Surf v. turf below sea level

by Brian Clarey

The roast beef po-boy at Parasol’s in the Irish Channel neighborhood of New Orleans makes no sense — at least, it didn’t to that bleached-out hump Guy Fieri on the Food Network when he made a visit to the place for his show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” a couple years ago.

Fieri stood flabbergasted as my friend Jeff Carreras boiled — yes, boiled — a huge chunk of inside round within an inch of its life. Fieri called it “beef jerky” and had a few more wisecracks when Carreras popped the entire sandwich, lettuce and all, into the oven to finish off.

Fieri came around after the first bite, declaring the synthesis between meat and gravy, bread and fixings, to be “legit.”

I talked about this with Carreras at Parasol’s just this weekend during a quick trip down to my favorite city on the map while my traveling partner B-boy got his very first taste of what is roundly considered to be one hell of a sandwich.

“Damn,” is what I believe he said, or some such approximation. It was his first time down in New Orleans, and I tried to give him the full complement of experiences in just a few short days: drinking daiquiris in the car while driving down St. Charles Avenue, eating muffalettas procured from Central Grocery in the French Quarter, sipping on Pimm’s cups and Abita beers, walking the bars and shops of Magazine Street while music fills the air. We even slept in the former slave quarters behind my friend Big Rob’s house, a sweet little pad that, these days, is outfitted with a full kitchen and a whirlpool bathtub.

No doubt about it: New Orleans is different from the Triad. We noticed one disparity on Saturday night in the Warehouse District, where thousands of art lovers dressed in white linen packed a fiveblock stretch of galleries and museums — and a few patrons dressed in nothing but body paint and bikini bottoms tried to avoid smudging everyone’s clothes.

The big difference we found was not that topless women walk around the streets of New Orleans — though that did not go unnoticed — but that in nearly every men’s room we visited there was a urinal trough positioned against the wall.

You don’t see those around here too much anymore — in fact, the only one we remembered was at Ziggy’s in Winston-Salem, gone these many years. What’s up with that, I wondered.

B-boy, who has some experience with the construction of public restrooms in the Triad, had an answer: It’s because of homophobia.

“Yeah,” he said, “you can’t do them anymore because it was looked upon as a privacy issue. People didn’t want anyone looking at them while they peed.”

That’s crazy, of course, because the odds of standing at a men’s room urinal trough next to someone who may actually be interested in your goods are much better in New Orleans than in the Triad… and yet the fact remains that I haven’t seen one around here in a good, long time.

One of the reasons for the trip down there — besides the obvious R&R qualities that city possesses — was to assess the lingering damage from Hurricane Katrina and evaluate any new toxicity from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Most of the city seems to have recovered from Katrina, particularly the parts of town to which the tourists flock, and the residential sections of Uptown and the Garden District have bounced back and perhaps even surpassed their pre-flood status. A drive through the 9 th Ward revealed more than a few derelict homes, some still bearing the post-Katrina Xs spray-painted on the shingles, but the filthy grime that demarcated the high-water line has mostly faded away.

And as we approached the city from the east, driving across Lake Pontchartrain, neither one of us could detect the scent of oil that some locals say lingers in the air. Nor could we detect any evidence of the brown tar balls that have encroached the shores of this huge, swampy lake, though as recently as July residents reported spots of oil and dead fish floating on the shores.

Most telling, perhaps, was the difficulty these days in procuring oysters in this town where they were once as ubiquitous as neon signs and plastic go-cups. A few places fly signs proudly claiming their availability — “Yes! We have oysters!” — and any number of barroom experts will tell you that now is the safest time in history to eat Louisiana seafood because of the new gamut of inspection through which every catch must now pass.

But supply is low, so a sack of oysters that once cost about $35 now runs closer to $100. Carreras over at Parasol’s held on as long as he could, raising the price of his oyster po-boy in increments until it reached almost $17 before discontinuing it altogether.

Fortunately, at $6, the roast beef is still a bargain.