New Orleans To Go (139 W. Kemper Road, Springdale, 513-671-2711) makes the best of its angular, strip-mall space, dressing it up with gold, green and purple paint, feathery masks and glittery beads. Zydeco music blares from oversized speakers, and a glass case displays New Orleans souvenirs: colorful bandannas, shot glasses, Voodoo dolls and pictures of Katrina's aftermath.
Still, waiting to order, you don't feel like you've been transported to the Bayou. That happens when you taste the food.
The main draw here is po-boys, the regional version of a submarine sandwich. Originally crafted to feed some "poor boys" on strike against a New Orleans streetcar company, these classic examples come in two sizes: 7 inches and 11 inches.
I eagerly chose the daily special: a Fried Oyster Po-Boy ($8.95). Fried golden brown and heaped on a baguette, I had mine dressed with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise; the mollusks were melt-in-the-mouth tender and just a touch briny. My side of sweet potato fries was surprisingly (but deliciously) coated with more than a "pinch" of sugar and came with a terrific apple butter dipping sauce.
Other available fillings include classics like fried and BBQ shrimp, fried catfish and roast and gravy.
(For those not inclined to step outside their food comfort zone, less-traditional cheeseburger po-boys are also available.)
Of course, the true test of a place that includes the words "to go" in its name is how the food travels. I brought a few items home and reheated them. The Soup du Jour ($3) — creamy clam and shrimp — was studded with lots of fish and potatoes and had a pleasing heat. The Hot Cajun Wings ($6.95) were quite spicy, though the side of bleu cheese dressing cooled things down nicely. Larger platters come with a choice of sides. A Bourbon Street Plate ($8.45) had a main helping of sweet BBQ shrimp plus jambalaya (loaded with spicy sausage) and cole slaw. The Canal Street Plate ($8.95) included two big pieces of spicy fried catfish, plus more jambalaya and another helping of those "sweet" sweet potato fries.
Packaged in enough Styrofoam to buoy a small raft, everything held up well on the trip home.
This venture just opened last fall, the brainchild of a New Orleans native and former General Electric employee who wanted to start her own business. Now, with her mom frequently at the register, this family business is serving up large portions of well-made regional fare at extremely fair prices. Grade: A