Sunday was the 5th Annual Po-Boy Festival and the second time I attended. Located on Oak Street in Uptown, the festival stretches from Carrolton to the levee and features 3 music stages, an arts and crafts alley for early holiday shopping, dancing lessons for kids with DancingMan504, a book fair, a dunking booth and a cornucopia of Po-Boys to choose from. Though there were booths featuring everything from Bacon Fried Hot Dogs to Paté and Pickled Veggies, the Po-Boy was king for a day with restaurants from all over the city bringing their best interpretations to sell and compete.
For those not in the know, a Po-Boy is New Orleans’ version of a submarine sandwich invented in 1922 by Bennie and Clovis Martin, former streetcar conductors. For more about the history of the Po-Boy, what inspired it, and where the name comes from, enjoy last year’s post.
Yearly attendance of the event has been increasing dramatically over the past few years, but the crowd seems to be evening out now. Even so, things like parking and restrooms become problematic at any big event. So, imagine my delight when a friend invited me to park in her driveway, within 30 feet of the festival. Driving up to the house, a huge line of people stretched back for most of the block. We assumed it was for the portalettes sitting between the house and Oak St., but our friends explained that it was the line for the infamous G.W. Fins Fried Lobster Po-Boy ($9). Last year, the line for those Po-Boys was impossibly long and the restaurant ran out of food early in the afternoon, but the legend lived on. All day, when we’d ask people the best Po-Boy they’d eaten, they’d pick the lobster. This year, people got wise and lined up as early as 10am. We decided to jump right into the fest rather than waiting in line in front of the house for an hour. As we walked out of the gate, I ran into my neighbors from across town. I love that about this city. I run into them everywhere and we’ve stacked up a bunch of fun memories as a result. Throughout the day, we all ran into people; a friend from high school, a cousin, a coworker and more.
After spotting someone lofting a 3 foot baguette over their head with “Parkway Tavern” and a long arrow pointing down a street all written in Sharpie, we spotted a man in a turkey costume and they turned us onto the Thanksgiving Po-Boy being offered by Parkway ($7). Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy sat atop a fresh baguette. They had tables set up and even some chairs. Throughout the day, I found tables provided whenever possible, which was a welcome addition for those of us carrying beverages (everyone).
We headed toward one of the stages. Everywhere I looked, people were eating variations of Po-Boys. The Bone Tone Brass Band made their way through the crowds led by second line umbrella-wielding Jennifer Jones. The New Orleans Fire Department sold calendars of their firehouse hotties. The 610 Stompers took time before their Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade debut later this week to sell their own calendars and corn roasted in the husk. The “Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Moves” of the 610 Stompers are highlighted in the calendar, a tribute to great dance movies including favorites like Dirty Dancing, Saturday Night Fever and even Pulp Fiction.
Flow Tribe was on the Street Car Stage when we finally made our way there. Part funk/rock, part Caribbean, part surfer band, they closed their fun set with Wipe Out, with Khris Royal joining them onstage. A New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) alumnus who went on to the Berklee College of Music at 16, Khris would be taking the stage later with his band, Dark Matter.
After the concert, we moseyed past residents on balconies and in windows, mobile ATM’s and portable hand washing stations. Outdoor festivals are such a large part of living here, that the city has pretty good facilities available and people even tend to “wipe the seat.” Our next stop was at the Coquette booth for a Cochon de Lait Po-Boy. Originally $7 and served with Collard Green Slaw, the price had been crossed out in Sharpie and changed to $5, served “with house pickles and hot sauce aioli.” It was tasty but Cochon de Lait without slaw is just pulled pork. Our friends had the Bourbon BBQ Shrimp from Dickie Brennan’s Steak House/Bourbon House ($8) and enjoyed it a bunch.
Making our way to Leanders Stage for Rebirth Brass Band, we stopped for Banana Foster Bread Pudding ($5) from Cafe Reconcile. A nonprofit restaurant, they’ve been giving life skills and job training to at-risk youth since 2000. In the years since, over 600 youths (16-22 years old) have completed the program and found permanent jobs in food service. All I know was it was a yummy foster flavor done as a yummy bread pudding.
I’m a pretty huge fan of Rebirth Brass Band, as readers of this blog know. After running 1/2 hour late, they had no amplifying system and we could barely hear them from 50 feet away. I loved watching the people dancing on their porches and had my turn at keeping the beach ball in the air, but almost hearing a Rebirth concert was maddening.
All day, we’d been checking in on the lobster line and they clearly had planned better for the demand. The ever-present line finally dissipated and they still had Po-Boys to sell. As a matter of fact, very few things sold out this year. Last year, it seemed the whole place was running out of food by 3 pm.
All day, we’d planned on getting the lobster at some point, but it’s going to have to wait another year. One of the joys of living in a city people love to visit is that people you love come to visit. So, we left the lobster and the festival behind and joined my friend-since-birth and his family for a dinner served on a plate rather than between 2 slices of fabulous French bread. I hope the Saints enjoyed their Sunday off as much as we did.