Monday, February 28, 2011

Line Standing

“There it is,” I exclaimed, “and there’s parking, too. This is our lucky day!”

We had found Parkway Bakery on one of our few driving days into New Orleans. Finding plenty of space to park was a real bonus. Walking to the entrance, I wondered, “If Parkway has one of the best po’ boys in the city, why was it so easy to find a space to park?”

Reality began to set in when we reached the door to the restaurant. The crowd spilling into the street indicated that there was already a significant line. We squeezed our way in the front door with several “Excuse me’s,” realizing that this was merely the line for service at the dozen small tables in the bar. [This photo (above) was taken 90 minutes later on our way out.]

Seeing another line outside, we made our way past the bar to that line. When we reached the line, we realized we were at its mid-point. A turn to the right led us to end of the line—which it turned out was a few feet past the entrance to the bar. Five minutes to go what amounted to a few feet—and who knows how many people joined the line ahead of us during that time.

So, after a “high” of “They’re not busy,” we experienced the “low” of “The line is that long?”

Standing at the starting point for lunch, we counted a number of people with green “Rock and Roll Marathon” t-shirts. (We later learned that about 20,000 runners had entered the marathon earlier that morning. Estimating that each runner had 1.75 friends and/or family members with them, we calculated that an additional 35,000 people were looking for lunch that afternoon. Parkway seemed to have been the destination of choice for many of them.)

“A block or so off Bayou St. John, some enterprising folks (Jay Nix and his sister Eileen) with a good sense of history resurrected a long-boarded-up and once much-beloved po' boy shop and bakery, founded in 1922. It elicits flashbacks from old customers (though the lovingly renovated and spick-and-span interior bears no relation to the grungy last days of its old incarnation) and deep pleasure in just about everyone” (

The line moved slowly—along the street, past the outdoor dining area...,

Bfgoly, pick up” came the call from the kitchen indicating someone’s order was ready.” We looked at each other, wondering who Bfgoly was.

up the stairs to the second floor. We were getting close; from the stairway, we could see into the window to the order counter. We could smell that wonderful smell that only Cajun deep frying produces—crispness without greasiness.

Mavphelw, pick up.” Who?

We made it into the area to order (40 minutes and counting). Just a few more feet. Then we made it to the Woolworth’s Luncheon-ette sign (from the Canal Street store) that seemed oddly at home.

Finally, “We’ll have a catfish po’boy, a shrimp po’ boy, an order of fries, and an order of banana pudding.”

“Your name?”

This was a time for my “nom de diner,” i.e., the name that I use in small eateries like Parkway when placing orders at a counter. “Ozzie,” I answered, thinking that this uncommon name would be pronounced more carefully and, thus, would be easy to understand when called to pick up our order.

“Great!” came the response from the cashier. “I’ll make it ‘Ozzie and Harriet’.”

I took my place in the waiting room, making sure to note who was just ahead of me so that I could anticipate my name being called after they picked up their order.

Jawugp, pick up.” The folks ahead of us stepped forward.

“Great,” I thought, “we’re next.”

Moments later came—loudly and clearly, “Ozzie and Harriet, pick up.”

Heads turned, “Hi, Ozzie,” came from more that one of the others in the waiting room as I walked to the pick-up window.

This must have been heard by several others waiting to place their orders, because over the next three to five minutes we heard calls for “John Wayne, pick up,” “Roy Rogers, pick up,” and “Spiderman, pick up.”

(Kate) Well, Ozzie returned to our table and handed me my shrimp po’ boy. The minute I lifted the sandwich, I knew that I was in trouble. And po’ boys don’t travel and reheat well. And how would Parkway Bakery fare in our version of Food Wars? (Parkway had lost to Domilese’s in the Travel Channel’s “Battle of the Shrimp Po’Boys.”)

Both of our sandwiches came on toasted rolls that gave the top crust a delightful crunch. (Score One for Parkway. Domilese’s roll was not toasted.) Both of our sandwiches were stuffed--make that over stuffed--with catfish or shrimp. (But so were Domilese’s. Make that a draw.) And both were dressed with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and pickles. (But where was the wonderful catsup and hot sauce mixture from Domilese’s. Score one for Domilese’s.)

It bears repeating. No one fries food like people in the South. Chuck’s sandwich contained large chunks (not an appetizing term, but the one that best describes the pieces of catfish) of fish that had been coated in a light mixture of flour and cornmeal. And the fish was moist and sweet—nary a strong fishy-tasting morsel in that sandwich.

My sandwich contained equally-perfect coated and fried shrimp. And these weren’t tiny baby shrimp. They were large shrimp tossed in the same cornmeal and flour combina-tion. I finished my first half with no trouble. Halfway through the second half I hit the proverbial wall. So I opened up the sandwich and proceeded to eat the shrimp. In that final quarter sandwich, I counted seven large shrimp. Do you know how many the whole must have contained?

The fries were excellent. Hand-cut and twice-cooked, they are what a great fry should be.
And here we have to score one for Parkway. Sides at Domilese’s are limited to your choice of Zapp’s Potato Chip flavors. At Parkway, you can order regular fries, sweet potato fries, potato salad, gumbo, or chili.

The banana pudding? That came home with us and became my dinner that evening. Chuck didn’t want to even hear me mention food. But remember, he ate both sides of his roll. A meal worth a 5.0 Addie rating.

As we were leaving, we heard, “Sean Connery, pick up” and “Popeye, pick up.”

Real trendsetters, eh?

Parkway is a first-name place, with a large loyal following, but it became even more of an institution on August 29, 2010, when President Barack Obama and his family made an unscheduled stop to taste its po’ boys.

Like most of its Mid-City neighbors, it had taken on six feet of water after the levees failed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but it was back in business 88 days after the storm, providing a much needed service to its neighborhood. This determined re-opening alone would have made it an appropriate stop for President Obama, who was in New Orleans to make a speech on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Apparently he had been told about Parkway po-boys, but instead of ordering the renowned “home-cooked hot roast beef with gravy,” the President ordered a shrimp po’ boy.

Another reason for his trip was to help the Gulf Coast seafood industry recover from the BP oil spill. So, according to the pool reporter with the President, the President went to the counter, posed for a picture with several customers, apologized for cutting in line and ordered a shrimp po-boy. Seeing the president eat shrimp might help convince people around the nation that Gulf seafood was safe to eat.

Before his sandwich was ready, the President worked the Parkway crowd, shaking hands, hugging, and chatting. Finally, the restaurant loudspeaker announced: “Barack, pickup.”

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