Best Poor Boy
The cause continues
In this our annual best of dining issue, I present my pick for poor boy place of the year. That would be Parkway Bakery & Tavern off of Bayou St. John. Evangeline Restaurant on Decatur Street finishes a close second.
Parkway was also my choice last year and the year before, and, here’s a tip, will probably be next year, too. There are two reasons why I select Parkway. First, and most importantly, is that the place makes a damn good poor boy. These include the classics, such as golden fried oysters as well as roast beef with gravy dripping off the edges; the throwbacks, such as the 1929 Potato Poor Boy; and the daring, including the Smoked Alligator Sausage poor boy.
There are also sides and salads, but this place is really all about the poor boy. And that leads me to my second reason. Unlike just about anyplace else that serves the sandwich, Parkway is historically correct making use of the name “poor boy” rather than the bastardized, but oh so common phrase, “po’boy.”
This magazine and its sister publications are the only news media we know of that use the proper term, which originated from a 1929 strike by streetcar conductors. A local cafe, Martins, began offering free sandwiches, which were made with lettuce and tomato on French bread, to the strikers. In honor of the workers Martins called the delicacy “Poor boys.”
The word is one of the few food names that relates to its origin. The strikers were “poor” not “po.” We suspect that the shortened version originated with sign painters at corner grocery stores wanting to promote the sandwich, which was getting more popular. “Po’” was more space efficient than “poor.” Now practically every joint in town uses the latter name, as does an annual festival that celebrates the delicacy.
What separates Parkway from Evangeline is that the former is a pure poor boy place with (depending on the season) around 20 choices. Evangeline is more of a full menu restaurant; nevertheless there are four properly named poor boys on the selection.
Being culturally correct is often a lonely attribute, though that might apply only to guys who sit behind a keyboard for a living and not to those splashing mayo on a French bread slice for waiting customers. When done right, the experience can be rich.