With so much going on in the restaurant scene these days, it can be easy to overlook the kinds of places that helped make New Orleans unique in the first place. I’m talking about the neighborhood poor boy shop. Serving as casual neighborhood anchors, the New Orleans version of the English Pub, but with food you actually enjoy, these places dish out generously portioned plates at modest prices. And while these are not technically farm-to-table, chef-driven enterprises, you do see gulf seafood piled atop locally baked bread. And, really, isn’t this pretty much the same thing?
By this logic, when we see small poor boy shops expand, it is cause for celebration, as such moves help to carry the torch. This recently happened with Parran’s Po-Boys, which recently opened Uptown on Prytania Street. It all started with a simple phone call.
“A friend of mine owns the building. He gave me a call and said the current tenant closed down out of the blue and asked me to come check it out,” recalled Parran’s owner Al Hornbrook. “I said, ‘Ok I’ll look,’ but I wasn’t really looking to open another restaurant. But my wife and I fell in love with the neighborhood and we said, “Let’s do it.” Just like that, Uptown had a new poor boy shop.
The interior is clean and simple, with a polished concrete floor and lots of natural light flooding in from the plate glass windows overlooking Prytania Street. Guests order at the counter and runners bring out their food. The menu is typical of what you’d find at most poor boy shops but with a few original items. One such signature item is their Seafood Muffuletta, overflowing with fried catfish, shrimp and oysters atop a sesame-studded round loaf. Just the half-portion is more than enough for one. Dressed here means lettuce and tomato and, for the Seafood Muffuletta, Cajun Mayo. “We make the Cajun mayo, which is kind of like a remoulade sauce,” Hornbrook says. “If you want to be more traditional you can get it with the olive salad we have on the regular Muffuletta.” Which, of course, is also on the menu and is served hot – a nice touch.
Outside the Seafood Muffuletta, the poor boy lineup is traditional. Therefore, expect fried shrimp and fried oyster, along with a healthy smattering of Creole Italian specialties like Meatball and Italian Sausage, all served on Gendusa Bakery’s unmistakable French bread. Parran’s also offers entrées, like fried seafood platters and pasta dishes; the Shrimp and Crawfish Diane is recommended, served over angel hair in a heavy cream sauce. “We also have salads. For people that like salads,” Hornbrook added. But one gets the feeling that this isn’t really a salad kind of place.
Parran’s Uptown opened with a limited menu, but the recent addition of a deck oven in the back means that they now turn out homemade pizzas. This, plus the kid’s menu and low prices, makes it a great family option. Still, despite all these choices, the number one seller remains the Roast Beef Poor Boy. “Everyone loves a gravy bath,” Hornbrook said. Whichever you get, keep a mound of napkins at the ready.
MEET THE CHEF
Parran’s got its start in 1975 by Nick Impastato. In 1990 Al Hornbrook and his wife bought the original Metairie shop on Veteran’s Boulevard. Since then, the family-run operation has expanded to two other locations, one in Kenner and the newest one Uptown on Prytania Street. This latest shop takes over the space recently vacated by the short-lived Flying Pig and, before that, long-running sushi star Kyoto. “We’re pretty traditional,” Hornbrook said. “We don’t have fancy ones with duck and stuff like that. We are just a straight-up poor boy shop.” Which, according to his clientele, is just what the neighborhood needed.
Parran’s Po-Boys Uptown. 4920 Prytania St., Uptown; 875-4620; L, D Mon.-Sat. Closed Sun.; Parranspoboys.com
Poor Boy Classic
For many locals it is hard to beat the little shop on the corner of Annunciation and Bellecastle streets. Domilise’s has been serving up New Orleans’s most traditional sandwich for 100 years now. The fried shrimp, with its spicy red sauce, is terrific, but consider swapping out the red sauce for brown gravy, an off-menu hack that amplifies the savory profile of the golden fried shrimp.