A Contrived Food War: Parasol’s vs. Tracey’s Roast Beef
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.
For further reading:
What spurned this article: http://www.nola.com/dining-guide/index.ssf/2012/01/parasols_and_traceys_battle_fo.html
*With exception to Ian McNulty whose food opinion is usually spot on