Po-Boy Festival: The Biggest Yet
When the First Po-Boy Festival launched in 2006, the chefs who put it to together (also known as the Taste Buds) were uncertain as to whether anything would come of it. In this first post-Katrina year, Oak Street was renovating its buildings, streets, and overall look. Who would have guessed that all these forces would bring about one of the most attended of local festivals? Which is saying something.
Around ten years ago, I took a photo between Jacques Imo's and the Maple Street Bar (both on Oak Street, of course). If I had the photo (it disappeared just when I needed it), you would see enough people to fill the streets about a block deep in every direction. Now, it's the same scene, but two blocks deep, with indications that the crowd would never thin out.
I was a judge at the Po-Boy Festival in its first year. I missed a few over the years, but this year, I was back again. The Po-Boy sandwiches were a bit less innovative than in previous years, but there was much to try. Bruce Katz and I judged Best of the Fest, which was to pick the best overall sandwich from the winner in each category. They were all brought to us outside the Maple Leaf Bar. I think that's almost entirely because it was so difficult to move from this stand to that stand, or to check how many chefs turned up this year.
Of this I am certain: there were lots of interesting flavors and ingredients and even crazy costumes among the po-boy deliverers. Just walking down the street it was easy to see how tough the competition would be.
When the costumed volunteers delivered the sandwiches to be judged, we saw the tough competition up close. The first sandwich was a Nashville Hot Chicken by Anthony Cruz, whose company, Southerns wins competitions whenever they enter. He won the Fried Chicken Festival for this sandwich, which is served in a pop-up most Thursdays. He also had another finalist, a pork sandwich from his other brand, Gulf Tacos. Gonzo Smokehouse had a smoked brisket with very large chunks of brisket, aioli, and pickles. Seither’s in Harahan had maybe the most unique entry, which was a nod to the recently-deceased Dr. John. It had potato chips and colorful vegetables and a spicy ailoi and sriracha, and it was called Voodoo Fish and Chips. The Best of the Fest, overall winner, won for best seafood first. A Marrero caterer called Mrs.Dee's entered a dressed poor boy with a very large piece of fried fish and crab stuffing. It was really hard to choose the best of all this. They were all terrific, but Mrs. Dee’s had that something extra.
It was a perfect day for this or any other festival. There were no football games I hear, which brought out more people. I continue my insistence that the name should be "Poor Boy Festival" because its creator of the sandwich called it the "poor-boy restaurant." I keep pushing that idea, and a few people bring up the matter at every festival. It’s always a fun debate.