The Radical Sandwich Kings of New Orleans



The chicken-fried steak sandwich at Turkey and the Wolf in New Orleans is not so much a food you eat as it is a shape-shifting monster you battle into submission. 2 thin slices of white bread can hardly contain the torrent of active ingredients roaring between them: ripples of pounded New York strip enclosed in crackly batter, a mound of coleslaw and a mangy row of dill pickle coins, and slicks of pepper jelly and a spicy mayo called "bird sauce." After you have actually selected up a half of this monster, it's tough to put it down for factors of functionality (it threatens to implode in your hands) as well as enjoyment. The sandwich is olympian in its excess, and it yet somehow enhances the notion of balance in deep space: For each velvety bite there is an opposite however equivalent crunch; in spite of the deluge of dressings, the important beefiness never gets swept away.


Chef and co-owner Mason Hereford brings a particular Dr. Frankenstein glee to every dish he makes, though it's the chicken-fried steak sandwich that arguably ranks as his greatest creation. His "bird sauce" riffs on a spicy mayo dip served at a New Orleans fixture called McHardy's Chicken & Fixin' in the Seventh Ward: Hereford's variation integrates Duke's Mayo, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco's chipotle pepper sauce, and gochugaru (Korean chile flakes). However the real trick, he informed me over the phone, is that when he pulls the battered beef from the fryer, he sprays it with chicken flavoring powder which imparts, he says, a "je ne sais quoi" poultry taste. The result is so profound that, inning accordance with Hereford, some repeat clients have can be found in requesting the "fried chicken sandwich" they had last time. He doesn't trouble to remedy them.


Hereford and his business partner, Lauren Holton, opened Turkey and the Wolf this past August, and New Orleanians have taken to the place immediately, welcoming its specific sort of quirkiness to a city that has long grown on idiosyncrasy. Serving a brief menu of superbly aberrant sandwiches and often altering miscellanea (raucous salads, eccentric tacos and tostadas, Americana nibbles), the restaurant rests on an otherwise peaceful corner in the Irish Channel. It's a generally working-class area located south of the Lower Garden District, set down along one of the Mississippi River's lots of serpentine bends through the area. Here, the surrounding buildings sit low and the Louisiana sky looms large.


If you're going to New Orleans and remaining in the French Quarter or the Central Enterprise zone, as lots of visitors do, lunch or dinner at Turkey and the Wolf is well worth the 13-minute drive. Holton manages a spirited cocktail program; there's one rum-fueled zinger called "When I was 10 I Went to School as a Dead Cheerleader for Halloween." Each of my local buddies separately referred to Hereford's food menu as "stoner food." When one of his star productions is a fried bologna sandwich crowned with molten American cheese and a handful of potato chips, it's a simple label to yield.


Calling his cooking "stoner food" doesn't quite capture the sly proficiency Hereford gives the cooking area, though. He formerly worked as chef de cuisine at nearby Coquette, one of the city's most well-known contemporary fine-dining locations: It's a place where chef-owners Kristen Essig and Michael Stoltzfus serve smoked catfish dip, green tea-cured cobia with cucumber and creme fraiche, and other well-executed ideas that draw on influences far and wide. At his own place, Hereford's dishes may at first read as let's-see-what's-in-the-fridge munchies, but look past their excessive look and it's clear they've derived from proficient hands and a sharp, intentional mind.


More broadly, part of the instant appeal of Turkey and the Wolf may be how easily the tone of Hereford's cooking slides into the lexicon of casual New Orleans dining. taco bell hours breezewood After all, this is a city dedicated to the gloriously ungainly sandwich. Muffulettas have been sacrosanct for over a century, when grocers first started piling very finely sliced cured meats (salami, ham, mortadella) and Provolone or similar cheese onto bread as a heart go-to lunch for immigrant Sicilian workers. Chunky, slippery olive salad is as needed to the muffuletta as is motor oil to an automobile engine. And naturally there are po' kids, whose origins are murky (their appeal increased throughout the Depression period) however whose ubiquity is outright. Variations packed with fried oysters and shrimp can be grappled by hand, though I can never ever take on a gravy-doused roast beef po' boy at a regional shrine like R&O without ultimately turning to knife and fork.


It's on the backs of these classics that the grand edifice of New Orleans sandwich culture stands; on their foundation rests the more recent guard Turkey and the Wolf amongst them who are including their own modern constructs to the category. Hereford is developing himself as a next-gen nonconformist, but it's Donald Link, one of New Orleans's towering chef-restaurateurs, who the majority of profoundly shifted the town's sandwich community when he opened Cochon Butcher in 2009. Link's flagship restaurant, Cochon, largely concentrates on the flavors of the chef's Cajun heritage, but Butcher's casual food shows inspirations near and far.


Link's muffuletta, constructed from house-made charcuterie on a sesame-flecked bun, is a marvel of contrast and nuance. His advancement work of genius, however, is the bacon melt thin layers of chewy-crisp cured pork stacked with stewed collard greens, pepper aioli, and Swiss cheese on buttered toast. It hearkens to the South without referencing Louisiana food culture specifically. You can also find a Cubano, a barbecued pulled pork number, and Moroccan spiced lamb with cucumber and tzatziki on flatbread. Link brings the flavors home again with Butcher's must-have side order: hot boudin, Acadiana's stunning, funky pork and rice sausage.


Link undoubtedly didn't create the idea of mixing and matching international tastes and serving them in between pieces of bread. But in New Orleans, where cooking traditions run deeper than anywhere else in America, I 'd argue that the success of Cochon Butcher directly encouraged the creativities of other regional cooks. I think, for instance, of Killer PoBoys on Dauphine Street in the French Quarter (opened in 2015), where the eponymous sandwich can be found in variations like salmon and cream cheese; chorizo, eggs, avocado, salsa verde, and black beans; or the dining establishment's finest innovation, a shrimp po' kid that functions as a banh mi, dressed with daikon, carrots, cucumber, and Sriracha aioli, a homage to the indelible Vietnamese culinary impacts on NOLA's dining landscape.


Turkey and the Wolf locates itself plainly in this sandwich lineage, though Hereford's distinctive creativity carves an unique niche. So does the cozy quirkiness of the dining establishment's physical space, which integrates 1950s kitsch (laminated, chrome-line table fill the space) with useful industrial minimalism (painted concrete walls remember the pale chartreuse of primary school hallways, recovered woods consist of the bar). Hereford's bro, William, is a photographer; for the dining establishment, he shot lovely stills of renowned New Orleans dishes. At one meal, I sat under a picture of the lofty, golden fried shrimp po' boy at legendary Domilise's. The artistic gesture frames such standard-bearers as well-regarded forebearers instead of company competitors.


Among the restaurant's sandwiches, the chicken-fried steak is the undeniable star, standing highest literally and figuratively. Hereford informed me he's threatening to take it off the menu (he's tired of pounding all that New york city strip down to linen-napkin thinness); we'll see how loudly his clients demonstration. A lot of other treasures warrant digging deeper into the menu: He makes a collard greens melt that strikes me as a vegetarian reaction to Link's bacony showpiece; Hereford loads his take with Swiss cheese and pickled cherry peppers and includes a center slice of bread to separate a layer of coleslaw. I might miss out on the pork, if I weren't so sidetracked by every other zigzagging element stuffed into this insane stunner.


Drift from the trippy Southern-Americana vagaries into a Indian-Middle Eastern mashup territory: a golden griddled roti scattered with long-simmered lamb neck (its texture comparable to the tenderest pot roast), lemon yogurt, cucumber, sliced onion, and torn herbs like mint and dill. For the more conservative of palate, there is a sandwich of smoked ham, cranberry sauce, herbed mayo, aged cheddar, and arugula on a long, lithe roll. I admire the campfire perfume of the ham, which Hereford and his crew painstakingly smoke in-house, but compared with the rest of the huge characters on the menu it offers the least fascinating magnetism.


Salads, doing the same with the sandwiches, are generous and lovably kooky. Shards of pig-ear crackling fleck a garlicky pile of cabbage thrumming with lime and roasted chile vinaigrette, with sunflower seeds including an earthy echo of crunch. Everything-bagel seasonings (poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and dehydrated garlic) sign up with tomatoes, minced bacon, and blue cheese dressings to pound a hunk of iceberg lettuce, adding up to a remarkable wedge salad. These leafy piles ought to be shared: Their flavors are almost too extreme as a standalone meal.


The most calming thing to eat at Turkey and the Wolf is a pot pie transformed into a fried hand pie filled with the gentlest stewed chicken and served with a side of buttermilk-tarragon dressing for dipping. The weirdest thing? That would be the "Double Decker Boomtown Flexibility Tostada," 2 fried tortillas adhered by refried red beans and French onion dip and ended up with "shrettuce" (Hereford mentioned he's very happy with his shredded lettuce portmanteau), cheese curds, and a triumphant wallop of crushed Doritos. Okay, I get it; pass me the blunt.