Have you noticed that most new Manhattan restaurants are variations on a theme? With few exceptions, these places look alike (sleek and design-y, but intentionally not overwrought), sound alike (“We’re trying to give the neighborhood a place where they can come four times a week,” owners declare), and taste alike (there’s something for everyone on the menu — and probably octopus and kale, too — no matter the cuisine). They’re even priced alike: You’re probably going to drop $60 on a weeknight, $100 on a weekend — not so much that you have buyer’s remorse, but not so little that you don’t feel it, either. There are exceptions, of course, but it’s hard to buck the formula in New York’s most expensive borough. After all, formulas make it easy for an investor to see how they might make a profit. And given the price of doing business in Manhattan these days, that assurance must be nice.
Out in the wilds of Brooklyn, however, restaurants cram themselves into any old space imaginable, which is why Orleans (603 Hart Street, Brooklyn) can inhabit a triangle-shaped outdoor sliver right underneath the M train and no one thinks it’s weird.
Here, from a permanently parked food truck, Oliver Vonderahe is turning out po’boys to the hordes of neighborhood denizens that gather at the wooden picnic tables filling the yard.
Vonderahe is channeling New Orleans stands dedicated to these sandwiches, so the menu is brief: order a small (six inches, $8) or large (12 inches, $14) shrimp, catfish, fried oyster, roast beef with gravy, or vegan sausage sandwich, and then side it with some chips, fries, rice and beans, or fried pickles (avoid the coleslaw — had Orleans had a suggestion box, we would have told them that the $4 it’s charging for that tiny side of slaw feels like a huge rip-off). You can also order a basket, which gets you a small sandwich, fries, and slaw for $13.
Put your order in at the counter, and then find a seat — your name will be called, and you’ll pick up your food from the truck window. It’s up to you to dress up your sandwich beyond the remoulade (if you go for one of the seafood options, that is) and you’ll find Cajun seasoning on every table.
Of the catfish and the shrimp, we liked the shrimp the best — the plump prawns were nicely crispy, and the remoulade, which was good and tart, was used with restraint. We’ll leave the bread debate to the diehards, because we understand natives of New Orleans may have much to say on that subject, but we found the crust of the bread less, well, crusty than we’ve seen in other po’boys — though the sandwich had good chew. Overall, while prices seem a scoach steep, this is a solid snack, especially if you’re stumbling home from, oh, Bossa Nova Social Club, which is a partner in this venture.
What you won’t find here, at least for now, is more booze: The place was waiting on its liquor license when we stopped by, so they told us BYOB was not allowed. That’s a rule that seems to be only selectively enforced, however, because later patrons rolled up with a six-pack without problem, and one trash can was full of empties.