The Perfect Poboy

April 19, 2021

The Perfect Roast Beef Poboy
By a Local

The poboy is a New Orleans tradition that stretches back nearly a century, and you’ll find a lot of information and different takes on the sandwich during your visit. Here I’ll be detailing the features that make up my favorite lunchtime meal: the roast beef poboy.

Bread French bread is a staple of New Orleans culture and cuisine. It is the foundation of the poboy; without it you’ve just got a wet hoagie. The perfect bread is soft to the touch, but sturdy enough to hold together through the entire meal. You don’t want bread that disintegrates partway through eating it. If I wanted to eat my sandwich with a fork, I would’ve ordered it open face. On the other hand, if you have bread so crispy that it cuts the roof of your mouth on the first bite, you’re not going to have a good lunch, or dinner for that matter.

Dressing When you’re in this city, you’re going to hear the word “dressed” thrown around a lot regarding sandwiches. This doesn’t mean that they’re going to slather ranch all over your lunch; it means that it’ll come with toppings, usually lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo. This is the optimal (and historical) way to eat a poboy. Crisp iceberg lettuce, slices of ripe creole tomato, a few pickle slices, and just the right amount of mayonnaise. That last part is important, as the mayonnaise balances out the flavor of the gravy. Too much can overpower it, but too little lacks the range of flavors that every good poboy needs.

Cheese Don’t put cheese on a roast beef poboy. Please.

Meat The roast beef itself is a major component of the character of the poboy. Traditionally, the meat is prepared as “debris”; slow-roasted beef simmering in beef stock and spices, then shredded off. Through this process, the stock and the meat’s flavors mingle and create an au jus, known as the gravy. More on that later. The meat should be so tender that your teeth slice right through it. More recently there have been several restaurants that slice the beef instead of shredding it. While there are many good poboys that are made with sliced beef, the tradition is debris; and we’re all about tradition here. Quick trick to determine the quality of the meat: eat a piece of the beef by itself, outside of the bread. It should have a bouquet of flavors all its own. If its bland, it loses points.

Gravy The best part, the trademark, the jus. This is what you came for. The gravy of a roast beef poboy is like a fingerprint: no two places have the same kind. Your favorite flavor is your opinion, but the gravy should always stand out as the most prominent taste of the meal. Look for the hint of mayonnaise that lightens the palate, but be wary if it overpowers the gravy. A not-so-quick note about quantity of gravy: I am a three-napkin man. The perfect roast beef poboy should require three napkins for cleanup. Any fewer and you’d better hope the mayonnaise will save you from choking, any more and it might as well be a soup.

The Second Half Congrats, you’ve made your way through the first half of your poboy. Now comes the real work. Once you’ve gotten past the mouth-watering hunger and initial impressions of the poboy, you can get down to business. The first half you eat because you’re hungry, the second because you want it. It can make or break the sandwich for me. If it falls apart when you pick it up, it had too much gravy. If you can’t eat another bite, you either had too many fries, or the first half was too rich. If you taste it and the delicious flavors of the first half are now washed out and unappealing, then the flavor of the sandwich wasn’t really there to begin with. I call this staying power, and it’s a big factor in rating a roast beef. If you bite into that Second Half and it is just as good as the first, maybe even better, then congratulations, you’ve found your perfect poboy.

Use these rules and pair your meal with onion rings or fries and your favorite beverage, and you’ll be eating your way to the perfect roast beef in no time.