Monday, April 30, 2012

The Best Poor Boy in the Quarter?

To many, Johnny’s Po-Boys is considered to have the best poor boy of any restaurants in the French Quarter and many visitors think that a meal at Johnny’s is a highlight of their trip.

“$13,500. Doesn’t sound like a lot of money today. But on June 30th, 1950 it was enough to buy the building at 511 St. Louis St. in New Orleans by Johnny and Betty De Grusha.
Today, Johnny’s Po-boys is the oldest family-owned poor boy restaurant in New Orleans, serving everything from breakfast to their famous warm bun poor boys. They have received Accolades from some of the finest institutions in the country, ranging from Good Housekeeping’s top 100 value restaurants in the United States, to Rand McNally’s Best of the Road. Johnny’s was also one of the first restaurants to re-open in the city of New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Even after the catastrophe, the excellence continues on” (

We had eaten at Johnny’s some twenty-plus years ago and had a fond memory of the experience. We had planned to go there on our December–January New Orleans visit, but, unfortunately, the day we planned to go was during the run up to the BCS Championship, and the city was awash with college football fans. Because of a line out the door and down the street to the corner, we went elsewhere.

Today we were resolved to have a Johnny’s poor boy and arrived just shy of 11:30 a.m. While the line didn’t stretch out the door, a line there was, and almost every seat was already taken. Johnny’s is one popular spot.

There isn’t much ambience at Johnny’s. You order at the back counter and then try to snag a seat, probably sharing a table with other tourists.
One wall is decorated with photos of famous diners. Actually, most of them aren’t so famous. The only two I recognized were a younger, thinner, and less folliclely-challenged Willard Scott and John Folse, a famous Cajun-Creole chef who once had a program on public television. Oh, there was a proclamation from former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin. (I’m not sure that is something that I would display with pride.)

While Johnny’s serves breakfast, muffalettas, and plate lunches, this place is really all about the poor boy. “For location (right near a busy part of the Quarter) and menu simplicity (poor boys and more poor boys), you can't ask for much more than Johnny's….They put anything you could possibly imagine (and some things you couldn't) on huge hunks of French bread, including the archetypal fried seafood (add some Tabasco, we strongly advise), deli meats, cheese omelets, ham and eggs, and the starch-o-rama that is a french-fry poor boy. Johnny boasts that ‘even my failures are edible,’ and that says it all…” (

I counted forty-eight poor boys listed on the menu above the order counter although maybe three or four were noted as “not available.” Among the more unusual poor boys were the alligator, country fried steak, Judge Bosetta (ground beef, Italian and hot sausages with Swiss cheese), Muffaletta (poor boy), pork chop, Surf and Turf (hot roast beef topped with fried shrimp).

We placed our order and were lucky enough to find two seats at the end of a long table that was occupied by a family of six. Soon after they left, a couple—part of a tour group judging from the badges hanging from their necks—took two of the seats.

Our number was called, and Chuck returned to the table with our
food. The woman (we learned that she and her husband were from Memphis) looked at Chuck’s plate and asked
“What’s that you’re having?” Kitty Humbug also looked at Chuck’s plate and asked “What’s that you’re having?” Notice Kitty’s emphasis. Yes. Mr. Potato is finally fulfilling his dream. He is having the French Fry Poor Boy with beef gravy and dressed.

This sandwich was gargantuan—at least ten inches of Leiden-heimer bread stuffed with french fries, drowned in rich beefy gravy, and dressed with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and pickles—and cheese. He was in heaven and managed to consume every morsel. (He did pass on dinner that night and opted for pop corn instead.)

I have been a big fan of chicken parmesan sandwiches ever since I had a great one at AL Mac's Diner in Fall River, MA, and was excited to see a poor boy version at Johnny’s.
My sandwich was equal in size to Chuck’s—two large boneless chicken cutlets (one per bread half) fried to a delightful crunch, but still tender and juicy and topped with stringy mozzarella cheese. But this still may have been the worst thing I have ever eaten in a restaurant. Why? The inexcusably bad Italian tomato sauce. It was thick. It was overly sweet. And it had a wretchedly harsh flavor. It almost tasted burned. I tried scrapping the sauce from the chicken cutlets but this was no help. Finally, I turned around and dumped three-quarters of the sandwich in the trash can immediately behind me. And felt no guilt in wasting food. I hereby resolve, when ordering a poor boy, to stick with one of the basics—shrimp, oysters, or catfish. No more being lured by the unusual or creative.

Based on my experience, I am tempted to give Johnny’s 0.0 Addies. But Chuck was in potato heaven, so I will average his 5.0 Addie experience with mine and give Johnny’s 2.5 Addies.

Enjoying the Quarter's Character

As we continue our walk around New Orleans' French Quarter, we comment to each other that there is no other city like New Orleans.

But we have a hard time putting into words why we say that.

Some possibilities are presented by

The district as a whole, bound by Canal Street, Decatur Street, Esplanade Avenue and Rampart Street, is a National Historic Landmark.

The French Quarter boasts a storied history of inter-national influence with cultural contribu-tions from the French, Spanish, Italians, Sicilians, Africans and others--all evident in the development of this global port settlement.

The neigh-borhood's stunning archi-tectural feature is the handiwork of the Spanish who ruled--and re-built--the city after powerful fires in 1788 and 1794.

Every street in the French Quarter has something to offer from classic restaurants, music venues, boutique hotels, galleries, and antique shops to voodoo temples and the historic French Market.

And while these are all important contribu-tors to the allure of the Quarter, there is something over and above the structures of the Quarter that calls to us.

Perhaps Amanda Shaw, homegrown Cajun fiddle prodigy, touched on that quality in an answer to this observation: Interviewer: "You have been offered opportunities elsewhere but choose to stay rooted here."

Amanda: "What I love about New Orleans is that it's not just a city, it's a lifestyle. It's more a spirit, really; it gets in people's hearts. New Orleans is such an infectious place.... It's a place that sticks with people, even those who aren't originally from here....

"It's an artist town. Even if they are painters or musicians, the people here have mastered the art of living; they know how to enjoy themselves" (Where, April 2012).

That same enjoyment comes through in the respect that the residents show for the character of the Quarter's structures. It may take the form of small touches, but the preservation of the character comes through.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Quarter's Worth of Details

It's time for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival or, simply, Jazz Fest.

We attended the Festival today and will be attending the all-day music festival tomorrow, also.

So, because of the limited time to compose a complete entry, today and tomorrow's accounts will feature scenes from the French Quarter.

Because we have been able to spend an extended period of time in New Orleans, we have had the opportunity to take leisurely walks around the Quarter.

On a couple of these walks, we took time to search out the details--architectural, artistic, and those unique touches provided by Mother Nature and the people who live and work in the Quarter.

The exact location of the details shown here is not important other than to say the scenes appeared in the French Quarter.

The metal sheet on this door reads: "Restore. Safeguard. Member Vieux Carre Property Owners & Associates, Inc."

Some of these details are long-lasting, signifying the passage of many years,

while others represent a continuing struggle against some terrific odds.

But for each sign of the passing of many years, there are touches of color that draw the eye to signs of renewal.

And then there are signs that do not lend themselves to an immediate understanding. While waiting for the shuttle, a group of us saw this male striding resolutely down the street. With nary a look to either side, he continued as though on a mission--oblivious to traffic.

Another unusual story in the Quarter.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Paws on Parade

Woof Dat Dawg

Artist: Lori Gomez

Two days ago, we introduced some of the Bead Dogs found around New Orleans and Metairie; today we continue the search.

Canine Carnival

Artist: Paulette Lizano

These dogs make up the public art celebration entitled Paws on Parade. The Louisiana SPCA has launched this program to raise funds to support efforts to insure animal welfare in the region.

Funky Art Dog

Artist: John Lamour-ranne

In our travels, we have come across similar community art projects in which small statues of an animal significant to that community are decorated and then auctioned off to raise money for a civic cause.

Pick Me.... Pick Me

Artist: Kathy Miller Stone

But the subject of this project seemed different. While buffalo or horses might represent animals important to the history of a community, the Bead Dogs tie in the historical and present life of New Orleans (see our April 25 entry). The Mardi Gras beads, classroom projects for generations of students, and a company that donated the mold for its Bead Dog logo combined to produce a figure that has touched the lives of the majority of the city's residents.

Where Y'at Dog

Artist: Caeser Meadows and Jeannie Detweiler

The topper is that these figures of a dog will be auctioned off this fall to raise funds to support animal welfare programs. To us, the program seemed to have all the ingredients of a successful fund-raiser.

Beware of Twisted Dog

Artist: Simon

One of the first dogs we saw on our drive along St. Charles Avenue was this one by Simon, an artist whose shop we had just visited and whose work we had admired and purchased.

Simon Hardeveld had created the WGNO News with a Twist set, and this photo shows a portion of the station's slogan. The visible letters (in capitals) on the dog's back (right) are: "NEWs WIth..." and on the tail "a tWIst."

Tiger Dawg

Arrtist : Lori Gomez

This was one of 45 dogs that were either on display around town or in stages of completion or repair during this period. And when we learned that there were 44 more...well, the search was on.

Radio Dog

Artist : Lori Gomez

I learned that the SPCA had a contest in which the first 20 people who submitted photographs of themselves with at least 10 of the Bead Dogs would win a small collection of bead dogs. The likelihood of the contest still being in effect was virtually zero, but the challenge of finding at least 10 of the Bead Dogs around the city was staring me in the face.

Hollywood South

Artist: Lori Gomez

So, armed with a set of images of the 45 sculptures, our GPS, and diagrams of about five different routes to cover five sections of the total array of dogs, we spent about five days collecting these photos.

Garden of Bead-en

Artist: Sara Gothard

Our Louisiana

Artist: Lori Gomez

Street Dogs

Artist: Rex Dingler

I find it very difficult to pass one of these Lucky Dog carts in the Quarter without getting at least one hot dog,

One Lucky Dog

Artist: David Poretto

so when I saw this dog (left) and its Lucky Dog wagon, I felt it was not necessary to continue the search for these beaded puppies.