the pate po-boy with pickled vegetables from One Restaurant & Lounge (8132 Hampson St., 301-9061; www.one-sl.com). Another standout was the rabbit salad from Mahony's Po-boy Shop (3454 Magazine St., 899-3374; www.mahonyspoboys.com), done in the style of chicken salad with big chunks of meat, herbs, pecans and pickled onions. Here's to keeping the creative po-boy juices flowing like gravy.