Mahony's Po Boy Shop
3454 Magazine St
New Orleans, LA 70115
Napoleon's Rating - ***/*****
After an eight-year run preparing upscale seafood and other Latin-infused dishes at RioMar, Benjamin Wicks took a radically different tack, opening Mahony's as a tribute to old school New Orleans po-boy shops. It's a place where the standards are done with doting attention to detail and a few more contemporary creations put a new spin on the po-boy experience.
Mahony's opened in the former location of Winnie's Artsy Café, a sandwich shop with a highly whimsical interior décor. All of that is gone, though the sunny, open dining room is quickly accumulating a collection of framed art and nostalgic, New Orleans-themed décor as its fresh renovation begins to slowly season. There is a long, handsome bar of salvaged cypress and, and a few tables outside on the high front porch make great, shaded perches overlooking Magazine Street.
Mahony's uses the standard po-boy service style: you order at the register, they holler your name when it's ready. When the place is slammed, which seems increasingly common lately, the wait can seem excessive, though it's clear the staff is hustling.
Mahony's puts more energy into its side dishes than most po-boy shops, beginning with the excellent onion rings. These aren't actually rings at all, but rather very thin, frilly ribbons of fried onion. You can eat them like popcorn, and their just as irresistible. Creole mustard, pickled jalapeno and fresh herbs go into the chunk potato salad.
It's a combination of ironclad fundamentals and an eye for the little things that set the po-boys at Mahony's apart. The roast beef pulls apart into big, thick strands and gets a substantial gravy with visible bits of carrot and onions. Chisesi-brand hams are glazed with root beer extract for a mellow vanilla sweetness at the edges and flaky pieces of turkey are clearly cut from a whole roasted bird rather than sliced from a deli loaf. The meatballs make hearty, full-flavored po-boy fillings with their blend of beef and pork and ample portions of garlic. The tomato sauce is chunky and earthy, though the fresh mozzarella doesn't melt as well as I'd prefer.
Fried seafood comes out pretty well, especially the crusty, cornmeal-coasted oysters and the substantial shrimp. You can add bacon and cheddar to the oysters for Mahony's over-the-top "peacemaker" loaf, though the most offbeat rendition here pairs grilled shrimp with fried green tomatoes and remoulade sauce. It's busy, and messy, but very good. The fried chicken liver po-boy is just too rich for me to really get into, though I know some people fantasize about all those crispy little organs waiting under a mayonnaise slather.
Not many people staring down a big po-boy leave room for dessert, but the chocolate cake with peanut butter icing is worth the effort, as is the sweet potato crunch pie.
There is a full bar, with Abita on draft.
These po-boys are generously stuffed, but the small sizes are not bargains. They start at $6.50 and go up to almost $10 for a six-inch sandwich. The large sizes make up the difference, though, since these are twice as long for much less than twice the price.
Somewhere along the line, certain po-boy shops make the leap from convenience eatery to esteemed neighborhood institutions, places where people line up not just for a sandwich but to commune with the spirit of the city. Entering its second year in business, Mahony's is a long way from any kind of landmark status, but it's earning a strong regular following on the strength of the cooking and skillful blend of tradition and updates.