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In Praise of Parkway Bakery & Tavern

We are now in our 13th month of what we knew from the beginning would be a difficult battle to win. Though the odds are still very much against us, there has been some good news.

It all began with our November 2011 issue when our cover story was given to discovering the best of our native sandwich. In this space I complained that the proper, and historically accurate, term “poor boy” has increasingly been bastardized around town to “po-boy.” At that time, I asked for those places that used the proper term to please let me know. Evangeline, a then-new restaurant in the French Quarter, was the first to report its adherence to correctness. Also Chef Scott Boswell’s restaurant Stanley near Jackson Square is in that number, including an Eggs Benedict Poor Boy.

Praise be to both.

For every battle, though, there needs to be that extra boost, the equivalent of General Patton and the Third Army suddenly rolling in.

That happened when, owner Jay Nix of Parkway Bakery & Tavern, a place dedicated exclusively to purveying the sandwich, suddenly changed its ads from saying “Po-Boy” to “Poor Boy.” You could almost hear the bugle echoing that a rescue was underway.

According to legend, the origin of the sandwich was when the Martin Brothers, operators of a small restaurant near the riverfront, prepared a special sandwich made with French bread to feed streetcar workers who, in 1929, were on strike and needed nourishment.

In reference to the beleaguered workers the sandwich was referred to as a “poor boy.” At some point that term morphed in popular usage to “po-boy,” I suspect due to sign painters who needed to economize on letters. Thusly, is the language compromised?

So a year later there’s still a long way to go. (If the local festival that celebrates the sandwich would call itself “Poor Boy,” that could be a huge help.) Overwhelmingly, most places still use the improper term, but the places that get it right, including a start-up, a place run by a celebrity chef, and possibly the largest purveyor of the sandwich in town, give hope.

We are not giving up. Happy New Year. And may all your poor boys be crispy.

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