It wasn’t long ago that every Uptown house was within walking distance of a Roast Beef Poboy. Only 20 years ago, almost every second corner had a grocery or bar with a sandwich shop in the back. You can still see their architectural remains Uptown. The historic corner houses with double doors facing the intersection are vestiges of that simpler time. A select few of these locations continue to operate.
Clancy’s, the restaurant, was once old man Clancy’s Bar and Poboy Shop. I rode my bike there to buy candy. Norby’s Bar and Restaurant has become Patois. An apartment two blocks down was formerly LaCour’s Grocery. In another direction was Mouledous’ Butcher and Grocery—now Fresh Bar. Toast now occupies the defunct Draube’s neighborhood Bar and Grocer. These establishments coexisted with dozen of others in the same few blocks. Most served poboys. Due to gentrification and time, most are now lost.
Luckily, we can celebrate the few we have left. Miss Dot, Dorothy Domilise, is no longer presiding over her counter, but Domilise’s Poboy Shop and Bar, founded by her family in 1918, remains on the corner of Annunciation and Bellecastle. Locals know to order their sandwich at the door then proceed to Mr. Ray at the bar for their Barq’s. Mr. Ray, the bartender, was there when I visited this week—as he has been my entire life. I ordered the thinly sliced Roast Beef Poboy, dressed of course, with a touch of Dijon mustard. I also ordered the Debris Fries. A bit redundant with the Roast Beef sandwich, but the gravy was worth it. This is how a New Orleans Roast Beef Poboy is supposed to taste. The standard bearer. The poboy of our youth and our parents and grandparents’ youth.
The Jefferson City Buzzard Marching Club was there that day. Fried Shrimp and Oyster Poboys were the fuel of the satin-costumed maskers. A few beers also helped fortify the revelers. The club has been marching and eating poboys since 1890; they know where to go for a poboy.
Mr. Ray fussed as I took photos. I had momentarily blocked the door and all, but I was simply happy he was still there after 45 years. Domilise’s is, of course, internationally famous for their Fried Oyster, Fried Shrimp, and Hot Sausage Poboys, but this was an Uptown quest for the classic Roast Beef.
I still mourn the French Fry Poboy from Norby’s—more so than the actual Roast Beef Sandwich. “Nawbys, can I take ya awdah?”— ah, the nostalgia of Mr. Norby’s familiar telephone greeting. His family also understood the need for rich, garlicky gravy. A gravy, that melded with the mayonnaise, covered each slice of the tender, sliced Roast Beef and turned the fresh crusty French bread into a 12-napkin celebration. Norby’s would even deliver your poboys via bike—the same bike used by the paperboy. But instead of forty Times-Picayunes in the basket, it was poboys. We all ran and leaned over the gates of our houses to grab the hot sandwiches. Alas, now it is Patois: a lovely French restaurant, fine dining akin to Clancy’s, but not quite the same neighborhood feel… and no poboy.
Today, luckily, deep Uptown, we have Guy’s Poboys on Magazine. Recently, an auto-hits-building incident temporarily closed the corner shop down. It looks like the car drove in the front door. Renovations are in progress, and Guy’s will return in a few weeks. The poboys are worth the wait for repairs and the wait in line for lunch. The shop, like most, is tiny. The Roast Beef Poboy is as it should be. Garlicky gravy, thick, rich, and divinely messy. They also serve the historic French Fry Poboy smothered in Debris Gravy. The Poboy menu is extensive and traditional. I’ll be there when they reopen.
Franky & Johnny’s also serves poboys, including a Roast Beef Poboy. I haven’t tried their poboys since they reopened.
Traveling further down Magazine towards the Garden District leads to more traditional Roast Beef Poboys. Magazine Poboy Shop, Tracey’s, Ignatius Eatery, and if you turn the corner at Tracey’s, Parasol’s is right there. All serve the sandwich. All also understand and honor New Orleans’ supremely messy Roast Beef Poboy tradition. Parasol’s Irish Channel Bar is the creator of my father’s favorite Roast Beef Poboy: tender, moist beef, solid gravy, and a unique touch of garlic butter. Around the corner, Tracy’s also makes the grade and serves up a delicious hot mess of a Roast Beef Poboy.
Mahony’s Poboys is also on Magazine. They’ve been around a few years, but are still newcomers to born-and-bred Uptowners. They serve a solid Roast Beef Poboy. It is indeed a superb and delicious sandwich. The meat is cooked perfectly. However, it’s not traditional New Orleans. It tastes like a brisket or a pot roast. Each bite has the taste of carrots, not garlic, nor the local culinary trinity. Carrots.
Poboys, like all foods, have evolved and changed for the better and, occasionally, the worse. The annual November Poboy Festival on Oak is a revelation. The innovation and quality grow yearly. This past Fest served up Oysters Rockefeller Poboys, Slow Roasted Duck Poboys with Green Apple Cole Slaw (great), Turducken Sausage Poboys, Cochon de Lait, Mexican Cheesesteak, The German Goulash Poboys, Muffuletta Sausage Poboys, and so many more.
This week, I remain wistful for that time when we could walk to our favorite poboy shop and carry it home to our porches wrapped in white paper…
Kristine Froeba is a fourth generation Uptown girl whose varied background includes food and travel writing, celebrity ghost writing, public relations, social media management, fundraising, preservationist, reluctant tabloid hack, and litigation specialist. She describes herself as part foodie, part writer, part historian, historic renovation zealot, and full time dabbler.