Few purchases offer more comfort than a shrimp poor boy. A warm hug wrapped in butcher paper, they suspend time with a gentle reassurance that things are going to be ok. And while there is no shortage of places to get one, vendors who provide essential components like French bread are a vanishing breed and not everyone uses Louisiana seafood, especially the high-volume tourist-facing outposts more likely to source seafood from the Gulf of Tonkin rather than the one by Mexico.
Enter the chef-driven neighborhood poor boy shop. Mid-City’s Bevi Seafood occupies a corner than has long represented Louisiana seafood. It was K-Jeans for many years before Bevi’s chef and owner Justin LeBlanc expanded into the space with a fine dining skill set and a desire to cater to everyday tastes. “I’d always wanted to do something casual like traditional poor boys along with some specialty things that set us apart,” LeBlanc said. Although he concedes, “we could do a hundred ‘more interesting’ sandwiches and still sell more shrimp poor boys than anything…”
Confidently executed bellwether sandwiches like shrimp poor boys are his bread and butter, done up in a proper batter with egg wash, seasoned flour and cornmeal then served on Leidenheimer bread. For dressing, LeBlanc subscribes to the Blue Plate mayo school. Composed sandwiches unique to his shop present more complex house-made components, like the bacon fat mayo on his formidable Hogs-famous Messi Swine. A behemoth built around a porcine foundation of fried pork belly, pulled pork and ham, “All layers of hog are represented.”
More refined options – if such a word can be used to describe a poor boy – include fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade. There is also a Tabasco-glazed shrimp and oyster iteration with blue cheese dressing. Swinging hard in the other direction lies “The Cure,” a hangover-targeted prescription of sausage patties, egg over easy and pepper jelly.
Bevi is essentially two businesses in one – a boil house and a sandwich shop. Going into the project LeBlanc knew a mere boil house wouldn’t pay the bills, so he built out a full kitchen to augment the seafood. Crawfish and shrimp are available live, fresh and boiled, and oysters come by the gallon or mini-sack. On the sandwich side, concessions to COVID-19 have pared back his menu but the focus remains on locally sourced seafood and skilled, unfussy preparation. “We put a bigger focus on quality then variation now,” he said. “We have a smoker in the back. If we have pork belly on menu, we cure it, brine it, smoke it and fry it to order.”
Other adjustments to this new reality include a phalanx of outside picnic tables to augment the indoor seating as well as – more intriguingly – a growing array of craft daiquiris. “One thing we did during the pandemic was add three daquiri machines.” Unlike cookie cutter daquiri shops, LeBlanc takes the restaurant approach to his concoctions. His Peach Bellini over New Year’s was built around a base of real peaches cooked down in-house, and he uses quality pours in his creations. “Nothing goes better with crawfish than something cold and sweet. Beer is classic, but trust me – a watermelon Pimm’s Cup daiquiri on top tastes pretty good too.” The initiative has paid off. “People love frozen drinks. Put real fruit and real booze in a daquiri and it makes a difference.”
Bevi Seafood, 236 N Carrollton Ave., Mid-City. (504) 488-7503.
ABOUT THE CHEF
Justin LeBlanc is a New Orleans native who grew up in Gentilly and went to high school just down the street from Bevi. His first restaurant job was at the ‘ain’t dere no more’ local steakhouse Chateaubriand, which was located just across the street. At Bevi he brings a fine dining sensibility to the neighborhood poor boy shop. A strong network of connection to local purveyors gives his good access to gulf seafood, and he is available to cater high-volume offsite boils as well with his trailer rig. Bevi is named for his children, Benjamin and Violet.