Have you ever wondered, What is a Po’ Boy? Every once in awhile I add a dish to my food bucket list. Right near the top is a Po’ Boy in New Orleans. Today we are going to do a deep dive into the amazing history of this New Orleans classic!
In the late 1800’s oyster sandwiches were served all over New Orleans on French loaves. They were called “Oyster Loaves”. This is a term that is still in use today. A popular variation on the classic oyster loaf is what they call the “Peacemaker”. This is a delightful blend of fried shrimp and fried oysters.
We have the oyster loaf and we have the peacemaker. So how did we end up calling it a Po’ Boy?
The Martin Brothers and the Birth of the Po’ Boy
The Bennie and Clovis Martin were former street car operators in New Orleans. In 1929 they offered to feed anyone involved in a massive transit strike for free. Bennie Martin said, “We fed those men free of charge until the strike ended. Whenever we saw one of the striking men coming, one of us would say, ‘Here comes another poor boy.”
Feeding the public was a tremendous PR move. When the Great Depression began, the strike ended. However, Bennie and Clovis had built a loyal following. People knew they served massive sandwiches for cheap. People would literally buy a sandwich to feed a hungry family.
Sadly all good things must come to an end. Eventually the Martin Brothers parted ways and pursued their own interests. Bennie held onto the St. Claude location and Clovis developed several other restaurants through town. It was once said that you could get a sandwich anywhere, but you could only get a Poor Boy at the Martin Brothers.
What Goes on a Classic Po’ Boy?
What goes on a classic Po’ Boy? Until 1970, roast beef was the most popular meat on a Po’ Boy sandwich. A wide variety of fillings are also used. The one thing that must be the same is the classic French bread. If you don’t have the French bread, you don’t have a Po’ Boy. Other fillings include fried oysters, fried shrimp, fried crawfish, fried catfish or hot Louisiana sausage. A dressed Po’ Boy will add lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo to the meat.
Variations on a Classic:
What about variations? Po’ Boys have spread far beyond New Orleans. They are a common staple all along the gulf coast. They have also spread to other southern states and have become a southern staple.
Houston has their own twist on the classic Po’ Boy. They add chowchow which is a pickled vegetable relish, to the sandwich along with ham, salami, and provolone. Antone’s Famous Po’ Boys was formerly known as Antone’s Import Company. This was a Houston shop started by a Lebanese American Jalal Antone in 1962. He wanted to serve Lebanese food, but his brother said they’d have a hard time selling food that was so unfamiliar to the locals. Antone instead focused on Po’ Boys. For a time it was wildly popular in the Houston area.
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