For the past three years I've been making my way out to New Orleans for Jazz Fest. I stay in a duplex in an area called Mid-City, a 10-minute stroll along the Bayou St. John to the festival grounds. It's much more residential, than, say, the French Quarter. Across the bayou from where I stayed is Studio3, a warehouse operated by my friend Jonathan Bertuccelli, who makes parade floats for festivals like Mardi Gras. It was Jonathan who told me I was in luck: I was walking distance from Parkway Bakery & Tavern, famous for po' boy sandwiches, crisp baguettes with soft insides, loaded with fried seafood, roast beef, or alligator sausage, to name a few of the many possible options. "Poor boys" refers to streetcar drivers who received free sandwiches while on strike: street food in its most literal sense, and my introduction to NOLA food culture.
Po' boys are gloriously simple things, though it's been interesting to find so many iterations of the same general formula. This year I was told to try Casamento's, a seafood establishment opened in 1919. Like most things in the Crescent City, the place runs on its own internal clock. It has wonky hours, and closes June through August. It’s covered in tile, and the acoustics remind you of a YMCA gym. When you walk in, you'll see a man at a counter shucking Gulf oysters the size of hand grenades, sludgy with mud. The shucker told us he'd been working there for 25 years, and figured he'd cracked open a million of those bivalves.
The thing to order here is the oyster loaf, a variation on the classic po’ boy. Plump oysters were dredged in corn flour and fried in a cast-iron skillet, placed atop two thick-cut, oversized pieces of toasted white bread. I was completely beside myself—white bread instead of the baguette I’ve come to expect with po’ boys. But it worked so well with the other components. The bread was sweet, with a generous crust, but had a pillowy center. The bottom slice was a heel from the loaf, a perfect vehicle to collect the briny oyster juice. It was called Bunny Bread, and I raved about it to my NOLA friends over beers later that night. They laughed. You’re excited by Bunny Bread? They said it was the local equivalent of Wonder Bread, cheap stuff you get at the convenience store or Walmart, sugary and lacking any sort of nutritional value. So yes, I am ecstatic about New Orleans’s Wonder Bread. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Justin Bolois is a writer living in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBolois.
Photos by Justin Bolois