There have been certain pivotal moments in New Orleans dining history when the world just seemed to change. For example:
• When Antoine’s switched from having an all-French menu to one that included a foreign language: English.
• When Galatorie’s stopped serving chipped ice in its water goblets and moved to the more daring cubes.
• When Morning Call moved from the French Quarter to Fat City (later to expand to City Park).
• And now this: Bud’s Broiler, the legendary purveyor of charcoal grilled burgers, serving poor boys of either shrimp or fish.
Lunch this day was at the senior (1956) surviving Bud’s Broiler, the one on City Park Avenue, next to the railroad track, across from Delgado. A banner on the balcony announced the poor boys’ availability. I was curious if I could get a shrimp poor boy dressed like a classic Bud’s burger. Bud’s is known for its menu numbering system so that a “Number One” means that the burger comes with mayonnaise, relish and the house special sauce. Other choices include various combinations of cheddar cheese, chili, onion and the sauce. (There are also options with hotdogs and chicken, but the place has always been about the burger.)
There I was doing what would have been unthinkable in a simpler era – ordering a shrimp poor boy at Bud’s. “Dressed,” I added. Then I paused and sheepishly added, for the sake of science, “and can you put sauce on it?” She nodded to the affirmative.
(While I waited for my order I noticed the hundreds of names that had been scratched onto the wooden tables through the decades. There were “Tom & Julie” who might have been students at Delgado years ago back when it was primarily a trade school, he studying to be a welder she learning to be a secretary. They might have fallen in love over a chocolate shake.)
Bud’s is known for its house brand hickory sauce that adds another level of He-Man flavor to the charcoal grilled burger. But should that sauce accompany shrimp?
Here fate intervened to help with my experiment. My poor boy arrived populated with shrimp within crispy bread slices that had been slathered with mayonnaise and embellished with lettuce and tomato, but there was no sauce. This turned out to be fortuitous. The guy behind the counter apologized for the oversight and was gracious in handing me a cup half-filled with sauce. Now I had better control over the experiment I ate half the poor boy without the sauce, (It was excellent – the way a shrimp poor boy should be – and the bread had the right crunchiness.) The other half I spooned with the sauce, entering a Never Never Land where a shrimp sandwich is dressed as a Bud’s Number One burger. I also dipped a spoon into the cup and sampled the sauce on its own. It is a reddish connection, not quite the color of ketchup with a savory, smoky, hickory flavor. I noticed something else about the sauce: It’s always served warm. Even in the cup I could feel the heat, which adds bounce to the flavor.
From the experiment I learned that hickory sauce isn’t bad on a shrimp poor boy, but we should defer to the cosmic order, which has already determined that sauces are better for burgers; seafood is better simply dressed so that the taste of the fry isn’t inhibited. We learn from nature. Hickory trees are seldom found near places where shrimp live.
On the way out, I asked the counter guy how long they had been serving poor boys. “I think about two years,” he said. OK, so my news isn’t exactly a scoop, but it was news to me. Note to Tom & Julie: Life changes but your names are still on the table closest to the counter.