While hoagies, subs, and grinders are regional names for the same thing, the po’ boy is distinctly Louisianan. In fact, you can almost hear the jazz band playing when you take your first bite.
But what sets po’ boys apart from other sandwiches, and who gets the credit for their creation?
Today, we’re getting into the history of this New Orleans favorite to find out.
Let’s dig in!
What Is a Po’ Boy?
The traditional po’ boy is a big sandwich served on a crisp French baguette. It’s packed with traditional New Orleans flavors but much easier to eat on the go. There are several varieties to choose from. The classic version features lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles piled on with roast beef. Fried shrimp or oysters are also common, while surf-and-turf varieties combine the best of both worlds.
The French bread gives the sandwich some extra chew and is hearty enough to let you load up the ingredients without falling apart. Remoulade, gravy, and hot sauce add savory flavor. The best po’ boys have fresh bread made on-site. In fact, a freshly made loaf is one of the most crucial aspects of this dish.
Cheap, filling, and big on flavor, this indulgence is a must-have anytime you visit New Orleans. Because they’re traditionally huge sandwiches, they can keep you full while you take in the sites and sounds of Crescent City.
Pro Tip: While down south, make sure to grab a bite at one of these 5 Can’t Miss Restaurants in New Orleans.
Where Did the Po’ Boy Originate?
Like many traditional foods, origin stories vary. But the most common tale credits Bennie and Clovis Marin. The brothers moved to New Orleans in 1910 and worked as street car workers.
After a while, they saved enough money to open Martin Brothers Restaurant and Coffee stand. Their relationship with the streetcar union helped boost their business. When the drivers went on strike in 1929, things got heated in the Big Easy.
There were a lot of scuffles between strikebreakers and union members. Even the public showed support for a massive boycott. As the strike wore on, the Martin brothers showed support by feeding union members big sandwiches free of charge.
The brothers referred to the strike workers as poor boys, and the name stuck with the sandwich. They worked with their bread supplier to create a special 40-inch loaf for the strikers. The original po’ boy had fried potatoes, gravy, and spare pieces of roast beef served on French bread.
After the strike ended, the sandwich lived on and became a cultural icon.
What Is the Oak Street Po’ Boy Festival?
New Orleans loves a good party, and the sandwich synonymous with the city has one in its honor. The Oak Street Po’ Boy Fest happens yearly on the first Sunday in November.
This block party takes place in the uptown Carrollton neighborhood. The bands are the typical soul, funk, and jazz the city is known for. There’s live music, an art market, and tons of food to try. And, of course, there are more po’ boys than you could try in one go.
Luckily, the food line-up is released a few days before the festival, so you’ll have time to make the hard choices.
The Oak Street area has many unique shops you can browse throughout the day. This neighborhood was a separate city until New Orleans annexed it in 1874. It maintains a distinct vibe to this day.
Pro Tip: Looking for unique things to do while in New Orleans? We uncovered Is the French Market in New Orleans Worth a Visit?
Best Po’ Boys in New Orleans
There are tons of places to find great food in the Big Easy. Whatever your taste, you’re sure to find something delicious. But to make it easy, we’ve rounded up some of the best shops to get your po’ boy fix.
This family-owned, Uptown gem has been slinging for over a century. Their old-school, no-frills menu hangs on the wall, and you can top your po’ boy with everything from meatballs or hamburgers to classics such as roast beef or shrimp.
Don’t leave your appetite at home! These sandwiches are enormous. Locals recommended the surf and turf for a good blend. However, the half-and-half is perfect if you want to double down on seafood. They also have a full bar, so you can enjoy local brews while eating.
Parkway Bakery and Tavern
Another long-standing shop, Parkway Bakery and Tavern, is known for making a killer shrimp po’ boy. It features a full bakery, so you know your bread will be fresh.
There are 25 variations to try, or 26 if you count the ice cream po’ boy. But if you’re looking for a taste of history, you can get the same sandwich the Martin brothers made, french fries and all.
Parkway has plenty of sides to try, including chicken and sausage jambalaya and one of the best potato salads you’ll ever have.
With two locations, including one in the French Quarter, this shop is a convenient spot to grab a bite while you explore. This homestyle restaurant plays with tradition while making some delicious eats.
The Shrimp Remi is exquisite, with tangy fried green tomatoes and savory remoulade. For something more unique, the Abita braised short rib offers complex flavors using local beer. They also have some of the best onion rings in the country.
The Ultimate New Orleans Sandwich
New Orleans cuisine is unique among southern food. The city is an island between the Mississippi River, the Gulf Coast, and one of the largest lakes in the country. The first major bridges connecting it to the surrounding areas didn’t appear until the 1950s.
This natural separation helped the locals develop their unique take on soul food. The po’ boy is a great way to enjoy the melting pot of flavors the city is known for.
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