You may have heard about -- or just heard -- Parasol's annual St. Patrick's Day blow-out, during which Third Street morphs into the Irish Channel's backyard, front porch and living room. You may also have heard about Parasol's garlic-fueled roast beef po-boys, for which legions of Orleanians rotate through the mythical bar's 20-or-so stools, particularly on Sunday nights and during Saints games. What you may not have heard is that the city's most fabled Irish pub actually passed down through the Passauers to the Hocks, families of Dutch and German heritage, and has never operated under the direction of an Irishman. What else could they to do in a district that still swarmed with Irish descendents 50 years ago? Throw a tulip festival? A wienerschnitzel roast? There's hardly the same appeal. Besides, as the hodgepodge on St. Patrick's Day attests, roast beef and beer-inspired camaraderie is a combination that transcends nationality.
Last November Bill Hock, the Parasol's heir, transported some Irish Channel spirit over to the West Bank, opening Parasol's of Gretna on First Street alongside a vacant lot carpeted in clovers. With its industrial graying, its run of dark storefronts and the Mississippi River invisibly pushing ferries and barges just beyond the sloping flood wall, First Street is Gretna's Tchoupitoulas; the levy turns a lush, airbrushed green once it reaches Parasol's of Gretna, and when the breeze whispers along, Ireland doesn't seem so far away. Like at the original Parasol's, the Irish details inside are Hallmarkian: green and white checkered tablecloths, green trim, shamrock cutouts. Glass bricks fracture light into the barroom; bordered by green booths, the back dining room could host a couple hundred leprechauns.
Hock doesn't run the Irish Channel Parasol's anymore -- he leases the enterprise to Jeff Carreras, an Italian-Spaniard by blood. When Hock developed an itch for the business again last year, he found his scratching post at Gretna's former Clover Club, sealing his adopted Irish fate. He says many of the families that left the Irish Channel during a mass exodus in the 1960s now reside on the West Bank and are forming an alliance at his new location. The disbanded Irish Channel alum, and anyone else unrestrained by Lenten rules of moderation, can reunite at Parasol's of Gretna's street party scheduled for the Friday prior to St. Patrick's Day. It will involve beer and roast beef, though the family recipe seems to have lost a bit of its salt amidst all the transitions.
The menu in Gretna is similar to that of the original, except that erster is spelled "oyster" and there's no briny corned beef. At $4.50, an unrefined but satisfying veal Parmesan lunch special was a poor man's steal. Its red sauce teemed with garlic and onions, the tender veal was ground and fried rather than pounded and paneed, and the Parmesan was powdery. Killer cheeseburger po-boys made with hand-formed patties taste like backyard grill food. Gravy cheese fries strewn with garlicky roast beef would be killer, too, with the help of some salt.
Roast beef po-boys, like gumbos and barbecue shrimp variations, will be argued over in New Orleans until the end of time, which makes them all the more exciting to eat. I take a po-boy joint seriously if it follows a rule of inverse proportions: the messier the roast beef the flimsier its napkins. And I organize roast beef po-boys into three basic categories: the crepe-paper-thin kind with au jus, the thick-sliced leathery kind with beefy gravy of any consistency, and the crock-pot-tender kind upon which beef and gravy become one. The roast beef po-boys at Parasol's of Gretna, made with clean slices of semi-tender beef, fit in somewhere between the latter two categories; they also suffer the unfortunate bland ailment of the gravy fries. You can salt anything yourself, but salting roast beef at the table is like dressing a cut with masking tape: it's a bandage alright, but the wound still smarts.
The crucial garlic element does exist in the Gretna po-boys, however, which is more than I can say for two of the last three roast beef po-boys I've eaten at the Irish Channel Parasol's. That location has set the bar by which I usually judge all other crock-pot-tender roast beef po-boys around town. One night at the Irish Channel location the beef was listless, the gravy floury; on another the beef was saltless, the gravy essentially non-existent. Then one recent day the old war-horse returned. With the floral air of early spring circulating through the barroom, 14 men hunching over paper plates and draught beers beside me, I bit in. The beef, so fall-apart tender it seemed chopped, ached with garlic and salt. The topmost bread was toasted and brittle, the bottom sagging with gravy, mayonnaise and sour pickle juice. If you find one out of three unacceptable odds, hamburger steak po-boys with gravy and fried onions may be more reliable.
I'm prepared to live with these odds until a replacement gold standard comes across my paper plate, and I'm even liable to give the roast beef in Gretna another go -- they have the original, Irish-inspired recipe to work with after all.
- Cheryl Gerber
- PARASOL'S OF GRETNA opened its doors last November inside the former Clover Club location on First Street, so the Irish eyes keep smiling inside.