A sandwich as perfect as a good po-boy needs no improvements, but there’s a po-boy 2.0 movement happening in New Orleans right now. A new generation of po-boy purveyors are expanding on the genre in innovative ways and, with all due respect to the simple perfection of a straightforward shrimp or roast beef, there’s much to love about this new, quirky extended family of po-boys.
Killer Po-Boys in the Erin Rose Bar (811 Conti Street)
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday 12 noon – 12 midnight
Plunked in the galley kitchen of one of the friendliest dive bars in the French Quarter, Killer Po-Boys is the nascent ringleader of the new po-boy movement. Chef/owners Cam Boudreaux and April Bellow worked an impressive resume of New Orleans restaurant gigs before launching Killer Po-Boys in the Erin Rose bar, and their years of experience are apparent in this po-boy experiment.
Killer Po-Boys’ short menu pushes the major po-boy food groups into new territory. The star of the menu – the one that put Killer Po-Boys on the food nerd radar and landed a mention in a recent issue of Playboy magazine – is the lamb sausage po-boy. Griddle-crisped, Moroccan-spiced patties are stuffed into Dong Phuong Bakery’s banh mi pistolette and topped with a marinated carrot slaw and herbal tzatziki sauce. Instead of battered and fried shrimp, skillet-seared marinated shrimp are tossed with a zingy slaw of radishes, carrot and cucumber. The roast beef bears all of the drippy, slow-braised hallmarks of a New Orleans po-boy, but horseradish aioli and pickled onions deliver a punch that’s often missing in the classic variety. Without compromising or phoning in the effort, there’s even a concession to vegetarians: roasted seasonal vegetables packed into a pistolette slicked with red been puree and chimichurri.
The Sammich at Chickie Wah Wah (2828 Canal Street)
Hours: Monday – Friday 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Inspired by classic New Orleans fine dining dishes and winning entries from the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival, chef/owner Michael Brewer’s po-boys are gilded like no other in New Orleans. Don’t let the simple names on the board fool you. The “fried shrimp po-boy” is a playful riff on Tasso Shrimp Henican from Commander’s Palace (see featured image). Gently battered jumbo fried shrimp are tossed in Crystal beurre blanc, nestled with strips of tasso ham and slivers of pickled okra, and a sweet-hot pepper gastrique magnifies all of the flavors. In the lobster po-boy, knuckles of Thai-style tempura lobster are tossed with a spicy mango cream sauce. Rich, braised beef short ribs take the place of traditional roast beef, and foie gras and brie show up in the duck confit po-boy. It may all sound like overkill to the po-boy purist, but Brewer shows masterful restraint and balance in assembling these upscale beauties.
And here’s the kicker: in addition to weekday dinner hours, these po-boys are happening inside Chickie Wah Wah at lunchtime Monday through Friday, when few people think to hit the smoke-free music club/bar for a bite. You won’t fight a lunch crowd, including the lines of tourists queued up at famous po-boy shops.
On the surface, Avery’s has all of the makings of a po-boy shop destined to become a neighborhood lunch stalwart: rough on the outside, modest but cheery on the inside, and a lineup of po-boys as familiar to New Orleans as the sound of a streetcar bell. But scratch the surface and you’ll find where Avery’s twists tradition.
The Oyster Rockefeller po-boy isn’t on the menu and it takes a few extra minutes for the kitchen to prepare, but what you get in return (plump, fried oysters dressed in a creamy, house-made Rockefeller sauce) is well worth it. Ask for the Sandbag and you’ll get a slow-cooked roast beef served with horseradish cream and fried pickles. A po-boy stacked with hot sausage and fried jalapenos and decked in pepper jack cheese and habanero mayo doesn’t have an official name, but a regular customer calls it “Fire in the Hole” – a name that ensures it will never be printed on the menu. The Buffalo shrimp po-boy is on the menu, and it is exactly as it sounds: fried shrimp tossed in a buttered-up hot sauce and drizzled with scratch blue cheese dressing. Always double-check the daily menu for the kitchen’s latest concoction and do not pass up occasional non-po-boy specials like blue crab hush puppies or deep-fried potato salad (yes, deep-fried).
Owners Justin and Christy Pitard are in the kitchen and behind the register at all hours, and they are key ingredients in the welcoming vibe at Avery’s. The restaurant is located near the under-construction biomedical corridor, which brings in a regular clientele of construction crews now. But when the dust settles, Avery’s is poised to be a casual lunchtime destination for downtown workers and visitors seeking po-boys off the eaten path.