3 Day Trip Report: Parkway, Central Grocery, Herbsaint, Galatoires, Emeril's, Mr. B's, Stella!
- a213b Jan 29, 2011 09:19 AM
(Bear with me please, it might take a couple of days to get them all up and posted).
Day 1 Lunch: Parkway and Central Grocery
We drove in right around noon on a Saturday, and before making our way to our hotel we decided to swing by Parkway Bakery to try their famous po'boys. Knowing we would also be heading immediately after to Central grocery, we decided to split a regular between the two of us, to ensure we wouldn't be full.
We had to wait in line for a good 30 - 45 mins because the place was hopping. Thankfully the time went by quickly as we chatted away and people watched. I particularly got a kick out of the couple in front of us when they ordered, as he asked what was in the gravy for his Roast Beef Po'boy, and the woman at the window just looked at him for a beat before saying, "Roast Beef". But I really had to suppress a giggle when he immediately followed that with, "Is there any sausage?" The look on the order taker's face was just priceless!
We stepped up to the window and placed our order for the fully dressed Roast Beef Po'boy, grabbed it when it came up and sat outside to enjoy the beautiful day. Cutting it in half, we each took our respective piece and dove in.
It was ... good. Not amazing, but good.
Growing up in Louisiana I've had plenty of po'boys, and this one was certainly in the upper echelon. The roast beef itself was flavorful, and I enjoyed the bread, but it wasn't revelatory -- but that's the point, isn't it? It's a sandwich. A good one, but a sandwich nonetheless.
I write this not to discourage people from trying it, but to temper expectations, given how frequently Parkway is lauded on this board and elsewhere.
Would I get it again? Eh, maybe if I lived in New Orleans and I didn't have to wait awhile. But I have a sneaking suspicion that there are other places in the surrounding environs that have just as good, if not better, versions available.
We left and headed down to Central Grocery, luckily finding a parking spot right in front. Thankfully here we had (apparently) just missed the lunch rush, as the line was not even out the door. My wife went and found us a couple of seats in the back while I went up and ordered a half. As I've read elsewhere on this board, the counterman did seem a bit brusque (read: he never said a word), but having to take the same order over and over, day after day, I can see that.
Anyway, I took the wrapped half of a muffaletta over to my wife and we sat down and dove in.
Ummmm, what? Did I miss something? Isn't this supposed to be the pinnacle, the Platonic Form of a muffaletta?
Perhaps it was an off day, but this was mediocre at best. The bread/filling ratio was WAY too skewed toward the bread ("where's the [meat]?"), the olive salad was scant, and the cold cuts themselves were yawn inducing. It was overly salty, and I feel like I've had better versions, well, just about everywhere else I've had one.
Talk to me ... help me see the light. Was it a bad day? Is there some secret code-word I need to throw down to get the good stuff? Did I go at the wrong time? Please, help! Because if not, this was an entirely pedestrian muffaletta, and though I might not make friends saying it, this CANNOT be the best one in the city, much less the state, much less the world.
Sigh ... maybe I just don't "get it".
You may have just hit a bad streak.
But, i rarely go to Parkway and haven't been to Central in years. I personally think you can get equal quality poboys at places other than Parkway without the wait and at a reasonable cost..
It is difficult to find a "perfect" muff as the definition of perfect varies. We could argue for a while just on who makes a good olive salad. But a common error is too much bread for the filling.
I know what you mean about CG and Parkway, but I do love them both. However, if you want a sublime RB poor boy, go to Merlin's way up on Franklin Avenue. I feel free to recommend this to you since you have a car -- perhaps it will be your farewell sandwich? Can't wait to hear the rest.
I never saw the hoopla in either one, especially CG. If I had to choose one it would hands-down be Parkway but neither stayed on my list after the first try. The owner of CG and his family stayed at my cousin's house for over a year after Katrina. When I told the owner that they said to tell him hello, he gave me a death stare. To me he just doesn't represent NO.
Day 1 Dinner: Herbsaint
After enjoying some time walking about the quarter, a nap, a good workout and then cleaning up, we left our hotel and walked over on a cool but pleasant night to Herbsaint for our 9pm reservation.
Bustling but not overwhelmingly raucous, we were told our table was just paying the check and opted to wait in the cozy bar area and enjoy a cocktail. I went for the "Dark and Stormy" while my wife had the "Herbsaint Champagne Cocktail", and we both enjoyed the well made drinks before being taken to our table.
We spent some time looking over the menu, and after hearing the specials placed our order.
We started with the "Louisiana Shrimp and Grits, with Tasso", and their Gumbo of the Day, which was Duck and House-Made Andouille.
Man, oh man, oh MAN! My first bite of that gumbo was simply sublime! Dark, rich, smoky and bursting with flavor, that is a roux that I would expect to come out of an old Tante's kitchen. There was just enough heat in it to perk up the palate without singeing one's mouth, and the roux/rice ratio was in a gloriously harmonious balance. Interspersed with andouille and duck chunks that exploded in my mouth like wonderful little flavor bombs, this was just a stunning bowl of gumbo.
And then I tried my wife's shrimp and "grits".
Wow! Just ............ WOW!
Five or six large shrimp perched across a dense grit-cake with a glorious sauce, Tasso and Okra; I really, REALLY wanted to eat all of this as well. And I would have, too, had my wife not devoured it all first. Thankfully I had sneaked a bite beforehand; otherwise I would have missed out on this delicious staple. Highly recommended.
Our dishes were whisked away and we were left to enjoy the next round of cocktails - Ginger Mint Juleps (what's-that-Hon-you-don't-want-yours-and-I-can-have-it, yes-please!) - and I giddily rubbed my hands together like the round little fat kid I was in 4th grade when I knew an extra piece of birthday cake was coming around at a friend's party.
Yeah, I guess it would be fair of you to say I was excited for our next dishes after such a fantastic start.
And soon enough, dropped right in front of my greedy eyes were the next two dishes we ordered: Kurabuta Pork Belly with Louisiana Sticky Rice Cake and Local Greens, and the Muscovy Duck Leg Confit with Dirty Rice and Citrus Gastrique.
Whoo-ey! That is a PIECE of pork belly! Good GOD!
By the way, I love pork belly. Don't you?
I mean, really, who doesn't? Oh, sure, there are those who say it's not for them, but I often wonder if they've ever actually tried it. I mean, for goodness sake, it's basically freaking crispy fat!!!!
Needless to say, I was a fan. Crackling as I cut through it, unctuous (yes, damn it, I used the word "unctuous" even though it's the food blogger word du jour right now and I hate it for all of its pretentious foppery!!!!), succulent with just the right amount of drippings (read: grease), this was lip-smackingly divine. And the Sticky Rice Cake! Touched with just a kiss of what seemed like acid from citrus (I could be wrong, it's been a few weeks and many drinks since then), it really helped to cut through - along with the bit of bitterness from the greens - the fatty richness of the pork belly.
But then I had a bite of my wife’s duck.
Oh. My. God. Wait, did I just really taste that?
(I took another bite)
Oh. My. God. Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod. Oh my FREAKING god!
I don’t know if it was the stars aligning just so, the drinks, the meh/disappointment from lunch, the group at the table next to us basically sitting in our laps (but that’s ok, let’s have a drink and some fun!), my beautiful wife’s soulful brown eyes … or what. I dunno.
But at that moment (and granted, I am certainly prone to just a touch of hyperbole), that was the BEST duck I have EVER eaten.
The perfectly crispy skin, the lovingly well-rendered layer of fat, the meaty, mouth-watering wallop of duck-y goodness … something primal kicked in. I don’t know how else to explain it.
What’s that Hon? You want it back? Oh, look, over there! It’s Brad Pitt with Angelina!
Gigantic bite; furious chewing, crumbs falling from my mouth as my crazed eyes whipped back and forth, frantically searching for another distraction.
MRehwh thsailz bcghuw quixzaf. Qhui nvdsi ahocke!!!! (That’s me telling her some sort of fantastically, nonsensical lie with my cheeks bulging as I destroyed yet another bite.)
Smack … gulp … OWWWWwwwwwwwww!!! Don’t stab me with your fork! I thought you loved me!
And with that, she was gone.
No, not my wife – the duck; that beautiful duck. A creature so perfect that I swear God herself put it on this planet so that Chef Link (well, probably Chef Prewitt at this point) could create this masterpiece and I could have those blessed few bites.
I watched as the final bite was delicately placed between those pouty, full lips of my better half – yeah, that’s right, don’t forget to dart your tongue out for that last morsel you tease! – and then it was gone.
I feel like I need a cigarette just writing this as I remember it.
It was all downhill from there. I mean, how could it not be? Sure, sure we got dessert. The Warm Chocolate Pudding Cake with Salted Caramel Ice cream. And it was good … damn good. A molten-y, chocolate-y cake, oozing with chocolate/caramel goodness, and accompanied by caramel popcorn that every college kid with a bag of weed would KILL for.
But all of it paled in comparison to that hauntingly outrageous duck.
Your review of Herbsaint is great. Entertaining and fill of information about the food. I am stuck home sick trying to recover for my upcoming trip to NO and this has really been the highlight of my day so far (sad /I know). I will be having dinner at Herbsaint while in NO. Thanks for the review!
I have been less a fan of Central Grocery, that almost everyone on this board. However, I still remember great muffalettas, but that spot is no longer what it once was, so I only have the memories. It's been a while, since we last visited CG, and it was a bit of a yawner for us too. Unfortunately, now I have not other great recs., and only have the memories of the ultimate muff. Some like a few other spots, but they seem to pale too, like Napoleon House. I was just never a fan.
Glad that you enjoyed Parkway Bakery. They have always come through for us, even if they are not the ultimate, ever, in any category. They just do things really well, and maybe that is all that one can ask for nowadays. They have never disappointed, and I always enjoy looking over the Pontchartrain Beach photographs, as I often spot some little detail, that I missed on previous trips.
Napoleon House Bar & Cafe
500 Chartres St, New Orleans, LA 70130
re: Bill Hunt
for us Parkway has been the ultimate for shrimp poboys -- large, freshly battered shrimp. perfect! last time i had the RB it was just a soggy mess..the bread was crushed and sogged by all the meat & gravy, kinda took away half the fun of a good poboy (crispy new orleans french). love that shrimp tho.
one of these days ill have to discipline to try the caprese poboy.
Kibbles, I agree completely. Roast beef or oyster are my two favorite poboys, and I have had to swear off the RB at Parkway after a couple of poboys that I literally couldn't pick up. Juicy is great, so juicy that the bread disintegrates in your hands is not. And they haven't sold oyster poboys I guess since the BP oil spill, which I find really aggravating. So I get the shrimp. Incidentally, I have never waited more than 10 or 15 minutes - I can't imagine how long the line must've been to incur a 45 minute wait!
If you have a vehicle, try the roast beef poboy at Kid Creole, which is a gas station on Airline Highway (or I think they've chsnged it to Drive), and the muffalettas at Nor-Joe's, just off Metairie Rd by the train tracks.
I think people laud Parkway as much as they do, because of the general decline in poboys elsewhere. Face it, outside if a beef bourguignon poboy, a roast beef poboy is roast beef poboy. Trouble is a good many shops are simply lopping slices off s Cisco delivered roast beef dipping it in a Cisco delivered beef gravy and getting by. Have a few of those, then head to Parkway and you too will sinning hallelujahs.
What makes a CG muff so good and always has is the bread. Its about Ledienheimers more than CG. Yes, everything else about if pretty ordinary. For high end ingredients go to Nor Joe, of Cochon Butcher, but neither if them has the bread.
930 Tchoupitoulas, New Orleans, LA 70130
re Parkway: Do not stand in line. Grab a seat at the bar or a bar table. None available...wait a few minutes. Much faster than the line. Bartender will take your order . You'll have your po boy in less than 10 min. Parkway for shrimp. I prefer Johnny's for RB (over R &O, Parasol's...now Tracey"s, LBTT). Merlin's is pretty good too.
you prefer the RB at Johnny's? i tried this a couple months back -- to my tastes, it was pretty awful. sliced RB in a watery juice, w/ green pickled things. no gravy. the water-juice soaked the usually crisp Ledienhiemer bread and it was generally pretty bland.
is that the norm? what do you prefer about it to the more stewed-roast varieties (parkway, traceys, etc)?
I like Domillese's for a a Po Boy. The truth is most restaurants in NO serve good Po Boys. That being said the Po Boy is all about the bread and the ingredients. I have some pretty good shrimp or Oyster Po Boys outside of N.O. but not once have I had a good Roast Beef Po Boy outside of New Orleans. I would love a roast beef po boy right now.
re: Edward Tyson
being from los angeles, home of Philippes roast beef french dips, i never order them in new orleans. i always get seafood po-boys. but last year husband ordered the roast beef po-boy at domilises. well, it was shoe leather in some good gravy. i don't know if that was normal but i was glad i got the shrimp.