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.

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