I have spent the last year writing about some of Houston's best sandwiches. I've eaten a lot of delicious Houston offerings. But lest ye think my interest in sandwiches was nothing more than a writing assignment, let it heretofore be known that I have loved them since I was a kid and take every opportunity to devour them from the extremely suburban baloney and mayo on Wonder Bread at my friend's house when I was 10 to more recent tasty options all over Houston.
So, when I had the opportunity to visit New Orleans over the weekend, you can damn sure bet I took full advantage because, in case you were unaware, NOLA has some of the best sandwiches on the planet.
Before metaphorically digging in, let me way that the one I did miss out on was the traditional muffaletta, but, in fairness, I only had three days and wasn't there strictly to eat...well, sandwiches, anyway.
Upon arrival, my wife and I and some friends made a beeline for Parkway Bakery and Tavern (538 Hagan Avenue), for many, the best place in town for the city's famous poor boys. And while Houston has its own version, the classic in New Orleans is a fried seafood variety, especially fried shrimp.
The "dressed" version comes on a French roll that is damn near perfect in consistency. The interior is filled with plump and crunchy Gulf shrimp, more than probably should normally fill a sandwich this size, lettuce, tomato and remoulade (or mayo if you like). A full-sized version is easily enough for two people and even the half was so much, I needed a four-mile hike after lunch just to feel normal.
Other varieties of poor boys include a sausage link option — the NOLA answer to Italian sausage and pepper hoagie found in the northeast — and a roast beef and gravy (often referred to as debris) that is another New Orleans staple (more on that shortly).
The real discovery of the weekend was a little joint called Turkey and the Wolf (739 Jackson Avenue), a tiny hole-in-the wall less than a block from our AirBnB that every single Uber driver who picked us up or dropped us off said we had to try. It's no wonder. In 2017, it was named Bon Appétit's best new restaurant. Appropriately, in the teaser for the story, the author wrote, "Yes, America's best new restaurant is a sandwich shop."
Only open for lunch and popular with restaurant workers (I saw several while I was there and coming and going over the weekend), it only offers five sandwiches, but one is a classic southern dish that is also popular in NOLA: fried bologna.
Thick slices of bologna are griddled and layered with American cheese, shredded lettuce, hot mustard, mayo and house-made potato chips on delicate, thick slices of white bread, which are buttered and seared. Many kids who grew up in the South had fried baloney, but not like this. It's absolutely mind altering from the soft bread to the salty meat to the crunchy chips to the sharp spice from the hot mustard. Whatever good deed I performed that allowed us to be fatefully dropped in accommodations just a few steps from Turkey and the Wolf, let me know so I can keep it up.
On our last night, we were all pretty worn out from several nights of partying — we were there to celebrate the fortieth birthday of a good friend, which just happened to coincide with the first weekend of Mardi Gras — and absolutely stuffing ourselves full of food, we needed a place to wind down with some comfort food that wasn't perhaps fried.
Enter Marginy Brasserie (640 Frenchmen Street), essentially a diner-slash-bar-slash-music venue on Frenchmen, where all the best live music bars in New Orleans reside within just a few blocks. The name sounds and the food appears fancier than it is and we were all the better for it. Our birthday girl booked reservations and we all arrived to find a festive atmosphere and homey comfort fare including my stellar roast beef po'boy (the name is interchangeable with the "poor boy" spelling used by places like Parkway).
Many in New Orleans prefer the roast beef to the seafood variety of French bread delights and few would argue that Marginy is the place here to get one. But the fact is, it was terrific and, quite frankly, a very good example of a classic NOLA sandwich staple.
They roast sirloin and serve it covered in debris, the hearty gravy that makes this sandwich a multiple napkin affair. You can get it dressed with mayo, onion, lettuce and tomato or not. And it comes with a side of the au jus for dipping, which is barely necessary with the gravy, but still recommended. Like all the sandwiches in the New Orleans, the bread was perfection. The roast beef was about a quarter inch thick and loaded with flavor. The whole thing was messy and felt like the perfect comfort food on a rather chilly night.
The truth is, I didn't go to New Orleans on a mission to find the absolute best sandwiches. I was there to enjoy the company of friends and celebrate. But, I stumbled onto the "best new restaurant in America" circa 2017 and purposefully hit one of the most respected poor boy joints in a town filled with them. The great thing about NOLA is there are so many good places like these, you nearly trip over them when you walk down the street and sometimes, like my Sunday night at Marginy or the lucky break of finding Turkey and the Wolf.
And if they are going to have them, by God, I'm going to eat them.
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