Oak Street between S. Carrollton Avenue and Eagle Street
11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14; www.poboyfest.com
The debate about just what constitutes a perfect po-boy will go on for as long as New Orleanians love eating them. This weekend, however, the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival (formerly the New Orleans Po-Boy Preservation Festival) will throw a lot more fuel on the fire.
The event is held along seven blocks of the historic Oak Street commercial corridor and features po-boys from 36 vendors, which run the gamut from traditional po-boy shops to high-end contemporary restaurants.
While classic po-boys are well represented, many vendors will serve festival-inspired creations that don't appear on their regular menus — or anyone else's for that matter. GW Fins will make po-boys of fried Maine lobster tossed in Crystal hot sauce, and the pork cheek confit po-boy from Emeril's Delmonico and the pork belly and pepper jelly po-boy from Mahony's Po-Boy Shop may be in a race for the richest sandwiches in the field.
"I think this all speaks to the versatility of the po-boy, that you can do all this with it," says festival organizer Hank Staples, who owns the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street. "Even people who don't normally do po-boys at their restaurants wanted to get into it and see what they could come up with."
The event has proved particularly appealing to festival crowds as well. The inaugural edition in 2007 was an instant hit, attracting an estimated 10,000 people, and by 2009 the head count was up to 30,000. Such numbers led to severe congestion around the vending booths, but a proposed solution by festival managers to move the whole event to the open space of nearby Palmer Park sparked controversy. The upshot is that the event is now run by a newly formed group called Oak Street Merchants, Residents and Property Owners. The new organizers changed the festival name, discarded its former "Save Our Sandwich" motto and are planning a number of logistical changes to reduce crowding this year.
You'll find po-boy booths down Oak's side streets, for instance, creating outdoor food courts off the main drag. In addition to bands performing on three stages — including headliners Jon Cleary, the Rebirth Brass Band and the Radiators — you'll also find a number of acoustic acts and piano players performing in what Staples calls "secret gardens" located in neighbors' yards just off Oak. To reduce parking pressure in the historic neighborhood, organizers encourage people to ride bicycles to the festival, and they are providing a huge "bike corral" to secure them. Given all the eating this event promises, expending a little pedal power en route sounds like a good idea.