Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Can Two Food Critics…

and Guy Fieri be wrong? Or is it just us?

We are off to Mahony’s Po-Boy (poor boy) Shop on Magazine Street for what many consider to be the best roast beef poor boy in New Orleans. Why? “…because roast beef seems to be the quiet, but unofficially, official poor boy of New Orleans, the poor boy of maximum opinion and controversy, and the poor boy that old-timer New Orleanians miss most when they wax poetic about the poor boys of yore…. Perhaps natives have a genetically transferred appreciation for the dependability of roast beef, which would have been more consistently available than seafood back before refrigeration and deep freezers. Or, perhaps it’s the sloppy, multiple-napkin, love-me-or-leave-me attitude of the city’s most talked-about roast beef poor boys that engenders such reverence. Whatever the reason for their prominence, roast beef poor boys existed in New Orleans back when French bread sandwiches were still called ‘loaves’” (Sara Roahen for New Orleans Magazine).

During our December visit, we sampled the roast beef poor boys at Parasol’s and Parkway Bakery and found both of them lacking. Now it was time for the real deal. As Brett Anderson in The Times-Picayune wrote:
“Mahony’s was founded on the conviction that poor boys are a worthy obsession of a chef trained to perform on a more elegant stage, as owner Ben Wicks is, and the roast beef makes it difficult to argue he’s wrong. Wicks cooks Angus beef as a pot roast, braising it in red wine with vegetables and herbs. The resulting meat is so tender it could probably be consumed with a straw. It also doesn’t suffer the curse of underseasoning that requires too many roast beef poor boys to be brought to life with hot sauce. Served between halves of toasted, sesame freckled Leidenheimer bread, mine tasted more than a little like beef bourguignon, the wine imparting an unmistakable tang.”

Mahony’s is located in what was once a residence and has both curbside patio and indoor dining. Since the weather in Louisiana has been “iffy” at best, we chose to eat indoors. But before finding seating, you go to the end of a s-l-o-w moving line composed mostly of tourists like ourselves who need to play a game of Twenty Questions with the young woman behind the counter.

The menu includes a list of chalkboard specials plus daily Plate Specials (Monday - Red Beans & Rice, Tuesday and Thursday- Chef’s Choice, Wednesday - Meatballs & Spaghetti, Friday - Seafood Gumbo). But we paid attention to the list of Signature Specialty Poor Boys that included: Cochon (pork) with Creole-Slaw, Jumbo Fried or Grilled Shrimp, Fried Green Tomatoes and Remoulade, Fried Chicken Livers and Creole-Slaw, The “Peacemaker” (Fried Oysters, Bacon, and Cheddar Cheese), and Grilled Pork Tchoup (for Tchoupitoulas Street) with sautéed mushrooms and onions.

But we were here for the Certified Angus “Pot Roast” Beef Poor Boy and another of Mahony’s signature poor boys—the Root Beef Glazed Chisesi’s Ham and Cheese Poor Boy. And an order of Mahony’s famous thin onion rings.

Our order placed, we took a seat, and while waiting for our food, we pondered whether this Abita Spring beer had been inspired by the Jimi Hendrix lyrics:
“Purple haze all in my brain - Lately things just don't seem the same - Actin' funny, but I don't know why - 'Scuse me while I kiss the sky.”

Soon our onion rings appeared and they were all that were promised. They are extra thin and we hypothesized that they probably needed less than a minute in the deep fat fryer to cook. While the portion looks immense, in reality it wasn’t that large but the extra thin sliced onions when coated in a beer batter created the impression of mass without being overly filling.

Finally. The sandwiches. We split each and began with the roast beef. I was immediately reminded of 1970’s chain restaurant Mexican food. Huh, you may be asking. Let me explain. When Mexican food began to make an appearance in Philadelphia, every dish would be buried under at least six inches of shredded lettuce. Under the lettuce might be a tablespoon—OK maybe two tablespoons—of seasoned ground beef. And somewhere under all of this lettuce lay the roast beef on our poor boy.

As Sara Roahen, the food writer for New Orleans Magazine, described Mahony’s roast beef poor boy: “It contained large, meaty lobes of beef that appeared to have been tenderly tugged from a roast, invisible layers of nearly liquid fat melting into the meat as I chewed. There was, as usual, an herbaceousness that evoked bay and thyme. The gravy and meat were one, the former clinging to the latter as if magnetized, beefy and thick but not at all suggestive of flour or cornstarch….”

Well, if she says so.

We say “not so good.” I thought that the meat was mushy, and the herbs gave the gravy an almost bitter flavor. And then there is the fact that neither of us likes well done beef. So much for roast beef poor boys. Just as we have never found brisket we liked, and I have never found a salmon burger I like, we just don’t like roast beef poor boys.

So on to the ham and cheese. The sandwich contained at least an inch and a half of thinly sliced Chisesi’s (a New Orleans meat packer) ham that had been cooked in a bath containing root beer. It might have been OK if they had stopped there, but they insisted on “gilding the lily” by, after slicing the meat, cooking it in additional root beer. The salty and smoky meat tried vainly to fight through the cloying sweetness, but was unsuccessful. Frankly, this was dreadful, and after eating half of my half a sandwich, I gave up.

This outing was not a success and may have been, except for the wonderful onion rings, the worst meal we have eaten in New Orleans over at least eight trips. While I would give the onion rings 5.0 Addies, the sandwiches only receive 1.0 Addies—and that is for the Leidenheimer Bread.

To leave things on a more upbeat note, we leave you with a photo of my all time favorite poor boy—the overstuffed crawfish poor boy from Bon Creole Lunch Counter in New Iberia, LA. I have yet to find one better.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

No comments: