Tucked into the heart of the Freret Street revitalization, in a shotgun-style shop, a small specialty eatery slings sandwiches with big meat flavor. They aren’t po-boys, subs or even hoagies. They are cheesesteaks – and not just some Philly knock-off, but ones infused with bold New Orleans flavor.
Liberty Cheesesteaks, which opened a year and a half ago, operates out of the original Dat Dog location at 5031 Freret Street. And though the hot dog behemoth moved across the street, Liberty Cheesesteaks is not living in its shadow. Both eateries – along with their neighboring hotspots like Gasa Gasa, Publiq House, Cure, Midway and Company Burger – have helped make Freret Street the city’s new go-to spot for food and fun.
A major part of what makes this up-and-coming area thrive is the close-knit and collaborative bond these places have formed with one another. “We looked at other locations, like the Bywater and Mid-City,” says Mike Casey, co-founder and day-to-day operator of Liberty Cheesesteaks. “But it really came down to this concentration of places. I call it the open-air food court. And we needed that kind of support. With Freret Street, we’re all in this together. I saw that as something very attractive. You can’t buy that kind of support.”
The neighborly, collaborative environment reaches beyond Freret Street, he says. “When we first started, I walked into other restaurants throughout the city with a plethora of questions, and the response I got was overwhelming,” he continues. “The city’s restaurant business and culture are great and very supportive. You see the same people, you go through the same struggles. We celebrate openings and lament closings.”
Casey and his best friend at Tulane University, Joe Seremet, both hail from the Northeast and had dreamed of opening a restaurant. New Orleans, a city known for great cuisine and culinary diversity, noticeably lacked a true cheesesteak spot. Sure, lots of restaurants and bars tack it onto the menu, but it generally lacked the authenticity that they desired. The duo knew they could do it right, and they seized the opportunity.
“It was less than a eureka moment, but more like, ‘Let’s develop this and see how it goes,'” says Casey. “And after about a year of these conversations, finally we were just like, let’s do it … The niche food industry has really built itself out. And we felt that the cheesesteak had never really been thought to carry a brand here … There is now a lot of respect in going to a specialty place that focuses on doing one thing great, instead of 20 things mediocre.”
Liberty Cheesesteaks puts a tremendous emphasis on quality ingredients. “It’s such a simple food. It’s not a muffaletta with a lot of filler. So if you don’t have the best ingredients, that’s going to [show.] The ingredients have to stand alone because they are under scrutiny the whole time. We want you to taste with your eyes, taste with your nose and taste with your mouth.”
As New Orleanians know, thanks to the po-boy, that bread can ultimately make or break a sandwich. Liberty uses a soft, non-flaky Italian-style roll sourced directly from Philadelphia. Next, comes the steak – fresh-cut short-tail sirloin that is never frozen. “Authentic places mostly use prime rib, but I stay away from that because it’s too gamey for New Orleans. It’s very fatty, very heavy and makes a greasy sandwich. I want that authentic experience, but we have to adapt to the New Orleans taste,” says Casey. Finally, a choice of cheese – provolone, white American or Cheez Whiz (as tradition in Philly mandates) – melds it all together.
Casey admits that they do get the occasional confused customer looking for a po-boy, or ones that can’t seem understand why they don’t serve their sandwiches dressed or even with mayo. He says, “The New Orleans customer is tough. They are willing to try new things, but they won’t continue to eat bad things. I love po-boys, but that’s not what we’re trying to do. If we can do a cheesesteak here and have the community accept it, then we can do it anywhere.”
The restaurateurs hope to expand in the future. “Once we get the brand up and going, I’d love to hit a couple of corners of the city. We want to be more local-driven. We want to go to our customer base. It’s great. We get customers coming from Slidell and Chalmette; lots of people from Mid-City. I’m hoping that will be our next location.”
While another location may be a little ways off, nothing is going to keep Liberty Cheesesteaks from growing internally. With a menu of seven sandwiches (three steak, three chicken and a pizza option), two specialty sauces, and four types of fries, Liberty is not content to stop there – and they are bringing in even more Louisiana flavor. Recently, they launched a new sandwich called the Bon Temps that features steak, onions, blue cheese sauce and ‘Louisiana Cheese sauce (brie, caramelized mushrooms, spices and onions).
So stop by Liberty Cheesesteaks on Freret for a tasty sandwich with sizzle – just don’t come in expecting your everyday po-boy.
5031 Freret St, New Orleans, Louisiana 70115
LibertyCheesesteaks.com • Phone (504) 875-4447
Article written by: Chris Henson