Po-Boy Special

August 20, 2010

Po-Boys are to New Orleans what cheese steaks are to Philadelphia and deep-dish pizza is to Chicago. The problem is every restaurant and bar makes them, however, not everyone’s good at making them. As such, if you ask 10 locals who makes the best Po-Boy, you’ll get 10 different answers. One factor that helps determine the answer is what kind of Po-Boy you’re looking for. I prefer shrimp Po-Boys and roast beef Po-Boys.

A point of clarification: Some people misunderstand what a Po-Boy is, thinking that only an Oyster Po-Boy is a “proper” (ie, traditional) Po-Boy. This is extremely incorrect. What makes the Po-Boy different from other sandwiches is the bread. The baguette is baked in a steam oven, which allows the exterior of the bread to become crispy while the interior remains soft and airy. Thus, the bread and the condiments make the Po-Boy, not the meat or the seafood.

Final Note: I was in New Orleans during the BP Oil Spill of 2010, however, I didn’t find seafood to be scarce or at a premium price. Everyone still seemed to have an abundance of shrimp, oysters, etc., and the prices were comparable to non-seafood sandwiches.

Pricing for these Po-Boys were even across the board ($9 to $11).

NOLA GROCERY (351 Andrew Higgins)
Located in the Warehouse District, Nola Grocery doesn’t look like the kind of place that would make an excellent sandwich (it had pickles to go). But appearances are deceiving as Nola Grocery has the best Po-Boy in this sampling. I was told they served the best shrimp Po-Boy and I was not disappointed. There was an ample amount of shrimp on the sandwich. So much shrimp, in fact, that even when the shrimp fell off the bread there was still a good amount on the sandwich and no bite was lacking. The bread was soft and fresh and didn’t tear as I ate it. The sandwich was hot, flavorful, and left me wanting more. The only negatives were the tomato and the lettuce. I could have used more tomato and less lettuce.

For a side I went with the tater tots and they were the perfect companion to the sandwich. Although the initial taters were very salty, the entire batch was perfectly cooked and right out of the fryer, making the batch hot and fresh.

I was told Mother’s made the best roast beef Po-Boy. Instead of putting lettuce on the sandwich, Mother’s puts green cabbage on the sandwich. With all of the condiments on the sandwich, I couldn’t taste a difference. The aforementioned condiments are cocktail sauce and yellow mustard, which gives the sandwich a flavor that none of the other restaurants. It’s not exactly spicy, per se, but it is flavorful. The roast beef was hot and fresh, and made for a tasty post-workout lunch.

I was later informed that the go to Po-Boy at Mother’s is the “Debris”. Basically, they take all of the detriment from sliced Roast Beef sandwiches and they make that into a Po-Boy.

For a side dish I went with the potato salad and I definitely chose poorly. It was more like cold mashed potatoes than potato salad. It was also yellow. I ate half and throw it away. Not a good choice.

Although the sandwich was decent, the real show was the service. Mother’s seems like controlled mass pandemonium. The staff is yelling at one another, management is pissed off at the staff; however, it’s never taken out on the patrons as the staff remains extremely friendly toward all visitors. It’s controlled chaos that’s fun to be around.

On my second trip to New Orleans I just tried Po-Boys. I quickly learned that asking the locals where to get a sandwich is the way to go.

JIMANJI (141Chartres St.)

Jimanji’s was a poor choice. My roast beef Po-Boy was more like a Philly cheese steak (and a crappy one at that). There was barely any meat on the sandwich, which had me ask, “Where’s the beef?” Rather than fill the entire piece of bread with meat, I had meat in less than half of the bread. The cheese was melted onto the meat and there were no condiments on the sandwich. The bread was very tough to eat, I felt like I was tearing meat off a bone rather than leisurely eating a sandwich. I had to maneuver to make sure that every bite I had had some meat and cheese on it as I wanted to make sure I didn’t just eat bread. Everything that should have been on the sandwich (lettuce, tomato, onion) was on the side. By the time I was finished, my plate was full of bread and these items. I didn’t bother to put them on my sandwich.

Obviously, Jimanji makes Po-Boys because they know that’s what people (ie, tourists) are looking for. The lesson here: Never order a Po-Boy from a dive bar.

JOHNNY’S (511 Saint Louis St.)
Johnny’s is another study is mass pandemonium, but this is more the patrons fault than the staff’s. Patrons just don’t know where to stand after ordering, which makes waiting for your sandwich the hardest part.

The shrimp Po-Boy was hot, tasty, and definitely filling but it did have a few drawbacks. There was a lot of mayo and lettuce on the sandwich but no tomato. My problem with Johnny’s is they didn’t do a very good job of deveining the shrimp, and I pick a good amount of shrimp off because I remember being told you shouldn’t eat shrimp with the veins in them. The bread was also tough, but more edible than Jimanji’s bread. It definitely wasn’t as good as Nola Grocery, but it was still an excellent sandwich on a hot New Orleans afternoon.

PIERRE MASPERO’S (440 Chartres St.)
In a desperate move to add variety to my diet, I veered away from shrimp and roast beef and went with the pulled pork Po-Boy at this “tourist trap”. It was neither good nor bad. It was just a sandwich with an extremely large amount of meat that was nice and spicy, however, the gravy was inconsistent. There seemed to be a giant ladle full of gravy on the top of the sandwich, but nowhere else. Thus, once the gravy was gone, the rest of the sandwich was dry. And, as we all know, dry pulled pork is very tough to eat and without being able to add additional sauce, the sandwich just dries out while you’re eating it. The bread was decent, neither fresh nor unfresh. It just was.

The sandwich was memorable for the fact that, other than the bread, it did not feature any of the other hallmarks of a Po-Boy. It is not a sandwich I would order again and it is not a sandwich I would recommend. However, it did its job at the time, and that was all I could really ask of it.

This time, I went with cole slaw and French fries. The cole slaw was perfect. Not too heavy on the mayo, perfectly chopped so there weren’t long pieces of cabbage anywhere, the slaw paired very well with the sandwich. The fries were your standard French fries and where neither here nor there.

The crown goes to Nola Grocery. I will gladly go out of my way to get another shrimp Po-Boy the next time I’m in New Orleans and I recommend you do the same.