HOME > Chowhound > New Orleans >

Discussion

The New Orleans Roast Beef Po-boy

Pursuant to another thread, I decided to post separately on a topic near to my gastronomic heart - the "New Orleans Roast Beef Po-boy."

I was fortunate to grow up near New Orleans and was exposed to that city’s wonderful cuisine at a very early age. Somewhere along the road to adulthood, I encountered a New Orleans Roast Beef Po-boy. It was unlike anything that I had ever tasted.

I got to thinking about what set these apart from any myriad number of other roast beef sandwiches. What follows are my observations (many clouded by time) and some personal thoughts. I know that there are many variations, and personal touches, but when one speaks (reverently) of the great ones, some things seem to be common.

For me, it starts with the roast beef, itself. The cut should end up quite lean, though much of the fat could well be rendered out, during cooking. The best, all have a generous amount of garlic used. Many have it embedded in the beef, prior to cooking. Most have the outer area seared, but the cooking seems to be slow, so that the beef almost flakes with a fork. There are usually other seasonings, but the garlic takes front seat. Though slightly crisp on the outside, the inside is moist and tender.

Next comes the gravy. The best is mostly an au jus, from the cooking procedure. The best do not seem to use any thickening agents, but if they are, their use is very restrained. Some of the “debris” from cutting the beef is almost always part of the gravy.

Then, we have the bread. I remember the long baton (smaller than a baguette), which might have been any cut as 1/3 of the loaf. The crust is tight and almost crisp, but not quite, as there is a slightly "chewey" aspect to it. Most seemed to have been dressed with egg white, or maybe butter, prior to toasting. One aspect of the crust is to contain the juice from the fillings and not break down too rapidly – ya’ gotta’ be able to eat it without a knife and fork, right? The inside is moist and slightly spongy, to soak up the gravy/juices. The cellular structure is closed, and very slightly "doughy," but not too much, as the gravy will add a great deal of moisture.

Here, things get a bit cloudy, or personal. Many like the sandwich warmed, while some like them with just the temp of the roast beef from the steam table. Some like them “dressed,” which is often thought of as shredded lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. For me, it was thinly sliced aged Swiss cheese and the wonderful gravy. OK, I would sneak a little spiced mustard onto mine, but only when the chef’s gaze was averted. I also liked a quick turn in the toaster oven, but not too much. The heat from the roast beef, plus the gravy, was usually enough to start melting the Swiss cheese, but too much.

Because of the au jus gravy, one had to have plenty of napkins handy to eat these in a gentlemanly fashion. The better the po-boy, the more napkins, that were used.

Using the “way-back machine,” probably the two best versions of the New Orleans Roast Beef Po-boy, that I ever encountered were Frank’s Deli, Decatur St (when Frank’s MIL did the cooking) and Acy’s Pool Hall, Magazine St. Each was unique, with Acy’s gravy being a bit thicker than the pure au jus version from Frank’s. Frank’s might have used a touch more garlic, but not by very much. Otherwise, they were very similar, and I got mine with the Swiss cheese. At Frank’s, I always had a jar of spiced mustard behind the counter, that Frank would quietly pull out, when his MIL’s back was turned. With Acy’s, I almost always took the po-boy back to my studio, where I had my own spiced mustard.

In the recent past, only Parkway Bakery has come close – very good, but something is missing. Maybe it’s just my feeble memory.

What is your idea of a great New Orleans Roast Beef Po-boy? Where do you go for a RB po-boy fix? How do you order yours and have the cooks ever balked at your order?

Hunt

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. Thanks for the great note. I am sorry today that, not having travelled to NO, I have not had the opportunity to try what sounds like a incredibly tasty sandwich.

    The closest thing I have ever had, and that was many years ago, was a thinly sliced hot roast beef sandwich at a deli in Philly, with a small container of "au jus" on the side.

    The closest regional item I can compare this to is an overstuffed philly cheesesteak, made by an authentic philly steak place, with a pile of meat, cheese, and lightly cooked onions on an Amoroso roll, which, has a thin but firm crust, but can hold up long enough to absorb the meat juices, ketchup, pizza sauce, or whatever one prefers on his cheesteak..... Merry Xmas and happy eating.

    1. Hunt,
      You've given me a great mission for my trip to NOLA next month! I will be on the look out for the RB po-boy! :)
      thanks

      1. Ones I like: parkway, parasol's, Ignatius. (all very similar - to me, at least)
        Ones I dislike: domilise's, mahony's.

        1 Reply
        1. re: N.O.Food

          So far, the best I have had is the Ralph's Special at Mother's (Po'Boy with almost all Roast Beef Debris and Black Ham, with Cheese). But I still think that Johnny's makes a pretty good RB Po'Boy.

        2. I prefer the meat either shredded or sliced so thin that they are easily cut through by your front teeth when taking a bite. From my limited point of view outside the service window, I believe that Parkway's beef is thinly sliced strips 3-4 inches wide and 1 inch tall, and the meet is fished out of the gravy with a spider or a slotted spoon.

          The most important thing about the bread is that it holds up to the gravy soaked beef. Cotton like interior is preferred, but I like R&O's seeded Italian style bread as well. Dressings can be either sliced mozzarella or a light smear of mayo with lettuce, tomato, and pickles.

          All gravies are different. Garlic or no garlic is fine either way. But proper seasoning is a requirement. Sometimes the beef is so good that a heavy hand of salt and pepper is ally you need. Thickening agents are fine as long as that raw flour taste is cooked out.

          Parkway is the best in my opinion. I have never been a fan of Domilese's roast beef.

          1. the key to the best RB po boy is commitment. a good one can never put down once you start eating it.

            1. In the words of Vic, of Vic and Natly fame, "da key to a good roch beef po-boy is da mine aze. Put enuf mine aze on ya shoe and it's gona taste good." I cannot but agree. And I have two po-boy preferences which I prefer to be parepared in a manner so that the best way of eating them would be naked, in your bathtub, so that all you have to do when finished is stand up and turn on the shower.: roast beef and meatball, (always w/extra sauce)

              The best po places? Now, I like those from Parrans, and Parasol's, and the debris sandwhich from mother's. In the old day, Acy's Pool Hall, was to my way of thinking, supreme. Also the Old Olde College Inn--the thing used to weigh a ton.

              But in the end, edible complex's aphorism is accurate & completely to the point.

              2 Replies
              1. re: underworld gourmet

                I have experienced some, that I wish I had doned a goretex rain suit for. The bathtub & shower seem perfect. Also thanks for quoting Mr Vic in the above. Though I might disagree on his assertion (personal taste), it was great fun reading it.

                Hunt

                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  Conerning your jar of creole mustard, just for you, at Frank's--that's nice. I don't take mustard on my rochbeef, but find it essential on a ham swiss combo-and so carry a bottle of zatarain's in my car, and have been known to hand it to the guy behind the counter and tell him, extra this on my po-boy. Yellow mustard does have it's uses, but not on a good ham po boy.

                  What gets me is how few of the po-boy places have creole mustard available, now that I think of it. It should be th first choice. Any thots on this? Maybe we should start another thread debating mustards.

              2. another vote for Parasols and Parkway; both very similar. parasols has built its reputation on its RB, and even tho that was a previous owner it is still my favorite -- on good days. there are days when the RB is too thick/chewy, or the gravy not as wet as it should be. but on the best days (and luckily for me, on my last visit w/ guests) its where its at.

                while its a turnoff to some, its in a locals bar and getting a cheap amber on draught is the perfect compliment to the "10-napkin special".

                1. I have to put my vote in for Parasol's for the roast beef po'boy. I used to love Johnny Po' Boys but just tried them again recently and was not thrilled at all with anything but the morning bisquit sandwich. Love Parkway for other varieties but as far as roast beef I just love me some Parasol's!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                  1. Here's a vote for a diMartino's roast beef poboy. Mayo only or plain, please. A little shredded iceberg is okay, but I can't abide those pale pink, rocklike sliced tomatoes used in most "dressed".

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Hungry Celeste

                      I agree with you on those sliced tomatoes but ABSOLUTELY DISAGREE on the quality of their roast beef. I used to love their RB but that was before Hurricane Katrina. It's no longer the same RB as far as I am concerned; very disappointed...

                      1. re: pwmmc

                        You know, you're right. I had one about 6 months ago, and it was very ordinary. Nothing like the flavor/quality of several years ago.

                    2. Parson's RB po-boy was featured last night on diners, drive ins and dives - looks like a very tasty sandwich! I can't wait to go get one!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: jujuthomas

                        correction - it was Parasol's on that episode.

                      2. I've been waiting for another roast beef thread. Like any other food, they are all personal tastes that make one place special to each person, as well as the memories that are tied to the place. For me, Shortstop Poboys in Metry on Transcontinental is very good, becasue my family would go there together when I was a kid, there was also a place around the corner from us owned by Mr Trapani, but that place is no longer there. Nowadays, I really like the RB poboy from R&O's in Bucktown, and that is by far my wife's favorite. Parkway is good, as is Zimmer's, but I must say that Zimmer's had the best I've had in a while pre-Katrina, but ever since reopening after the storm they just aren't as good. Carbby Jack's has a good one as well.
                        My favorite way to get the RB poboy is dressed, with swiss and extra gravy, but that's is if i'm eating at the place, no extra gravy if it travles to my house.
                        The R&O special is quite tasty as well, RB with ham.
                        I have never been to impressed by Mother's although that seems to be the one most people "have" to have.
                        Sadly, living in Jersey, I can only get the roast beef poboy on my return visits to visit friends and family. Luckily I just went home a T-giving, will return on Jan 9th and then be back for Jazz fest.

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: roro1831

                          The wife went to Mother's with some Outtatowners... she had the roast beef, and (no surprise) declared it AWFUL!

                          What a shame that Mother's went their own way - No longer "Tun's Tavern South" on a weekend morning.

                          Parkway, is great, as was Jazzy Po'Boys, but I do like the crusty bread at R&O.

                          No Roast Beast Po'Boys in Jersey, but you can't get rippers or steamer clams here!

                          1. re: JerseyNOLA

                            Thanks for mentioning the ripper, I may venture to Rutt's Hut tomorrow.

                            1. re: roro1831

                              Is Benny Tudino's on Washington St still worthy of being one of teh 10 best Pizza's in Jersey?

                              Have you checked out the White Clam pizza at Star Tavern in Orange?

                              If you bring me PissClams, I'll be your slave for life!

                              1. re: JerseyNOLA

                                I think Benny's is some of the worst pizza I've had here. But, I have a feeling that pizza is to you as the roast beef poboy is to me. Not being from here I just don't get the big deal about pizza, probably because pizza in NOLA was not that big of a deal. The White Clam Pizza does sound good, that may sway my opinion about pizza.

                                I'll work on the Pissclams for ya.

                                1. re: roro1831

                                  My favorite local Pizza is Mario's on Van Houten in Clifton.... Veniza reminds me a lot of the place - downhome, comfort food, and one of the rare pizza joints where you can order in Polish.

                                  Here is Star's website : http://www.startavern.net/

                                  Pity you weren't around when the Clam Broth House was... not gourmet, but plenty of character(s).

                                  You must do a Passaic County Beefsteak - search here on Chowhound for links to NYT article and video... Not a NO Po'boy, but my oh my, melts in your mouth!

                                  The pissclams are tempting, but not easy to find in NJ anymore.... most come from Maine now

                                  1. re: JerseyNOLA

                                    Well, hitting Mario's should be easy, as I work in Clifton. I hear lots of stuff about the Clam Broth House, it is a shame I never got to experience it.

                                    1. re: JerseyNOLA

                                      has this thread been hijacked by the pizza clam? hmmmm

                                      1. re: edible complex

                                        Well, with enough Mayo, anything tastes great.... except in Jersey

                          2. I came across this article on a hunt to find the recipe for R&O's roast beef po-boys (roast and gravy). By far their roast beef dressed puts all other po-boys to shame. I grew up in New Orleans, and I didn't get that we rest of the world is not as blessed in the food department. I have lived in Phoenix, Atlanta and I am currently in Kansas City, there are NO roast beef po-boys that compare. R&O's roast beef po-boy has been my favorite food since I was a child. I tell everyone to go there when they visit New Orleans. Pot roast po-boys or slimy roast beef is just not right. Mayo, lettuce(not cabbage),and tomato does add that special something, even on a meat ball sub.

                            11 Replies
                            1. re: momocajun

                              R&Os gravy really rings da bell....

                              I always get a side of fries and gravy to make a "heart healthy" combo with the roast beast.

                              I always thought brown gravy and fires was local Passaic County fare, along with rippers and Texas wieners... but I had an Epiphany when I discovered that the gravy was much better when not out of a can, and R&Os is consistently GREAT.

                              1. re: momocajun

                                I feel similar to you. I've had roast beef sandwiches/po-boys elsewhere, and none has even been close. Have not had R&O's version, but it sounds great.

                                There's actually a current thread on the Texas board, about NOLA-style RB po-boys. The OP has found a good purveyor of these (Dallas?). In my travels, I have not even come close.

                                Hunt

                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                  Bill, in your travels, aren't you mainly in urban areas? The two places under discussion on the Texas Board are in Little Elm and Plano. They don't get many tourists. I have lived in Slidell so I have at least a passing acquaintance with po-boys and such.

                                  1. re: Plano Rose

                                    Normally, our travels do take us to urban locations, or resort areas. However, there are a few wonderful exceptions, like Blackberry Farm, Walland, TN, where we're heading back in Feb for our anniversary.

                                    I just passed through that thread, but found it interesting, mainly do to the OP's (IIRC) tie to New Orleans.

                                    I'll have to revisit the thread and see how it's progressing.

                                    Hunt

                                2. re: momocajun

                                  Last time I had a roast beef there the bread was wrong. Which makes it completely wrong. (it was some seeded bread, like the italian bread you get at the grocery). Wrong.

                                  1. re: bywatertim

                                    Not wrong, just different, Zimmer's does it with seeded bread as well.

                                    1. re: roro1831

                                      Indeed, not wrong. A roast beef on (sorely missed) United Bakery's seeded italian bread was a NOLA icon.

                                      1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                        If it isn't on french bread it isn't a poor boy.

                                        1. re: bywatertim

                                          Ha! You go tell the nice people at R&O that their roast beef sandwich on seeded italian isn't a poboy. Let me know how that goes.

                                          1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                            Agreed, R&O IMHO, has the best roast beef poboy around

                                    2. re: bywatertim

                                      R&O's has made their sandwiches on that type of roll since IO moved down here. Doesn't make it wrong - just their take on the dish.

                                  2. Well I grew up on the roast beefs at Pirate's Cove on Hwy. 90 in Pass Christian, MS. Always paired with a Barq's rootbeer or maybe a chocolate milkshake. Heaven. That place was the best!

                                    These days I would say Magazine St. Poboy does it right - dressed with mayo, lettuce and tomato is how I like them. And you can't beat the prices with a stick. Had one recently at Mandina's also. Could have been a little more flavorful but it still hit the spot.

                                    Roast beef poboys are possible my favorite food.

                                    1. not to be overlooked are the RB po boys at Rivershack, made with debris style roast beef and served on toasted, yet soft, french bread. and you can't beat their sweet fries and special sauce.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: edible complex

                                        Ooh, thanks for pointing this out. I haven't been in quite a while--probably not since the place changed hands. After the disconcerting facade touch-up paint job, I couldn't bear to go inside. The thought of a good RB will propel me through the doors, though.

                                      2. I always thought Acy's was the best roast beef poboy. I am continually in search of that flavor. I think Radosta's comes closest, and nolagrocery and Parkway on a good day. In recent months, those three are the only ones I've had.

                                        1. I just had one at R&O's yesterday and I have to say that IMHO it's the best. Parkway didn't do much for me on my last visit

                                          1. Oh, fun post, Bill!

                                            My favorite roast beef po-boy is from parasol's, but my runner up is from Napoleon House. Now I'll admit, after a late night I was mighty hungry in the morning, but did
                                            it ever taste delicious. I only like cheese, a hint of may and shredded lettuce on my
                                            po-boy. No one has ever balked.

                                            1. Bill, this is a classic CH post, imho. Makes me want to get on the next plain to NO.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: steelydad

                                                Thank you. This was a subject that is now near, and dear to my heart. Unfortunately, I probably still judge to many places by what I think I remember. Still, there are some that rise to the challenge.

                                                This Thanksgiving, I had some roast beef (not a po-boy, though we have introduced the chef to NOLA cuisine), that brought me back. It was done, as roast beef is done in Transylvania, of all places. One bite, and I closed my eyes. I was immediately transported back to the NOLA of my youth. Sans the normal po-boy accouterments, it was as I used to dream of. Maybe it's too much Faulkner, but smells and tastes can take me to another time and another place. This was great. How I wished that I'd had a loaf of French bread, some shredded lettuce, a slice of aged Swiss, and my hot mustard! It was that good.

                                                Appreciated,

                                                Hunt

                                              2. On the westbank in Gretna, my go to place is:

                                                Sailey's PoBoys
                                                1102 Stumpf Blvd
                                                Gretna, LA 70053
                                                504-301-0311
                                                murphyscatering@yahoo.com

                                                The flavor of the roast beef & natural au jus is just right! I do ask them to toast my french bread because that's the way I like it & it helps because I also ask for extra gravy!

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: Isabella

                                                  Isabella,

                                                  I do agree on the toasting. Now, I also ask for Swiss, and like it to be just a bit "melty." I know that many will decry my addition of Swiss (I also sneak in some hot-mustard to go with the gravy), that as with you, "that's the way I like it."

                                                  Hunt

                                                  PS - have never been to Sally's, but all of wife's family is on the East Back, so we don't get across the River, except to go up to some plantations. I'll keep an eye out for it - thanks.

                                                    1. re: nikinik

                                                      We might well be in the minority (and not considered "purists,") but we know what we like! Same for my choice of a bit of spiced mustard. Back in the days, I had a secret bottle of Gulden's, hidden behind the counter at Frank's. His M-I-L had no problem putting it on the counter for me (she was the RB-chef), but I think that Frank "lost" it, 'cause it was not what he considered as a proper condiment for their RB po-boy. I cannot prove that, but it's my feeling, after all those year.

                                                      Hunt

                                                2. I've had them everywhere but Parasol's is the best, Parkway Tavern is also good. Mother's has gone downhill in the extreme.

                                                  1. I had one once in the French Quarter (forget the place) that was roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy and cheddar cheese. Amazing!!! Does anyone know where that was?

                                                    8 Replies
                                                    1. re: TheKitchenHotline

                                                      That is a new prep to me. Maybe someone will recognize it (as unique as it is - at least to me), and can fill in the blank on the restaurant.

                                                      Thanks,

                                                      Hunt

                                                      1. re: TheKitchenHotline

                                                        don't know, but it sounds like a shepherd's pie po boy.

                                                        Palace Cafe serves this up:
                                                        Cochon du Lait Pot Pie Slow roasted pork “debris," garlicky spinach, smashed potatoes and cheddar cheese with French bread croutons and sweet onion gravy

                                                        1. re: edible complex

                                                          Have you noticed the ascendance of "debris" as "the standard?" If you go to the outlying Acme colonies, they are pushing the Debris Po-Boy..none of them have an identifiable peice of sliced roast beef. I think its a lazy-man's idea..just put the meat on and cook it till it falls apart. For me, the debris was the bits left over after the slices were gone.

                                                          1. re: hazelhurst

                                                            Exactly! Debris is no longer actually "debris". It's just roast beef that's been chopped or shredded.

                                                            1. re: BayouTeche

                                                              Glad to hear I'm not alone on this....

                                                            2. re: hazelhurst

                                                              Back "in the day," I considered this part of the au jus, ladled atop the RB. I realize that Mother's built part of their fame on debris po-boys, but those never did it for me. About the same distance, we had Acy's Poolhall, and it was not even close, as to where we'd go, even if parking near Acy's was tough to come by. We'd send two staff members out to get the order, and one would drive around, while the other would gather the bag.

                                                              I do enjoy RB cooked way down, but we are not doing po-boys with it, here in Phoenix. We just serve it over rice, rather like a stew, or really hearty soup. For me, po-boys need sliced RB, and the rest is lagniappe. [At least I can use THAT word here, unlike most boards.]

                                                              Hunt

                                                          2. re: TheKitchenHotline

                                                            I've had a Po' Boy like that somewhere (too much rum to remember where) and it takes the standard roast beef Po' Boy to a whole new level. I know cheese AND gravy sounds like over kill but in all actuality it is perfect. The mashed potatoes on the sandwich is how it should be. Sandwiches were not invented to be part of a meal but rather to be the entire meal.