Photo courtesy of Oak Street Po-Boy Festival
One thing New Orleanians can agree on, the po-boy satisfies hunger like nothing else. The once-humble sandwich has gone high-class in recent years, with top chefs serving their own inventive takes. But you can still find hearty 12-inch versions spilling fried shrimp and oysters for under $15 in local corner stores.
There is a po-boy for every budget and palate in New Orleans at the annual Oak Street Po-Boy Festival. (The last one was held on November 6, 2022.) And though the date for the 2023 festival hasn’t been announced yet, you can be sure you will be able to sample the best po-boys the city has to offer.
The Oak Street fest is usually held between the 8100 and 8800 blocks of Oak Street in the Carrollton neighborhood. About 35 vendors present more food than you could shake your fork at, with over 60 varieties of the delicious sandwich alone — plus beer, specialty cocktails, and desserts.
And, of course, this being New Orleans, there is live music, with stages set up on side streets to avoid the Oak Street foot-traffic congestion of the past years. A second line usually opens the fest at 10 a.m., forming at Oak and Carrollton streets.
In all past years, the admission was free, but you had to get a $5 wristband at the fest to purchase the po-boys (it’s OK if one person in the group buys multiple po-boys, according to the event organizers). Hate the long lines? At the previous fest, attendees could get their hands on the po-boys faster by getting one of the two passes.
One option was a $20 “fast pass” to enter the fast lane. The VIP pass ($99) granted access to the Oak VIP lounge with a balcony and a front-row view of the main stage, plus food and drinks, including specialty cocktails.
In the festival’s 14 years of existence, some of the best restaurants in the city have competed in six “Best of” categories: seafood, oyster, shrimp, sausage, pork, and beef. Past winners included the wildly popular Red Fish Grill’s BBQ oyster po-boy and Bratz Y’all’s Drunk Pig. The 2022 winners included the Parkway Bakery & Tavern‘s deep-fried buffalo shrimp Bahn mi, Boucherie‘s 12-hour roast beef sandwich, and fried oyster mushroom po-boy from Voodoo Vegan.
To give you just a taste of what to expect, here’s a sample menu from some of the past vendors. And don’t worry, most do come back year after year, so all this deliciousness will be within reach once the next fest rolls around.
The fest regular, the Mid-City-based po-boy king Parkway Bakery and Tavern, has been known to impress with its incredibly popular signature creation, “The James Brown” po-boy — slow-cooked roast beef topped with fried Gulf shrimp smothered in gravy. The ever-popular Godfather po-boy from Vincent’s Italian Cuisine marries three savory types of meat: Italian sausage, meatballs, and daube meat (beef slow-cooked in a red sauce, like brisket) and tops them with mozzarella cheese. Redfish Grill has repeatedly offered its signature BBQ oyster concoction, flash-fried and tossed in Crystal BBQ sauce. Metairie’s NOLA Boils & Catering kicked it up one year with an escargot po-boy while Oceana Grill keeps offering its oyster Rockefeller po-boy (with housemade sauce).
There are plenty of creative concoctions for the adventurous taste buds too, with game, elevated touches, and Asian and Caribbean flavors. In the dessert category, expect items like strawberry and Nutella tiramisu po-boys from Crêpes à la Cart.
As with any fest, there are an art market and a kids’ area. The festival is rain or shine, pedestrian- and bike-friendly, and pets are welcome. Parking options are limited, so if you go next year, consider biking or taking the St. Charles Avenue streetcar (get off at the Oak Street stop).
We can’t wait to see who wins next year!