In the Local Palate’s Spring travel issue, our editors explore the South through its iconic sandwiches. This one takes us to coastal Louisiana for a fried shrimp po’ boy.
Stop Two: The Shrimp Po’ Boy | Acadiana, Louisiana
Although the po’ boy-style sandwich existed in various forms before it was officially named, often as an “oyster loaf,” Michael Mizell-Nelson, PhD, has documented that the original po’ boy was called a “poor boy” in solidarity with striking transit workers in 1929. Benny and Clovis Martin of Martin Brothers French Market Restaurant and Coffee Stand in New Orleans offered the sandwich free to union members and even developed a 40-inch loaf of bread, special ordered from John Gendusa Bakery, which is still in operation today. Since then, Cajun Country has made the sandwich its own.
The wonder of the po’ boy is that although there are essential ingredients, there is no standardized recipe…or name. Many restaurants still refer to these sandwiches as “poor boys” or even “peaux boys.” You can fill them with just about anything, from roast beef, sausage, and seafood of all kinds to french fries and gravy—one blogger even claims that jazz is an ingredient. The yearly Oak Street Po-Boy Festival and Acadiana Po-Boy and Plate Lunch Festival give vendors the opportunity to express their creativity in po’ boy form.
Fried Gulf Coast shrimp is perhaps the most quintessential and accessible coastal filling for a po’ boy. The classic shrimp po’ boy is “dressed,” which according to Jennifer Petry, general manager of Mahoney’s French Quarter location, is mayonnaise, lettuce, pickle, and tomato. “Some people try to put onion on there and it drives me crazy,” Petry says.
Of course, a loaf of french bread is essential: crusty on the outside to keep the shrimp po’ boy from getting soggy, and soft on the inside to absorb the flavors. And pretty much everyone agrees that the beverage of choice to accompany the sandwich (however it’s named) is an Abita beer.
Three Key Elements of the Shrimp Po’ Boy
Gulf shrimp, peeled and deveined, are breaded and fried—you can make your own dredge with seasoned flour or cornmeal, or use a fish fry breading mix. Popular among many local spots is peanut oil for its high smoke point. You can get creative with some Cajun spice in your batter as well.
A loaf of French bread is the bare minimum—extra points if you get a po’ boy loaf from the original purveyor, John Gendusa Bakery, or from the local’s secret, Leidenheimer, both in New Orleans.
A shrimp po’ boy comes “dressed” with pickles, Blue Plate mayonnaise, tomatoes, and shredded lettuce. In an email to nola.com, Nick Gagliano, who was three years old at the time of the po’ boy’s invention, noted that the shredded lettuce on the Martin Brothers’ version stood out to him as a first-time experience. (If you toss your shrimp in a spicy remoulade, it becomes a shrimp remoulade po’ boy, which, we have on good authority, is an entirely different sandwich.)
Where to Find a Shrimp Po’Boy
With two New Orleans locations, uptown and in the French Quarter, this local institution offers not only wild-caught popcorn Gulf shrimp marinated in Crystal hot sauce and fried in a cornmeal-dredge mix but also the Po-Boy Fest winner the Peacemaker, with fried jumbo Gulf shrimp and oysters, cheddar cheese, and candied bacon.
Olde Time Grocery
You won’t find any frills at this longstanding Lafayette restaurant, but you won’t need them: Locals and tourists from all over travel to eat at this famous “poor boy” spot voted number-one budget dining in the nation on Trip Advisor Travelers’ Choice Awards.
Since 1936 this “classic hole in the wall” has been serving Louisiana comfort food in Shreveport—at the forefront of which is the Shrimp Buster, a dreamy creation of Herby K. himself comprising butterflied fried shrimp served on open-faced buttered french bread with french fries, coleslaw, and secret sauce. You can also get it classic po’ boy style.
In the Field
The Story Behind the Muffuletta
TLP heads to the New Orleans to explore the origin story of the muffuletta sandwich, plus a few of the must-visit spots to sample it today.
From the Magazine
The Spring Issue’s Guide to Tasty Travel
Editor in chief Erin Murray previews tasty travel topics from the latest issue of TLP, from Southern cheesemakers to six iconic sandwiches.
Dining Out: Neng Jr.’s
Silver Iocovozzi’s Filipinx restaurant, Neng Jr’s, and serves up an intimate, personal, and fun experience in West Asheville.
Shrimp and Grits: A History
Tea Cakes, A Brief History
A First Look at Vern’s Menu
A First Look at Bar La Fête in Birmingham
6 Food and Drink Recipes that Honor Black History Monthby Erin Byers Murray
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