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Feb 27, 2003 09:34 AM

What makes a good Po' Boy?

  • m

I have recently asked for food advice pertaining to the area of Lafayette on the Southern Chowhound board.
I got a few pointers, a number of them mentioning the Old Tyme Grocery near the college area.
Their claim to fame are their Po' Boys.
Now I am really curious, what makes one better than the other?
I have never really had a bad one, well, there was one that was not so hot, at a Coop's place near the French Market.

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  1. I had to laugh at that one. My husband's family hails from the 9th ward. They would rather eat a roast beef poboy than anything in the world. It WAS the only sandwich of choice no matter what. They loved the poboys from Parkway Bakery and later when they moved to the Hammond area they would visit the bakery everytime they came back to NO. Their criteria for a perfect roast beef poboy was that it had to have what must have been a 1/4 cup of Mayonnaise and to be absolutely dripping in brown gravy. The roast beef wasn't really "roast" but braised like pot roast with plenty of small bits called "debris". Of course, the bread crust had to be a little crispy since the whole sandwich usually disintergrated in 5 minutes from all the mayo and gravy. Liedenheimer French bread was a good choice. You could add sliced tomatoes to the poboy but they usually slipped out and fell on the floor. Sadly, Parkway Bakery is gone now. I'm not sure who's doing this style of poboy. I thinks Mother's still does a good job.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Betty
      Hungry Celeste

      Oh, the Parkway Bakery! Damn good roast beef, but even better hot sausage poboys (patty sausage). I was so sad when PB closed...Elizabeth's makes an excellent roast beef (the post-roast-on-bread style) and I also dig the garlic fried oyster poboy from Liuzza's by the Track.

      1. re: Hungry Celeste

        Thanks for the update on good poboys places. When I was dating my soon-to-be husband we made the trip to Parkway Bakery. We really just wanted to shop in Metairie but since we were "close" we were required by his family to get at least 6 roast beef poboys. I was 18 in 1971. I can still remember seeing two really old guys in cook whites. I swear one of them was slicing the french bread with a cigarette hanging out his mouth. I also remember noting the wear on the wood floor and thinking a lot of people must have gone through there over the years. It was an institution back then. When did it finally close? I do remember later going back to their old neighborhood just to see how it was..very depressing.

        1. re: Betty
          Hungry Celeste

          Your memory of the guy slicing bread with a cig in mouth is accurate; do you remember the small room with all the phones in the back? I recall my daddy or somebody telling me that it functioned as a pretty hot bookie joint at one time. It closed, rather abruptly, in the early-mid 90s. I think the remaining old guy just got too old. We used to take our poboys down to Bayou St. John and sit on the steps. My most indelible memory of the place was the exhaust fan over the large griddle. It was simply an old wall fan which sucked out the smoke/vapors...the outside end of the fan was covered with stalactites of grease, decades old. They just don't make 'em like Parkway anymore!

          1. re: Hungry Celeste

            You have hit upon what a friend derisively calls "The Americanization of New Orleans."

            1. re: Hazelhurst
              Debbie Dingler

              Thanks for everyone's postings regarding the Parkway Bakery. My mother's family, The Timothy's, owned and operated the Parkway. She married a navy man in the 40's and moved away finally retiring in South Carolina. She often tried to recreate the roast beef po-boys but was never really satisfied with the results. I have recently been trying to do some geneology research and will include all of your comments for posterity. Thanks again.

      2. re: Betty

        The Parkway Bakery is ALIVE and WELL, thriving on Hagen Avenue.
        They still serve AWESOME PO-BOYS !!!
        The Bakery doesn't bake French Bread, anymore, but they have GREAT SANDWICHES !!!

        Parkway Bakery & Tavern
        538 Hagan Ave, New Orleans, LA 70119

      3. It starts with the bread. Betty did an excellent job in describing a perfect roast beef po-boy.
        WWL-TV on the morning show did a segment the last few weeks by the "Unknown Food Critic" in search of the best roast beef and shrimp po-boys in the area.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Shelby

          And???.....what was the outcome Shelby.

        2. Thats how my husband likes them too - dripping in gravy and mayonaisse (or as he says it MAH-NEZ)
          Being orignally from the north (but a new orleanian for about 15 years) my idea of good roastbeef sandwich differs. I like cold, rare deli meat, rather than a dinner plate on a loaf of french bread.

          1. Having had a fair share of bad po' boys outside of NOLA, including a very disappointing shrimp po' boy at NYC's Union Square Cafe (good sandwich, poor po' boy), I'd say that the biggest factor is the bread. The crust needs to be flaky and crispy, and the texture should be light and not be too chewy. Ideally, it should be firm enough to stay together when doused with gravy but not so heavy that bread dominates the fillings. It should provide a foundation, but not overwhelm with its presence.

            As far as what goes inside, just about anything is fair game as long as it's decent quality to begin with (but that doesn't necessarily mean it has to be grade AAA gourmet fare - it's a *poor* boy, after all). My favorites are shimp, oyster (or shrimp and oyster), roast beef and even the french fries/gravy combination. Check out the link below for more details:


            3 Replies
            1. re: Chris G.

              I once bought a shrimp po-boy in New Orleans for a road trip from a supposedly reputable place (sorry, the name is lost in the recesses of my mind). Once on the road, I unpacked it and found that the shrimp, though fried, still had the shells on.

              What's up with that? There's nothing worse than looking forward to a chowhound moment and having it snatched away! My whole day was shot!

              1. re: Chris G.
                Beau Noppatee

                I have to agree with Shelby and Chris that the right bread is the biggest factor. (I don't know what's up with some of the really good french bread bakeries that have started packing their bread in plastic bags instead of paper. Lejeune's in Jeanerette for example, even WalMart had a pretty good french bread until they began putting it into plastic wrap). It makes the crust about as crispy and crusty as ordinary everyday white sandwich breads.) Without a crusty loaf, a poorboy is not a poorboy.

                1. re: Beau Noppatee

                  Fortunately, when you buy the bread at LeJeune's Bakery, it is not generally in the bags, although they will give you one if you want it. It's only pre-wrapped for the grocery stores.
                  That can be overcome by removing the plastic and heating in the oven to restore the crispness. Be sure to wet the paper to avoid burning.

              2. u
                underworld gourmet

                Good po-boys--how many have I had, over the decades? Thousands surely, tens of thousands probably. And from many a fine shop now but a memory--Acy's pool hall in the Irish Channel (unbelievable roast beef) more from Mothe's than I can count (especially the famous debris sandwich) and of course, Mickey's out in Metairie, now the site of the Portobello restaurant. Mickey's used to be of those grocery store/sandwhich counter numbers, humble as hell but with great food, particularly the sandwiches and the red beans (esp. on Mondays). It had something like fifty po-obys listed incluidng an unusual NO favorite....but I'm getting ahead of myself.

                A good po-boy? For most, but NOT ALL, you need some good crispy french bread. I like Zip, the leidenheimer brand. An oyster po-boy should be as fresh as possible, the oysters right out of the fryer; but a meatball or a roast beef can often benefit from "aging"--the flavor strengthens over time. A good ham and swiss with some nice creole mustard--a "can't go wrong sammich" if there ever was one--is mostly unaffected by time, refrigeration, or anything else.

                Another requirement, crucial for me for the meatball and roast beef: plenty of mine-aze. As Vic, of Vic & Nat'ly's cartoon strip puts it: ' One 'ting: Plenty of mine-aze. Put enough mineaze on ya shoe, itt'd taste good." This, combined with the roast beef juices or the meatball tomato gravy, should produce a sandwich so divinely messy that the best way to eat it would have to be Naked, in your bathub, so all you had to do afterwards is stand up and shower off.

                Smoked sausage po-boy should be properly juicy and a hot sausage should be HOT.

                But one exception to the crisp bread rule are two of my grandma's favorites: the sugar sandwhich and the banana po-boy. They're exactly what they sound like. Plenty of fresh butter and sugar one the first: it was a favorite of King Oliver, the mentor of Louis Armstrong. He used to get a fresh loaf of french bread, go inot a chinese restaurant,order a 5cent pot of tea, and commandeer all the butter and sugar off of the tables to make his sandwich.

                But the banana po-boy--sweet butter, ripe bananas, soft french bread, just the thought brings me back to my youth, having that and ice tea or lemonade in my granma's kitchen in the back of her shotgun on Apple street.

                2 Replies
                1. re: underworld gourmet
                  Beau Noppatee

                  Hmm, butter and sugar poorboy ... Okay, I respect the source, especially if he contributed in any way to the heavenly blasts of Louis Armstrong's trumpet. But I wouldn't venture to eat one. At least not until I'm also ready for a Tang sandwich a la "Married with Children."

                  1. re: Beau Noppatee
                    underworld gourmet

                    The preferred meal (sugar sandwich po boy) of King Oliver had rather tragic consequences: all his teeth rotted out and he was no longer able to play the coronet. I think he was a janitor when he died.

                    If you get a chance, pick up a copy of a book called REALLY THE BLUES, by Milton Mezzerow. Absolutely incredible, and if I remember, this is where I learned about the Chinese restaurant story I cited. He would pick up a new loaf of french bread from one of the many Quarter bakeries, walk on down to the Chinese restaurant. If the owner saw him coming, he'd hide all the butter and sugar, because King would order nothing but a nickle pot of tea and commandeer about a dollar's worth of butter and sugar off of the tables. Mezz recounts that King would look around at all the bare tables, his face would grow wrathful, and he'd stride back into the kitchen, dragging the Oriental owner--about half the size of King, who wasn't called that JUST because he was the king of the coronet--and telling him he'd better get that butter and sugar on the table in a damn hurry. The anecdote is great, and the rest of the book is even better; this is the man who introduced marijuana--and in general, some measure of african-american hipness--to boreass white America. God bless the mighty Mezz--which is the origin of one of marijuana's nicknames.

                    Dreamed of a reefer about five feet long
                    The mighty Mezz, but not too strong
                    It'll last all night, but not too long
                    If you're a viper....
                    --Cab Calloway.