The Milk Bar
1514 Delachaise St., New Orleans, 504-891-9361; 710 S. Carrollton Ave., New Orleans 504-309-3310

The Milk Bar started as a tiny but exceptional sandwich/soup/salad joint tucked away off St. Charles Avenue by Touro Infirmary. It's recently expanded with a second shop in the Riverbend that shares the same menu and much of the quirky DNA that make the original such a delight.

These are both casual, colorful, quick and bustling sandwich shops, where the crowd skews just a little younger than the typical po-boy joint. Don't come looking for an actual 'milk bar.' The name is a reference to a type of corner store and grocery in Australia, the homeland of the shops' owners. Some of this Australian back story plays out across the menu too.

These are both counter-service operations, where your order is bagged up and brought to you when ready. Even though there can be a very busy lunch rush, these orders come out dependably fast.

There's a different soup daily, a few salads and an original and idiosyncratic approach to sandwiches, which is the best reason to visit. Most of the sandwiches are made on over-sized round loaves of ciabatta, which are big, crusty, airy and delicious. They enclose the fillings and seal them in. When you open up one of these hot sandwiches, the cheese within stretches into long strands. The fillings are quite unique. The 'wolf me down' has sliced roasted lamb with hummus and spinach while another called 'I dream of aubergenie' is like a Greek salad with eggplant enclosed in the crusty loaf. Some are a little bizarre (the 'speared pig' turns out to be ham, asparagus and Hollandaise) but my current favorite has a local streak 'shrimply the best,' a load of plump sauteed shrimp with pesto, tomatoes, mozzarella and a lemony mayo. The Milk Bar also serves po-boys, but as you might assume by now these aren't your standard variety. There's one, for instance, with roasted chicken, sour cream, mozzarella and a chunky, bright-red, spicy-sweet sauce called Thai chili that gives it all a little Asian spin. Salads are good, especially one with sliced lamb all over it, and the Milk Bar serves a basic breakfast menu or bagels and croissant sandwiches.

Milkshakes are part of the program, and with every order you get a Chupa Chups lollipop, which is a national obsession in Australia.

Smoothies and coffee drinks are the specialties, while the lemonade is particularly refreshing.

Sandwiches are $8.50, though many people will take half home as leftovers for a second meal or snack. Salads are nearly as filling at $7.50. It all feels like a good deal for the quality.

You probably already have your go-to places for sandwiches and po-boys, but if you haven't been to the Milk Bar yet there might be some adjustments to make on that list. Quality, value and originality run high here, service is fast and overall you'll have a lunch to remember and repeat soon.

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