By the time this issue hits the stands, I hope the inspiration for this column is no longer relevant: namely the Bad Economy. But as I type this now we linger in limbo, stuck in a wait-and-see mode. Fittingly, the poor boy is essentially the poster sandwich for a bleak economy. The most popular of the many poor boy creation myths professes that it was conceived as a panacea for hungry, striking streetcar workers at the nadir of the other Great Depression, circa 1929. Such times trigger yearnings for simpler things and comforting, reasonably-priced foods. Yet man cannot live on bread alone; he needs fried oysters and rémoulade sauce, too. Here are some places where some of the more interesting iterations of the sandwich can be found.
First stop: Mahony’s Po-Boy Shop on Magazine Street. Kudos to a newcomer whose Peacemaker (fried oysters, bacon and cheddar cheese) won the 2008 New Orleans Po-Boy Preservation Festival Award for best Classic Fried poor boy.
Chef Ben Wicks, a veteran of the excellent Portuguese seafooder Rio Mar, dials up sandwiches that get a shot of creativity without losing touch with their roots. Probably the most talked about is also one of the best – A Grilled Shrimp and Fried Green Tomato Poor Boy with rémoulade sauce. The tomatoes – sliced thick and lightly battered – maintain their structure in the sandwich, and the vibrant rémoulade keeps the flavor lively. In his Oysters Rémoulade Poor Boy, the signature sauce gets paired up with fried ‘ersters’ as an occasional special. The Cochon De’Lait is pretty tasty and comes dressed with a light coleslaw, and the Meatball Parmesan has a good reputation. Off the beaten track options such as Fried Chicken Livers with Coleslaw are offered as well.
Mahony’s gets props for ingredients that are locally sourced, P&J Oysters for example, along with Chisesi’s Ham. They are open until Monday through Saturday until 8 p.m., providing an option for an early evening poor boy fix. A full bar adds to the evening allure.
Stanley! on Jackson Square has a couple of poor boys of special note. The Korean BBQ Beef Tenderloin poor boy is excellent. The bread comes from Binder and is toasted before final assembly, which strengthens its structure. The result is a sandwich that doesn’t get mushy or fall apart. The marinated tenderloin is seared before being sliced, resulting in sheets of delicious rare beef whose outer edges have a unique smoky-sweet caramelized flavor. It is dressed simply with house-made kim chee, whose garlicky pungency leaves an effervescent tingle on the tongue.
Accompanying the sandwich is a single kim chee-ed okra, which brings this high-flying poor boy back home to Louisiana. This is a pricey treat as poor boys go, but makes for a tasty and unusual indulgence.
For a more reasonably priced sandwich, try Stanley!’s Eggs Benedict Poor Boy. Poached eggs, smoked Canadian bacon and Creole Hollandaise compete for your attention on a section of toasted French bread. At about half the price of the Korean number, it still doesn’t skimp on the flavor or decadence.
Stanley! also offers an old-fashioned soda fountain with Italian sodas, ice cream sundaes, shakes and malts. On my last visit I enjoyed a Pomegranate Soda with a startlingly red hue. It makes for a nice changeup from the usual ice tea. While there I shared some counter space with a few off-shift employees of Chef Scott Boswell’s upscale sister restaurant Stella!, a good sign of positive reinforcement.
Is there any place that better typifies a New Orleans neighborhood corner poor boy joint more than Liuzza’s by the Track? Their Garlic Oyster Poor Boy is delicious. Toasted Leidenheimer bread is the base for this one, with roasted garlic and butter sauce brushed on the bottom piece. On top of this goes just the right amount of cornmeal-crusted deep-fried oysters, lettuce, mayo and tomato, with pickles and a lemon wedge on the side. Keeping the sauce on the bottom ensures that the oysters stay nice and crisp, and the toasted bread keeps the ensemble in one piece.
The BBQ Shrimp Poor Boy here is another winner. This one features a bored-out length of pistolette with the cap-end intact, into which gets ladled a generous serving of shelled New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp, laved in a butter sauce punched up with garlic, lemon and black pepper. For sides, their French Fries are a cut above. What’s not to love?
Down on Louisiana Avenue, the artsy Café Atchafalaya is under new management, having been purchased by Tony Tocco, owner of the Circle Bar on Lee Circle. The space is cheery and laid-back, well-appointed with local art and salvaged architectural features, and naturally geared towards the brunch and lunch crowd, especially when the weather is nice and the doors can be flung wide. The weekend brunch (served Saturday and Sunday) offers live music, and the ambiance is rounded out by the full bar.
For lunch, they offer a good roasted Duck Poor Boy, which comes dressed with slaw and with what they call Lyonnaise potatoes, essentially a cross between house-made potato chips and home fries, fried potato slices still tender in the center dressed up with caramelized onion. The Steak Sandwich is also a nice bet, with slices of lean hanger steak rounded out with blue cheese, greens and tomato slices. Lots of Southern-style dishes are found on the menu as well, including an appetizer of Fried Green Tomato topped with lump crabmeat and dressed with rémoulade sauce.