Are the skills required to handle a roast beef po-boy passed down the family line? And when are New Orleans kids old enough to manage their own? These are some of the questions that come up when considering one of the city's classic sandwiches.
You don't make a roast beef po-boy like any other sandwich, and you don't eat one like all the others either. I was reminded of this during the course of two different meals at a pair of casual restaurants that feed the local mania.
At Porter & Luke’s, a new restaurant on Metairie Road, the roast beef is of that style that seems like one mass of meat, until you bite in or otherwise disturb its repose and all the little irregular strands of beef reveal their finer texture. The top of the loaf is firm and toasty-crisp, while after just a minute the bottom side has essentially become one with the robust but carefully applied gravy. Eating such a creation is not an offhand affair, but rather a two-fisted effort. The techniques of lifting, maneuvering and holding it all more-or-less together is a tribal skill shared by locals weaned on po-boys like this.
Which brings us to another po-boy, at another restaurant, Bear’s Po-boys, whose goodness is foretold by a roll of paper towels. Now, when there’s a paper towel roll provided for you at a seafood boil, you know you have a practical host. When you find the same roll on the table at a po-boy joint, you know you need to try the roast beef.
Of course that signal is a little redundant at Bear’s Po-boys. This restaurant name has long been synonymous with dripping, over-stuffed roast beef po-boys thanks to a string of related but independently-run locations around the Northshore. In 2010, a branch of Bear’s quietly opened in Metairie, taking over an attached dining room at Gennaro’s, which is a neon-trimmed, Depression-era barroom practically underneath the Causeway Boulevard overpass.
The beef is cut thin against the grain, carrying a little onion flavor, a bit of pepper and a full meaty taste. It might sound elementary that beef should taste meaty, but unfortunately that cannot always be taken for granted these days. Bear’s roast beef is awash with something like debris jus — wet, salty and wholly fused with tiny bits of meat. The crackly-crusted Leidenheimer loaf does its best, but, well, you’ll be glad those paper towels are at hand.
Bear’s debris is in no way limited to po-boys. It goes over cheese fries and it’s layered on a specialty burger, acting less as a topping and more as an equal partner to the patty. In fact, you can order a little tea cup-sized side order of the debris here. You may be surprised what you catch yourself pouring it over. I recommend the burly, ruffle-cut potato chips they fry up in back.
Though Bear’s Po-boy’s at Gennaro’s shares a roof with a bar, it is family friendly. There’s even a children’s menu with chicken tenders and such. But that begs the question: how old do New Orleans kids need to be before they’re entrusted with their own roast beef po-boy? Start them young, I say. Managing a proper roast beef po-boy is a lifelong skill. And if they make a mess of it, that’s all part of the process.
Bear’s Po-boys at Gennaro’s
3206 Metairie Rd., Metairie, (504) 833-9226
1517 Metairie Rd., Metairie, (504) 875-4555