Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tracey's - New Orleans

I can remember my very first Parasol’s roast beef po-boy. I was a sophomore in college and I was down in New Orleans visiting my buddy Jon. He wanted to take me to his favorite Sunday bar, Parasol's. He told me that I would love it, but I was a little skeptical. The place looked like a dump. Sure, it had the look of a good dive bar, but I was suspicious about the food. Trusting Jon’s good judgment, I followed his lead and ordered a roast beef po-boy with gravy fries and took a seat at the bar. A few minutes later, my name was called and I was face to face with that mountain of beef and gravy. That day, my notion of a good po-boy was changed. From the crisp exterior of the Leidenheimer bread to the swirl of beef laden gravy and mayonnaise to the tender filling, it was a new standard. In the subsequent years, I paid many a visit to Parasol’s and countless roast beef po-boys passed through my greedy maw. Sadly, I didn’t stop in at Parasol’s every time I was in New Orleans, but I was happy knowing it was there when I needed it. That is until I read some devastating news on twitter.

Due to a disagreement over the purchasing price of the building, Jeff and Jaimee Carreras were being forced out of Parasol’s. In their place, a couple from Clearwater, Florida had bought the building and would be taking over the Parasol’s name. Fortunately, the Carreras weren’t leaving the po-boy business; nope, they were just moving down the street to the Irish Garden Bar. Since the building owner retained the rights to the name Parasol’s but not its contents, the Carreras’ would be moving the atmosphere of Parasol's to the new building and reviving the building old name: Tracey’s.

All that aside, it had been months since my last Parasol’s po-boy. Since then, every roast beef po-boy I have encountered had been compared to that first Parasol’s moment. I was curious to see if the Carreras’ offering would still live up to my own gilded memory and if the atmosphere of Parasol’s had survived the move. So during my king cake run, I stopped into Tracey’s for an early dinner.

Once I made it past the fiddly door, I was shocked at what I saw. Gone was the dingy, claustrophobic yet welcoming atmosphere of the back bar and dining room of Parasol’s. In its place was a cavernous building with flat screens and flags lining the wall and a pool table in the back. Thankfully there was some sense of continuity. You still ordered from the open to the public eye kitchen, and the same bumper sticker covered fridge resided behind the bar. I may not like the Steelers, but it was comforting to see the same “Pittsburg, a drinking town with a football problem” sticker firmly attached to the decades old beer fridge.

If there was one unwelcome change to the scene, it was the method of payment. I had read about the new policy on Blackended Out, but it had slipped my mind in the ensuing months. Imagine my surprise when I placed my order for po-boys and gravy fries, only to find that Tracey’s is cash only. I know that Rene and Peter have already gone through both sides of this argument, but I am firmly in Rene’s camp. I carry cash on me for one reason: to tip a valet. Since valets are practically nonexistent in Jackson, it’s a non issue. Naturally, I’ll stop by my bank’s atm before I head to New Orleans, Atlanta, or some other city with a decent amount of valet parking and because of that I was prepared, but just.

I had barely made a dent in my pint of Amber before my order arrived. I suppose eating at 5 pm has a few benefits. Let’s start with the whole reason behind this visit, the roast beef.
At first glance, things are looking good. It’s the familiar site of Leidenheimer bread, a healthy amount of mayonnaise, lettuce, and sloppy roast beef dripping over the edge of the loaf.
Still looks the same and the first taste reveals the familiar combination of taste and textures.
Amplified with a healthy dose of black pepper and Crystal hot sauce, it’s the crunch of Leidenheimer bread, the tenderness of roast beef and the pungency of garlic laden gravy that makes this a messy meal worth every mile of the three hour drive.

Speaking of gravy, it was time to revisit my ideal po-boy accompaniment, gravy fries.
I’ll be frank; these are pretty terrible French fries. They’re limp and boring, but they serve a very distinct purpose.
These fries are a glorified gravy delivery system and when seasoned with plenty of black pepper, they do an excellent job at just that. Actually, the fries may not be crispy but they have a very fluffy consistency. With that texture and this gravy, this side is reminiscent of mashed potatoes and gravy.

Despite being a patron of Parasol’s for years, I never really delved into the seafood section of their menu. I did try a platter of fried shrimp once, but my vicious hangover would have made nectar & ambrosia taste terrible that day. Well, it was a new day and a new restaurant, so, in addition to the roast beef, I ordered an oyster po-boy.
In my opinion, a fat, gulf oyster knows no better existence than to be fried and slapped on a po-boy.
Like the roast beef, this po-boy was well dressed and the oysters were something else. On their own, these bivalves were salty and crunchy on the outside while still juicy and briny on the inside. In other words, they fit the perfect description of a po-boy oyster.
I may be bordering on hyperbole, but this po-boy was where mayonnaise, oysters, and Crystal hot sauce came together to form an ethereal combination. Each bite was a melody of crunchy, salty, and spicy. It was astounding.

Filled to the brim with roast beef, gravy, oysters, and hot sauce, it was an affirmation that my memory of that first Parasol’s po-boy is still alive and well. I may never replicate that first taste, but years of rose colored remembrances have created an image that is far too altered to be anywhere near the reality. What’s important is that while everything has changed in the move from Parasol’s to Tracey’s, everything has still stayed the same. I may bitch and moan about the cash only policy, but it is comforting to know that I can find the same crowds and the same po-boys safely arranged in newer, larger building. To be fair, I should see how the new owners of Parasol’s are doing in their fight to win patrons, but I’ll save that for another trip.

Tracey's Address & Information 2604 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70130 // 504.897.5413 // Tracey's Website // Tracey's Menu
Tracey's on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

My first ever real NOLA po'boy experience was the same as yours. I split a roast beef and a fried shrimp with my husband, and impressed his friend by eating it all, and chips, and a bloody Mary.

I had heard about this and was wondering what the situation would be like when the dust settled. It's good to know that Parasol's food lives on at Tracey's.

Bill's Bayou said...

The review fails to mention that Tracey's allows smoking in direct violation of Louisiana state law. My wife and I left there smelling horrible. I would not recommend Tracey's to anyone.