Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Vietnam by Way of Chef Menteur Highway

Dong Phuong Oriental Bakery & Restaurant at 14207 Chef Menteur Highway, New Orleans.

In advance of my spring course at Loyola on "Immigrant New Orleans," I decided to head out to talk with Cam Tran, education coordinator at the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans East. In 2005, Katrina laid waste to this part of the city and rebuilding has been an uphill battle, to put things mildly. The group that has arguably made the greatest progress has been the tightly-knit Vietnamese community one finds heading eastbound along Chef Menteur Highway just beyond Michaud Boulevard.  It is not unlike setting foot in a foreign land, right here in Orleans Parish.

The po-boy station at Dong Phuong

On the way back to the office, I decided to grab a bite at the Dong Phuong Oriental Bakery on the Chef Highway. It was but one of many tantalizing options. I'd read about Vietnamese po-boys before during the fall 2009 po-boy festival here in New Orleans and Cam mentioned that I could find one at Dong Phuong. I opted for the #5 - Vietnamese Grilled Pork, which involved incredibly seasoned meat topped with shredded carrot, cabbage, cilantro, and a beautifully crisp pickle wedge. But perhaps the greatest surprise (that is, after I scurried off to the car to unwrap my bag full of aromatic bliss) was the light, crispy wonderfulness of the bread produced in the bakery's ovens. At $2.85 - yes, that's right - under $3, I would place it in the lunch value hall of fame.

A pastry case offers a range of savory and sweet treats.

A savory meat turnover and package of coconut macaroons rounded out my shopping for the day. Other than their sweet coconut flavor, the only key impression that I can convey about the macaroons was the ease with which one can eat them while driving. By the time I'd reached Loyola, only three of nine remained in my bag. The turnover proved to be a delightful sweet pastry dough filled with egg, seasoned pork, cilantro, and tomato.

The meat turnover with pork: sweet, tender pastry with savory filling. Good cold. Probably good hot too!

There are few eateries where I find myself planning to return with friends before I've gotten a fourth of the way through my meal. Maybe it won't be as good as the first visit, as I've read a few unfavorable online reviews here and there. But I'll take my chances.

A fleeting glimpse of my #5 po-boy right before being devoured.

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