The Aristocrat of Sandwiches

By Corby Kummer
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Photo by Justin Vogt

Suddenly it's New Orleans week on the site, between my romance with John Besh's book and Justin Vogt's romance with the po-boy, which includes a hunger-inducing slide show.

I've eaten my share of po-boys, always noting the contrast between the deep-fried batter (whatever you have, the deep-fried batter is what makes it good, I say heretically), the shredded iceberg lettuce, and the creamy sauce. The bread just holds it together, and is the kind of light, airy, mostly flavorless baguette that still has an honored place in France and abroad in the new world of levain and wild yeasts. It's really all crust as the crumb is so light--and the crust isn't too crackly and is generally a very light tan, in keeping with its deliberately subservient role.

I'd had plenty of Leidenheimer baguettes, the ones purists usually insist on because there are almost no contenders for traditional baguette, but have never seen the wooden slicing crib you'll see in the slide show--and certainly never tasted anything like the winner of the po-boy contest Vogt describes, a "Caminada" made by the Grand Isle restaurant,

with the East Asian flavors that have crept into southern Louisiana cuisine thanks in part to the region's vibrant Vietnamese community. The base consisted of a chili-garlic butter, in which the shrimp was cooked along with parsley, a bit of anchovy, and lime juice...Sandwiched between two slices of Leidenheimer bread, the Caminada was a flavor machine.

It's a sign of cultural renewal every tradition needs--and particularly in New Orleans, where traditions are at particular risk post-Katrina. Sandy Whann, the owner of Leidenheimer and a prime mover of the festival, talks about the sandwich's role in the community--in passing along the city itself:

"I worried that young kids who were susceptible to advertising from the big chains might migrate away from the po-boy shops in their own neighborhoods," he explained. "Going to those places teaches you to interact with other people from your community, and that ability is part of what brought this city back after Katrina."

As for what's being passed along, read the origins of the name. They're not what you think, and not what I thought either--and a sign of why a proud city needs to stay proud. Judging by Vogt's experience, it's doing just that. By eating, of course.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/12/the-aristocrat-of-sandwiches/31075/