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Healthy eating

Parasol’s and Tracey’s
battle for Irish Channel roast beef po-boy supremacy

Published: Wednesday, January 04, 2012, 5:00 AM By Brett Anderson, The Times-Picayune

Do legendary dishes belong to institutions or to their human stewards? The question underlies a debate that has been simmering ever since Tracey’s opened down the block from Parasol’s in the summer of 2010.

Both are bar-restaurants in the Irish Channel whose regulars resemble their SEC football counterparts by loving their favorite while dismissing its rival. So in the spirit of the looming BCS Championship game, it seems appropriate to ask: When it comes to roast beef po-boys, whose is No. 1?

Back in 2010, Parasol’s owners sold the business to John and Thea Hogan, a couple living in Florida at the time. This did not amuse the person the Hogans outbid, Jeff Carreras, who had been operating Parasol’s for the previous 12 years. Carreras responded by opening Tracey’s – and bringing Parasol’s famous roast beef po-boy recipe with him.
Tracey’s takes its name – not to mention its sign, which Carreras salvaged – from a place that first opened in 1949 at the corner of Constance and Third streets. A few years later, Tracey’s moved to the spot where Carreras brought it back to life, at the corner of Third and Magazine.

Parasol’s has been operating in the space Tracey’s vacated since 1952. It’s a dive bar that owes its iconicity to an off-the-hook St. Patrick’s Day street party and to a roast beef po-boy that for many New Orleanians is the reason they love roast beef po- boys.

Tracey’s asserts Carreras’ conviction that his sweat equity entitled him to a slice of Parasol’s claim on Irish Channel history. It’s a symbolically powerful argument when you consider his business was essentially set up to engage in a battle of working class watering holes.

Neither place is in danger of being mistaken for a yoga studio. During my visit to Parasol’s last month, the door separating the kitchen and dining room fell off its hinges and onto the floor when a staffer pressed against it. It was a loud, unintentionally comic retort to those who claim the Hogans tarnished the place by spiffing it up.

The scene inside Tracey’s Sunday night was gritty in a different way. Hardly anyone in the capacity crowd seemed to notice when one patron left the premises on an ambulance’s stretcher.

It was my second visit to Tracey’s in as many weeks. (The first one ended quickly after I was informed the kitchen was out of po-boy bread.) A night game with NFL post season implications had the place in full sports bar mode, but its shortcomings as a restaurant mirrored previous daytime visits.

The kitchen was out of fried pickles and down to just one flavor (jalapeno) of Zapp’s, and many diners who wanted to eat on clean tables had to wipe them off themselves. Both the bread and shredded lettuce were fresher than on the roast beef po-boy I’d tried in September, but it still fell way short of Tracey’s website’s claim of being the best “on Earth.” The beef wasn’t fully tenderized, and it was piled awkwardly onto one side of the bread. The result resembled what would happen if a courier delivered a roast beef po-boy to your house after carrying it several blocks under his arm, like a book.

Parasol’s sandwich was a masterpiece by comparison. The fall-apart beef came in a juicy, medium-thick layer between toasted halves of bread. A light painting of garlic butter on the bread signals the signature touch of the Hogan era, one that amplifies the beef’s flavor without overwhelming it.
The crowds at Tracey’s and Parasol’s suggest there is plenty of room for both of them on Third Street. But in the neighborhood battle for roast beef po-boy dominance, Parasol’s comes out on top by living up to its legend.