For those out on a jolly spree this St. Patrick's Day, all may seem copacetic in the Irish Channel. Parasol's Bar & Restaurant and Tracey's Bar & Restaurant are each hosting their own independent block parties for the holiday, though the two taverns are so close that the happy reveler may see it all as one big, green-clad bash.
Once the paper shamrocks are put away, however, Parasol's and Tracey's will get back to a roiling new food rivalry that's drawn a sharp line down the short block between them.
In business since 1952 and long famous for its roast beef po-boys, Parasol's made news last summer when its family owners sold the ramshackle corner joint to John and Thea Hogan, who moved here from Florida to buy the business. That didn't sit well with Jeff Carreras, who had leased Parasol's and operated the business there for 12 years. Carreras decided to open his own place, Tracey's, just one block away, and he took with him his staff, his recipes and everything from the bar's framed memorabilia to its battered beer coolers. That essentially makes Tracey's (2604 Magazine St., 897-5413; www.traceysnola.com) the old Parasol's in exile.
Compared to the original place, Tracey's is huge, airy and bright, though the food remains true to the Parasol's heritage. This is where to find the roast beef po-boy you remember from down the street, with the beef done in thick shreds and long strands and served on Leidenheimer bread. Parasol's bar snacks like fried pickles, fried okra and boudin balls also made the trip down the block, though so too did the annoying tendency of Parasol's fried shrimp to shed their batter in the po-boy loaf.
Meanwhile, today's Parasol's (2533 Constance St., 302-1543) is essentially an all new Parasol's. It has an established name and well-known address but new owners, new recipes and the challenge to introduce itself to customers.
The roast beef po-boy here is quite different from its predecessor, but it's excellent by any standard. The beef is debris style, all tiny particles bound together in gravy as thick as a glaze. This too is packed into a Leidenheimer loaf, only here a streak of parsley-flecked garlic butter goes across the lid.
That's one example of how this new Parasol's does business. It's traditional and clearly has the basics down but it puts some different ideas into play, too. That seems a sound course for a place trying to earn its own following, and it works out deliciously with the firecracker shrimp po-boy, in which large fried shrimp are coated in a mix of butter, hot sauce and garlic, and also with a clever novelty called the Irish sundae, which is a paper boat filled with horseradish-laced potato salad topped with debris.
Given the New Orleans penchant for food nostalgia and the loyalty of so many local eaters, the story behind the Parasol's and Tracey's situation is bound to inspire some partisan posturing. But where it really matters, when you unwrap that po-boy at the table — or the bar top — what we have are two very good po-boy restaurants on the same block. Tracey's is a bustling spot with an emerging reputation as an Uptown sports bar, and it's clear Parasol's is making an inspired effort to win the hearts and stomachs of skeptics. It doesn't take a pair of emerald-colored glasses to see this is good news.