Wednesday, April 22, 2015
More than a sandwich
A po'boy is more than just a sandwich. The New Orleans po'boy sandwich got its start, the story goes, in 1929 when a French Quarter lunch joint run by two former streetcar conductors gave out free food to striking streetcar workers on the picket line. Clovis and Benny Martin asked a local baker to make 40" long loaves of French bread, so that that four sandwiches could be made from each loaf without wasting any bread. Whenever they saw a striker coming in for a sandwich, the staff would say, "Here comes another poor boy!"
What makes a New Orleans po'boy different from, say, a Philadelphia hoagie or a New England grinder is the bread - a long, white French loaf with a crackly crust and a light and airy inner crumb.
You can argue where the best po'boys are made, and when you do, it's almost certain the name of Parkway Bakery and Tavern will come up.
This Mid City joint has won awards for its sandwiches. When I stepped inside on a Friday afternoon, the bar-room was already full, the bar shoulder-to-shoulder with customers. I snagged a seat and ordered an Abita Amber beer and a fried catfish po'boy.
"Dressed?" asked the bartender, which means did I want it with mayonnaise, lettuce, pickles and tomato?
Yes indeed, fully dressed.
There are many different fillings for a po'boy, but popular ones are fried seafood like shrimp, catfish or oysters, or soft-shell crab. Roast beef and gravy is also popular, served with "debris" or the crusty bits of meat that end up in the roasting pan. A po'boy can be cheap, with luncheon meat, or it can be exotic, with alligator sausage or fried chicken livers.
With the influx of Vietnamese immigrants in the '70s, sandwich cultural fusion created a mash-up between the po'boy and the banh mi, giving rise to Vietnamese po'boys.
Whatever you call it, it's good eating.