New Orleans’ roast beef po boys don’t draw the attention bestowed on more distinctly regional Gulf Coast fried-seafood heroes, but locals are passionate about them; and the superior beef sandwiches made by eateries in and around New Orleans are as intrinsic as a muffaletta or an oyster loaf.
The best of the best is made at Parkway Bakery & Tavern, a wood-frame building overlooking Bayou St. John. It comes tightly wrapped in a tube of butcher paper that already is mottled through with gravy splotches when you pick it up at the kitchen window. Unwrap it and behold a length of fresh, brawny bread loaded with beef so falling-apart tender that it seems not to have been sliced but rather hand-pulled, like fine barbecued pork, into myriad slivers, nuggets and dainty clumps. It is difficult to discern where the meat ends and gravy begins because there is so much gravy saturating the meat and so many carving-board scraps, known as debris (say DAY-bree), in the gravy.
That meaty gravy makes the city’s ultimate dining bargain. For little more than the cost of an assembly-line Big Mac, Parkway’s gravy po boy is a sandwich of the good, chewy bread filled only with gravy. The bread is substantial enough to absorb massive amounts of the liquid and a booming beef scent, becoming the most appetizing savory loaf imaginable, its surface crowded with debris that is the concentrated essence of roast beef.