Po Boys, 5 Ways

Bistro V serves the best Bayou La Batre Po Boys!

By Jan Walsh

Bistro V is one of my favorite restaurants. From Chef Jeremy Downey’s seafood to his restaurant partner, Emily Tuttle Shell’s desserts, everything here is excellent. When dining in for lunch, I typically order the fish of the day or the Farmer’s Market Salad. But for curbside takeout I often opt for the po boys, from this chef, native of Bayou La Batre.

What’s with the name? Legend has it that Po Boys originated in 1929 during the streetcar strike at Martin Brothers’ French Market and Coffee Stand in New Orleans. Brothers Bennie and Clovis Martin had been streetcar conductors for many years before they opened the restaurant in 1922. So, when the Electric Street Railway employees went on strike, the Martin brothers gave away sandwiches to the strikers. The original Martin poor boy sandwiches were made of French bread, filled with fried potatoes, gravy, and bits of roast beef. Whenever a striker came through the door of the restaurant, Benny would yell to Clovis, “Here comes another poor boy!” In a letter to the strikers, the Martins wrote, “We are with you till hell freezes, and when it does, we will furnish blankets to keep you warm.” Soon afterwards, they realized they needed a new loaf made for their large sandwiches and had bread supplier make a 40-inch-long loaf. Later in the 1970s the City of New Orleans declared the Martin Brothers the originators of the Poor Boy Sandwiches.

Three different po boys are offered, five ways, at Bistro V: shrimp, fish, and oyster, all served on New Orleans Gambino's Bread. And the shrimp and oyster po boys can be grilled or fried. Oh boy, do they keep me coming back for more… These po boys always arrive (after the 20-minute trip) home warm-hot. And with each I declare it to be the best po boy ever!

Today I am dining in for my tried-and-true Fried Fish Po Boy, although the daily fish plate special of Grouper over Succotash tempts. Today’s Fish Po Boy is also grouper, and what a catch! My sandwich arrives open faced, on toasted Gambino’s bread. Two plump pieces of golden grouper steam on one side of the bread. On the other half, fresh lettuce and in season tomatoes complete the sandwich. I squeeze the fish with lemon and fold the two halves together into a tower of tastes. Biting through the thin, brittle, flaky crust into the bread’s soft, cotton-like inside, this bread really makes the sandwich. Its top crust stands up to the big catch yet its soft, moist inside holds the fillings in place. Bread aside, the thinly crusted, gilt grouper is the jewel of this sandwich. Its mild, distinct, fresh flavor shines through each bite. The fish is accented by the heirloom tomato and its juice, which melds into the grouper’s crust. And fresh, crisp lettuce brings texture and brightness. My choice of sweet, crunchy coleslaw makes the perfect counterpart to this sandwich that is even better than my last one if that is possible. The best po boy I ever had, until next time…

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