Bear’s roast beef po-boy has a loyal following on both sides of the lake
Published: Wednesday, December 14, 2011, 5:00 AM
By Brett Anderson, The Times-Picayune
If a person were asked to evaluate five equally delicious sandwiches, she would chose as her favorite the one her grandmother bought to split with her grandfather on the porch where her mother was raised. It would be no contest. Bear’s, whose roast beef sandwich has received as many endorsements as any in town, has been around a good while, and its roast beef po-boys are delicious. But Bear’s brings another unique factor to the table, and I believe it has contributed to its support: motion. Bear’s history is a moving target. If you’re building a fan base, it can’t hurt to cover the waterfront. The “original” Bear’s in Covington opened in 1990, but according to its owner, Josh Watson, the basis for its roast beef recipe — as well as the basis for the recipes at the other three Bear’s locations owned by Watson’s brother Matt — dates back to the late 1950s, when Watson’s grandparents and parents ran a restaurant called the White House at the corner Hammond Highway and Chickasaw Avenue in Bucktown.
The family ran a nearby stand called Big Bear’s Sno-balls at the same time. In 1977, after the White House burned down, Josh Watson said, “We brought that old stand across the lake to Mandeville on the Causeway.” The stand became the new Big Bear’s in Old Mandeville, which served take-out po-boys until the whole business migrated again in 1990, this time to Covington, where it became simply Bear’s.
Matt Watson went off on his own to open a Bear’s Grill & Spirits in Mandeville in 2004. He expanded to Slidell a couple years later and then, last fall, to Metairie, which is where I was reminded how much I liked Bear’s. There are some subtle differences between the roast beef po-boys at the Bear’s in Metairie and Covington, the two I’ve sampled within the past few weeks. The Metairie restaurant uses Leidenheimer bread, for instance, where Covington uses a north shore baker called Wise Guy. Chris Canfill, general manager of Bear’s at Gennaro’s, also said something Josh Watson did not: “We put more mayonnaise on our po-boys than a normal human being would.” But the sandwiches’ strengths are their similarities. Both locations roast their own beef, which they chill before slicing against the grain. At first, neither po-boy looks terribly dependent on gravy. The folds of the meat are vivid to the eye, not distant curls clouded by sauce. But a different story emerges after you grip the toasted bread, putting pressure on the beef and releasing the gravy that has been absorbed by the meat during its soak in the gravy pot. The sensation is as satisfying as a fried oyster exploding on the tongue, and the sandwiches are as close to my platonic ideal as any I’ve tried in my search so far.
Where it’s at: 128 West 21st Ave., Covington, 985.892.2373; 1809 N. Causeway Blvd., Mandeville, 985.674.9090; 550 Gause Blvd., Slidell, 985.201.8905; 3206 Metairie Road, Metairie, 504.833.9226
Claim to fame: Serving juicy roast beef po-boys from a variety of loosely affiliated locations for over half a century.
Brett Anderson’s take: The beef releases gravy as though it were a natural-occurring phenomenon.
The search for the perfect roast beef po-boy: See the full list of restaurants reviewed on our-five-month taste test.