Parkway Bakery & Tavern
New Orleans, Louisiana
Good, fried chicken you can get in many places. The same is probably true for po’boys.
But, whereas fried chicken claims its home all over the South (and in a few, isolated pockets around the country, including Stroud’s, which is in my backyard), an authentic po’boy, like a muffalata, is, arguably, best experienced in New Orleans.
It was with this thought in mind that I crossed off the much-applauded Willie Mae’s Scotch House from my crammed dining itinerary in favor of sampling two of New Orlean’s most well-regarded po’boy restaurants.
With both restaurants situated well outside the French Quarter, and neither restaurant situated remotely close to the other, our lunch ended up being a po’boy crawl by cab.
Parkway Bakery & Tavern was the first of our two po’boy lunches.
Thanks to a few additions, this small, simple-frame house with butter-yellow siding fits a lot of people. When weather allows, there’s a huge outdoor patio that can accommodate even more people.
Seating here is communal, more or less. You pick your seat, you pick your neighbor. Or, when the place is packed, as it was the entire time we were there, your seat picks you.
The five of us split four po’boys:
The “Oyster Po’Boy” ($10.20 for the regular) was my favorite.
The oysters were plump, well-crusted on the outside, and garnished with a simple mix of shredded iceberg, tomatoes, and a slick of mayonnaise (the standard-issue garnishes on all Parkway po’boys unless otherwise requested). Pickles, which I normally don’t like in my sarnies, almost seemed needed here to complete the picture, giving each bite a nice zing. It was delicious.
Similarly, with a generous heap of tender, plump popcorn shrimp spilling out from between the bread, the “Shrimp Po’Boy” was quite good ($7.50 for the regular). It was well-made, but bit ordinary (I don’t know how many dozens of shrimp po’boys I’ve seen on menus across America). I preferred the taste of the fried oysters.
The “Home-Cooked Hot Roast Beef with Gravy Po’Boy” was a disappointing ($6.65 for regular). The meat was pulpy and bland – almost a mix of beef stew debris and gravy. The filling was so soft and mushy that it oozed out the sides; a mess to eat. If it had been flavorful, I wouldn’t have minded – some of the most delicious things in life are a mess to eat.
The unexpected surprise at this meal was my friend’s “Caprese Po’Boy ($6.35 for the regular).
This sandwich featured an impressive, vertically aligned row of sliced mozzarella and tomatoes dressed with a delicious balsamic-basil marinade that soaked into the bottom piece of bread, making it almost like a fat caprese pan bagnat. Dramatically constructed, a sight to behold, this po’boy had to be eaten open-faced.
Not only was it flavorful and the mozzarella buttery and soft, but the tomatoes were shockingly good for the middle of January. I know that winters are more mild in the South, but if this is the local norm for winter produce, then living in the South gets one more point on the scoreboard (n.b. the tomatoes on all the other po’boys were the typical, loamy, pink nasties you expect to find in the winter).
Parkway Bakery & Tavern is an efficient operation. We arrived around noon and had a five-minute wait in line, just enough time to send out a scout for an open table and decide on our orders.
Food came out somewhat haphazardly. Our first po’boy order was called right after we paid. Perhaps not surprisingly, they were two of the more popular (if not the most popular) po’boys: the oyster and the roast beef. They probably have a couple of hands in the back dedicated to making these all day long. Our last po’boy to be called – the Caprese – came out just as we were finishing the other three, about twenty-minutes after we ordered. Otherwise, the place runs on clock work. Tables are cleared and wiped quickly. Even the customers seemed mindful of waiting guests.
The stiff French-style bread (with a nice crust, if I may say) here serves its purpose well: a ready sponge for the sauces and juices that abound.
Although the restaurant was once a bakery, it now gets its bread from Leidenheimer Baking Co., a local bakery opened by a German immigrant at the end of the nineteenth century. They distribute their bread across the country.
The menu here is quite extensive. There are nearly two dozen different po’boys, including alligator sausage and grilled Reuben. And it seemed like the locals don’t come here just for the sandwiches. We shared a large communal table with a group of local regulars. With the exception of one oyster po’boy-eater, the rest of them nursed large styrofoam bowls of steaming turkey and alligator gumbo with a nob of bread on the side for dipping and scraping. I’d love to come back and explore the menu more.
Having ordered too much, we called up our cab driver, who picked us up and whisked us off to our next po’boy lunch.
To see all of the (disgracefully subpar) photos from this lunch, CLICK HERE.
Parkway Bakery & Tavern
538 Hagan Avenue
New Orleans, Louisiana 70119-4911
Note: There must be a disproportionately high number of Katherines/Kathryns in New Orleans. During our hour visit, we counted at least 25 Katherines/Kathryns called for orders over the loudspeaker. Not only are they everywhere, but apparently, the do all the ordering for their family and friends.