A Contrived Food War: Parasol’s vs. Tracey’s Roast Beef

Jan 5, 2012 by

Original sign restored by current owner

There is no secret among those who know me that I know every haunt and hovel in this great city of ours. I’ve eaten at underground restaurants from the Garden District (long since closed) to the Bywater, had bar food at places that had more roaches than patrons at four in the morning and enjoyed fine dining at all the hoity-toity coat-demanding places around. Through eating in such diverse places, I reckon like any natural born New Orleanian I’m just as qualified to judge our food as anyone else with a typewriter*. After all, it’s how we do.

When I opened the Living Section of the Times-Picayune on the morning of the 4th, I saw an article comparing two supposed roast beef rivals in my newly adopted neighborhood. Being a Lower Garden man myself, I haven’t spent too much time at either Parasol’s or Tracey’s until as of late. When I did, it was rare that I’d be eating. Throughout the years, I’ve had many friends who worked for and patronized the neighborhood bars and the same is currently true of both Tracey’s and Parasol’s. So, in my New Orleans skepticism of seeing a name I scarcely recognize on the newspaper article, I decided to do the democratic thing and head out for a night of roast beef po-boys.

What began as online blabbering turned into me ordering two roast beef po-boys within minutes of each other…one from Tracey’s and the other from Parasol’s. I called Parasol’s first at 9:11 p.m., only to be told their kitchen had closed. Admittedly, I hadn’t checked the kitchen hours of either establishment trusting that late-night leniency we have with time. Despite the hour, they agreed to make a sandwich for me, which may have single-handedly save the taste test. I phone ahead to Tracey’s to avoid another possible mishap. “Oh, don’t worry,” the voice on the phone said, “we’ll be around until 10-ish.” If nothing else, my faith in New Orleanians sense of time has been maintained.

Getting to Tracey’s, I run into my old friend Pooky, a chef at Slice Uptown, that I enlist to the cause for a slightly more professionally opinion. Before digging in, I decided to sample the roast beef itself from each in order to taste sans French bread. My first impression was that both were good, though Parasol’s tasted bland in comparison. The Tracey’s roast beef was chopped and cooked down with a bit of zest to the flavor. Parasol’s beef was thickly sliced, which at first seemed nice until we got into sandwich eating. One small difference between the two was that Parasol’s sandwich had shredded lettuce and Tracey’s had pulled lettuce, leading me to wonder if both were provided by a food distributor.

Tracey’s roast beef po-boy probably could have used a bit more gravy, though it never left the mouth dry. Half way through the Parasol’s po-boy, I found that the thickly sliced meat had me reaching for a drink. Pooky stated it best with “it’s like they tried to cook down the beef, then stopped and decided to pour gravy on top.” The Tracey’s roast beef didn’t have the same effect on us and was compared to all the roast beef shake goodness that’s found in gravy from here to Arabi.

Parasol’s does have garlic butter brushed on the bread before serving; however it’s not sufficient to salvage the overall flavor of the sandwich. Tracey’s uses the same quality bread, but the sandwich as a whole entity had a far better flavor; no one condiment or flavor dominated the way that mayonnaise and beef did in the Parasol’s food. As Pooky laid it down, Tracey’s roast beef is the “complete package.” In case I hadn’t already convinced myself, Pooky ended his Parasol’s po-boy by not finishing the portion and saying, “the best piece of that sandwich I had is what fell off on the paper.”

As a simple roast beef, Parasol’s is adequate if served plain with a side of mashed potatoes in a diner. When I go for a meal, I look for a complete package and that night, Tracey’s delivered. The price difference between the two places is minimal, so price isn’t a factor, and they were both roughly the same size. My wait time for both sandwiches was about ten minutes, so that wasn’t a factor either, but given the time of day, there wasn’t a line at either place. I’ve left out the neighborhood chatter between the two factions that are loyalists to one or the other, understanding that bar folks can be loyal to traditions, owners and their staff for years. In total comparison of sandwiches alone, today Rex salutes Tracey’s.

If you want to help Parasol’s redeem itself, Pooky recommends the veal cutlet po-boy with brown gravy, grilled onions and extra provolone alongside an Irish Sundae (potato salad with roast beef debris topping). An off-duty cook from Tracey’s who sat down at the table countered with his restaurant’s special of the day: Smoked sausage po-boy with spicy aioli sauce and sauerkraut alongside boudin balls.

Everything in this town depends on personal taste, and I’d recommend you conducting your own taste test before relying on the Times-Picayune to tell you who’s the best, but as far as roast beef po-boys in the Irish Channel went last night, there’s Tracey’s and then there’s everywhere else.

Rex Dingler

For further reading:

What spurned this article: http://www.nola.com/dining-guide/index.ssf/2012/01/parasols_and_traceys_battle_fo.html

Tracey’s: http://traceysnola.com/

Parasol’s: http://www.parasolsbarandrestaurant.com/

*With exception to Ian McNulty whose food opinion is usually spot on

6 Comments

  1. Woohoo! Nothing like a double-check. Thanks for this.

  2. Not a fan

    I don’t think it’s fair for you to rate parasols based on your story. If the kitchen was closed already, how can you be certain that they didn’t just throw something together trying to be nice. I think you need to repeat your test again before anointing one the winner. You’re quick to criticize Brett Anderson but yet you haven’t shown yourself to be anything either. It’s nice that the Internet just lets any jackass spout off. I guess I’m guilty of that too.

    • Dear Jackass-

      You’re right about one thing, you are indeed a jackass. I would suggest you re-read the article using this strange new invention called “reading comprehension.” I know the scrolling screen can be difficult, but there’s no excuse for not thoroughly reading the article. As you may note, two sandwiches were purchased and compared side by side. As you may also note from reading the “article” was that my quest was to find out for myself which sandwich was best, not take someone else’s opinion. I left all chatter to the wayside because at the end of it, this is New Orleans…the amount of bodies being hauled out of place is no indication on how good the food is. Just saying, but what do I know…I’m just another jackass with an opinion.

      • Dustin

        The fact that you were able to “convince” a bar to re-open their kitchen over the phone without you even being there to simply make you one roast beef sandwich makes the entire story smell a bit funny. Sorry.
        However, if your story is indeed 100 percent accurate, I would hop in the car and drive to Parasol’s every single time if their staff is that friendly that they would be able to handle an order like that for you.

        That being said, I agree with you that everyone has their own opinions regarding how a po-boy taste. However, if a writer who works as a food critic has to try multiple different times to get food items as a place that brags about their roast beef (Tracey’s), it does leave a lot to be desired.

        I know for your little blog here the issue was strictly the difference between tastes, and in your opinion, you preferred Tracey’s. However, in the overall scope, if I’m starving for a po-boy and have to leave my house, hop in my car and spend time ordering and eating, I don’t want to go to a place that has a potential habit of not understanding the most basic concept of inventory and is constantly running out of bread and other food items on the regular menu.

        Personally, I don’t really think either place hits the mark of a good po-boy. They taste like any normal bar food where 95 percent of the people are drunk and think all food is incredible in that particular state of mind.

        Thus, honestly, neither of these places should even have been considered for top roast beef po-boys…. the critics should stick to the po-boy shops and corner groceries.

        • Hey Dustin…it wasn’t that I convinced them to re-open, but that they were on the heels of closing and I had called after closing. I expressed my disappointment and told them I could be there within minutes because I live close enough to hear the cheers of games and what have you. I was extremely impressed by the staff at Parasol’s, and, as I indicated, I know and have known people who have worked at both under both owners. For full disclosure, I did not know anyone who was working in either kitchen that night. And I’ll agree with you, there are better roast beef po-boys in this city and her outlying areas… but that night I determined to go with an open mind and try both and compare as it were according to Brett Anderson’s article since I had never had a roast beef po-boy at either in my gazillion dinosaur years living here. I’ve had friends and strangers point out numerous places that they believe have better roast beef po-boys and if I give up on my dreadfully painful diet of healthy eating, I will be there eating away also. My kudos to Brett for bringing a little spirit in the hood…

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