Not a po-boy. Not a po’ boy. A POOR boy.
It was a beautiful December day in New Orleans. The temps were around seventy and the sun was shining. What better spot for lunch than the outdoor patio at Parkway Bakery & Tavern?
Our previous visit to Parkway (blog on 2/28/11) was on a weekend and not just any weekend. It was the weekend of the “Rock and Roll Marathon” and it appeared that all of the runners had chosen Parkway for lunch. But today there were only a few persons in front of us in line, and that didn’t give us long to peruse the menu. But enough time for Chuck’s interest to be piqued by one item. Is it a surprise that it involved potatoes? No. It was the Golden Fried Potato poor boy.
When it was our turn to order, Chuck queried the gentleman behind the order counter about this item. Even though there was no one behind us in line, the gentleman was obviously not interested in engaging in idle chitchat and somewhat hurriedly referred us to the back of the menu. “This is the original poor boy. Read about it here.”
Thus chastened, we quickly ordered, retreated to a table, and read: “Parkway Bakery was founded in 1911…on a vacant lot on the corner of Hagan Avenue and Toulouse Street…Parkway Bakery served as a neighborhood bakery producing delicious breads, donuts and a sweet roll which was named the seven sisters…In 1929, Parkway Bakery added the new ‘Poor Boy’ sandwich created by…Martin Brothers Coffee Stand and Restaurant. Bennie and Clovis said ‘What are we going to feed these poor boys’ thus the new ‘poor boy’ sandwich was invented to help feed the striking streetcar conductors…the original
‘Poor Boy’ sandwich consisted of potatoes and maybe a drizzle of roast beef gravy. Some people in New Orleans refer to the ‘Poor Boy’ as ‘po’boy’” (parkwaybakeryandtavernnola.com).
It was by chance that later that same afternoon I purchased a copy of New Orleans Magazine and found a column by Errol Laborde entitled "The Cause Continues: It’s 'Poor Boy,' Not 'Po-Boy.” Mr. Laborde wrote: “…once more this space presents its argument for the proper naming of our native sandwich. It should be ‘poor boy,’ not ‘po-boy.’…
“Our argument is based on history. The sandwich originated as an inexpensive way to feed streetcar workers who were on strike...Eventually the sandwich became popular and was served with various stuffings…Somewhere along way the name became corrupted to ‘po-boy.’…We wouldn’t be so concerned about the bastardized name except that it betrays the sandwich's origin. Few foods have a name that is as descriptive of its historical and cultural past as does the poor boy, so why disguise it?” (myneworleans.com/New-Orleans-Magazine).
Therefore, in the name of historical accuracy, I hereby resolve to always refer to this iconic sandwich as a “poor boy.” But enough of history, let’s get to lunch.
Neither of us ordered the Golden Fried Potato sandwich. From the extensive list of poor boys, Chuck chose the Home-Cooked Hot Roast Beef with Gravy and I the fried shrimp. Poor boys come as small or large and are dressed with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and mayo. And the French bread comes from the Leidenheimer Bakery.
It should not come as a surprise that potatoes did figure in our dining selections with an order of fries and a dish of potato salad as sides (see the third photo below). The twice-cooked fries had an appropriately crisp exterior and moist and steamy interior. And the potato salad contained a good quantify of egg. But I forgot that most potato salads in Southern Louisiana either resemble mashed potatoes or are a combination of mashed and chunks. Parkway’s version was of the latter variety.
My shrimp poor boy was disap-pointing. Granted, it was full of shrimp but many of them seemed overcooked. My favorite shrimp poor boy remains the one served at Domilese’s here in New Orleans. The secret may be the substitution of hot sauce laced catsup for the more customary tomatoes.
Time for another digression. I remember an episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain on the Travel Channel. He is sitting at the bar at Domilese’s and notes that his poor boy is lacking tomatoes. To him, this is a good thing, and he maintains that tomatoes on a sandwich act like a skid allowing the contents to slide out from the bread. Or as he is quoted on mybigeasylife.com as saying: “…Tomatoes would cause, ‘Layer slide. A techtonic shift in the sandwich.’” Think about it. How often has this happened to you? For me, this is a common experience.
But enough of our visit to Domilese’s, it’s time to get back to Parkway Bakery. Chuck’s roast beef poor boy was piled high with shreds and small slices of tender beef smothered in beef gravy. About half way through the sandwich, beef started cascading from the roll which had started to disintegrate. Still, we both agreed that this was a better version of the roast beef poor boy than we sampled at Domilese’s last February.
But Brett Anderson writing for The Times-Picayune was not as kind and described Parkway’s roast beef poor boy as follows: “…it’s cooked to such moist tenderness there’s little texture to it at all--and surprisingly little flavor. The bread on the Parkway sandwich I tried last week had already been soaked and steamed halfway to paste by the time I unwrapped it.
“The po-boy (Ed Note: It’s a poor boy.) couldn’t hold its shape past four bites. A more mannerly person would have finished hers with a knife and fork. I proceeded in the manner of an undomesticated primate presented with a bowl of porridge.
“I took no satisfaction in the 14 napkins required to clean myself afterwards. This is perhaps evidence that I don’t understand what some people love about their roast beef po-boys. They are Parkway’s biggest seller…”
Even though Parkway Bakery is loved by locals and tourists alike, this was not the best poor boy experience we have had in New Orleans and earns only a 3.0 Addie rating. However, the antique car, missing two tires, was an interesting addition to the outdoor dining area.
To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.