find us out here?”
That was the question asked us ten or so years ago by the bartender at Domilise’s. That was before the bar and po’ boy shop was featured on Man v. Food and Food Wars (and won the shrimp po’ boy war with Parkway Bakery) on the Travel Channel. Today, Domilise’s is known to more than the neighborhood regulars and adventurous chowhounds like us.
“Hidden in a quiet neighborhood in the city’s Uptown section, with no windows, one small hand-painted sign, and wood paneling that defines the word “weathered,” stands one of the most unknown, yet well-known, sandwich shops in the Big Easy. At Domilise’s, on the corner of Annunciation and Bellecastle, you can have the best po’ boys in New Orleans, if you can find it“ (from 1inthekitchen.wordpress.com).
The interior of the bar/ restaurant is as basic as the exterior. Seating? Five tables for four and eight or ten stools at the bar. Decorations? Posters of the Manning family (of the football Mannings) who are big fans of Domilise’s sandwiches.
Like so many restaurants, Domilise’s was closed for a period of time after Katrina. But thanks to the eighty-something owner and family doyenne, Dot Domilise, the place survived and, judging by the crowd on the day we lunched, continues to thrive. “Dot and her husband Sam inherited the restaurant/ house from Sam’s father, who opened the restaurant over 80 years ago. Sam died in 1981, and since then Dot has been the ‘Guardian of the Tradition.’ Dot has lived in the house and operated the sandwich shop for almost 67 years” (from 1inthekitchen.wordpress.com). (The house referred to is in the back of the restaurant.)
Just to the right as you enter the doors is the microscopic food prep area. Here Dot, her daughter-in-law, and two other staff members perform a well-choreographed and well-practiced dance that includes: slicing long loaves of bread; covering one half with mayo, grainy Creole mustard, lettuce, tomato, dill pickle slices, and their not-so-secret-sauce that is a combination of catsup and hot sauce; tossing oysters, shrimp, and catfish in flour and cornmeal before their immersion in hot oil; and ladling gravy over their famed roast beef po’ boys.
You place your po’ boy order—and po’ boys are the extent of the menu. They come as shrimp, oysters, catfish, hot smoked sausage, pork sausage, ham, ham and cheese, hamburger, cheeseburger, wiener, roast beef, roast beef with Swiss, turkey breast, American cheese, Swiss cheese, and a half oyster and half shrimp. Tell whether or not you want the sandwich “dressed” with the condiments mentioned in the previous paragraph. Then try to find a seat. No easy task and we have never managed to get a table seat. To the bar it was where we talked with Raymond who has worked here for forty-one years. We are sure that he is the person who asked the question that opened this blog.
Do you want a side with your po’ boy? You are out of luck. The only choice you have is whether or not to get a bag of Zapp’s Chips (the finest potato chips known to man) and which flavor—regular, dill, spicy crawtator, jalapeno, BBQ, spicy Creole tomato, or voodoo gumbo.
Finally, our sandwiches were ready. I have eaten the shrimp po’ boy here in the past and can attest to its wonderfulness. Today, we decided to try something new and decided to share a catfish po’ boy fully dressed and a roast beef po’ boy with only gravy. “You just want gravy?” asked the woman behind the counter in disbelief. “Yes.” I replied.
The secret to any good sandwich is good bread. According to www.thecajunfoodie.com “they use nothing but Liedenheimer bread, which really does make all the difference in the world… flaky and chewy crust with a soft interior.” The bread had enough substance to stay intact when assaulted by the beef gravy and the various liquid condiments placed on the catfish po’ boy.
The catfish sandwich was absolute perfection. The numerous pieces of fish were smaller than filets but larger than strips and were the mildest and sweetest catfish I have eaten. The flour/ cornmeal coating was thin and crisp. And all of the condiments complimented each other without overtaking the flavor of the fish. Especially interesting was the catsup/hot sauce mix which added some sweetness and some heat.
The roast beef sandwich was very good, but I should have taken the question about only gravy as a gentle hint. We both agreed that we should have ordered it fully dressed like the catfish. It was just missing something. Fortunately, there was a squeeze bottle of the Creole mustard on the bar and this helped give the sandwich some needed zing.
Like Camellia Grill, Domilise’s is about much more than the food. It’s about neighborhood. It’s about resilience. It’s about Danny working at the same place for over forty years. It’s about Dot still living behind the bar and keeping the business operating after the death of her husband and a devastating flood. It’s truly a 5.0 Addie stop.