Po’ Boy Dreams Wednesday, Apr 11 2012 

Parkway Bakery po' boy, March 2012. Sam Docos.

The suspense of the po’boy was killing. In the weeks leading up to our trip to New Orleans, Bill talked about the hype surrounding this mysterious sandwich and the weight that people put on their favorite po’boy shop. He even showed us a video of Domilise’s Po’Boys which showed one of the delicious looking sandwiches being made. I was hooked, I couldn’t wait to order my first po’ boy.

The opportunity came the first night we went into the city. We walked down Frenchman Street and found a welcoming club called Vaso where a brass band was playing inside. We sat down to order and as I read down the menu I came across po’boy sliders. My decision was easily made. I was so excited for my first po’boy, but I was soon disappointed when I realized that it was nowhere near close to a real po’ boy. I enjoyed the small sandwiches, but continued to long for the actual, full-sized sandwich.

Parkway Bakery and Tavern, Mid-City New Orleans, March 2012. Sam Docos.

A couple days later, Kendra, our group leader,  introduced us to her favorite po’ boy shop, Parkway. Although I felt like I was somewhat betraying Bill by going to Parkway rather than Domilise’s, I was none the less very anxious. I grabbed a menu and started to read the many options of po’ boys. There was everything from fried shrimp to caprese (tomato, mozzarella, and basil) po’ boys. I definitely felt like a tourist in a sea of experienced po’ boy consumers. Kendra informed us that Barq’s from the bottle is a must with your sandwich and I have to agree that it was the perfect compliment.

After contemplating which one of the many choices I would purchase I went with the fried shrimp and of course I got it dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo. After each member of our group of 9 had their po’boy in hand we made our way over the bayou to enjoy our “first real po’boys”. I must say it was an experience I will remember for a while. The bayou was beautiful and the po’ boy was delicious! Not one of us was disappointed with our choice.

A Parkway sub by Bayou St. John, March 2012. Sam Docos.

We were fortunate enough to visit Parkway once more before the trip was over and I’m pretty sure that most of us took the opportunity to try another type of sandwich. This time I tried the caprese since it seemed so different from the rest. It was much different from the fried shrimp but it was still delicious. Again no one was disappointed which shows that you can’t go wrong with any type of po’ boy. I must say that the wait was well worth it.

Beignets at Cafe du Monde, March 2012. Sam Docos.

The good food of New Orleans definitely didn’t stop with the po’ boy. Another one of the group’s favorite New Orleans hot spots was Café Du Monde. The Café is known for their delicious coffee and beignets. I’m pretty sure that we sat down for a fresh batch of sugar coated pastries late at night about five times. By our last night there the waiter surely recognized us.

The day we left the city my group mate Gabby and I couldn’t resist one last chance to enjoy a po’ boy. Both of us had been craving a fried chicken po’ boy so we walked down Decatur until we found a restaurant that could satisfy our need. We left New Orleans in our van as we savored our last po’ boy — that is, until our next visit.

–Sam Docos–

Streetcar Workers, a Strike, and a Sandwich Sunday, Feb 27 2011 

There have been interesting stories coming from Madison, WI about the national and international support for those defending their rights to collective bargaining. Tangible proof is the activity at Ian’s Pizza on State Street, which  has been delivering pizza to the capitol protesters nearby. Pizza orders have been called in on behalf of protesters from all 50 states and from as far away as Cairo – as in Egypt, not Illinois. (see “From Cairo to Madison, Some Pizza”)

A similar story took place in New Orleans over 80 years ago and the result was not just union and community solidarity, but the creation of the region’s most beloved sandwich.

Streetcar Riot, August 1929.

In the summer of 1929, there were transit strikes throughout the United States, and among the most acrimonious was in New Orleans. After heated negotiations broke down, the streetcar motorman and conductors of Division 194 went on strike. On July 5th, the company brought in strike breakers (reputedly criminals from New York) to push back the union and its supporters and reopen the streetcar line. Over 10,000 union members, supporters, and spectators showed up to watch the strikers disable and burn the first car to try to go into service. A protracted shutdown and strike ensued.

When the streetcars did start running again most locals avoided them, both in sympathy with the motormen and for fear of violence. In addition, the striking workers received goods and services from citizens and local businesses. One of those businesses was Martin Brothers’ Coffee Stand and Restaurant, then at the French Market. However, Clovis and Bennie Martin were not your average restaurateurs. When the  brothers first moved to New Orleans from the town of Raceland in Arcadian Louisiana, they worked for the streetcar company and were members of Division 194. So as businessmen, they vowed to feed their former co-workers until the strike ended.

Martin Brothers, St. Claude and Touro.

The workers needed sustenance to walk the picket line, so the brothers asked a local baker to produce a larger and more regular loaf than the traditional French loaf.  They would cut these into 15 or 20 inch sandwiches, filled with their traditional fillings. So basically, they “super-sized” their sandwiches in order to feed the “poor boys” while they were on strike. And once the workers returned to work, the people of New Orleans remembered the sandwich, the “po-boy,” and the Martins’ generosity.

Soon thereafter, the stock market crash precipitated the Great Depression and many more New Orleans residents were out of work. The Martin’s moved their restaurant to St. Claude Avenue; and during such hard times, New Orleans families continued to depend on the brothers’ generous sandwiches to help get by.  They sold a 15 inch po-boy for a dime and the larger size for 15 cents. A lettuce and tomato sandwich was free.

Shrimp Po-boy from Jimmy's Discounts in Gentilly, March 2010.

The brothers eventually went in different directions, but their spirit and their gastronomic creation live on along the Gulf Coast. Po-boy shops abound and the sandwich’s popularity has spawned its own preservation society and festival. Click here for more on the po-boy and the New Orleans Po-Boy Preservation Festival.