In quest of the perfect Po’boy, a sandwich rich in history

By on March 16, 2015


After inventing the Po’ Boy in 1929, the Martin Brothers expanded to several outlets in New Orelans.

Let’s face it. Sometimes what you need is a sandwich and a substantial sandwich at that. The Po’boy is such a sandwich. One of many culinary gifts New Orleans has given the world, the Po’boy has gotten around and has landed here in good shape.

Po’boys appear on the menus of several Outer Banks restaurants, and for good reasons. For one, our area has some of the best seafood in the world at our fingertips.

With oysters and shrimp being key ingredients, it is only natural to fry some and offer them in a handy delivery device. For another, our great chefs enjoy seizing on a known item, adding their spin and flourish to it to create a dish truly their own. And they are so darn good.

The story of the Po’boy that I stick with goes back to New Orleans in the 1920s when Bennie and Clovis Martin left their streetcar jobs and opened Martin Brothers’ Coffee Stand and Restaurant in the French Market.

In 1929 when contract negotiations broke down, streetcar motormen and conductors went on strike. Being former streetcar men, the brothers pledged support to the strikers, and followed through by offering large sandwiches to the striking union members for free until the strike ended.

These sandwiches, usually roast beef bits in crusty French bread loaves, 15 to 20 inches long, became the main sustenance of these “poor” boys and with the local vernacular this sandwich became the Po’boy.

Not long after that, fried oysters, fried shrimp, barbecue shrimp, catfish and soft-shell crab all became popular Po’boy components.

Curious to some outsiders, the roast beef Po’boys are still hugely popular in New Orleans, particularly ones made of roast beef gravy and “debris.” This debris is the collection of little bits that fall away into the drippings as the roast is sliced. I can testify that the Parkway Bakery on Toulouse Street overlooking Bayou St. John, makes one of the best and messiest versions in that crazy, wonderful town.

It is worth noting that when one orders a Po’boy in the Crescent City, one has the option to take it plain, “nuttinonit” or “dressed” meaning that it will come with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and mayonnaise, which they pronounce down there as “my-nezz.”

Here, the Po’boy is specifically a seafood proposition and arrives at the plate already dressed. We do not have that particularly New Orleans-style French bread here, so crusty and flaky on the outside, and so billowy and fluffy inside. But there are other variables to play with and it is in these details that a good chef can make a Po’boy their own. Here are some of my favorites.

02hurrivanemoesr57Hurricane Moe’s Beachside Bar
120 Kitty Hawk Road, Kitty Hawk‎
(252) 255-0215

This non-scientific and admittedly limited sampling of Outer Banks Po’boys begins with a fine example at Hurricane Moe’s. Plump, delicious oysters are lightly fried and ride on a base of Southern coleslaw. Tomato and lettuce are added and it is all capped off with jalapeño tarter sauce.

A very fresh French bread bun serves as the platform with skewers holding the stacks in place.

It arrives on the table with potato salad, a bit more of the jalapeño tarter sauce and a dill pickle spear on the side. Being a sauce lover, I appreciate the extra dose for dipping with this satisfying sandwich.

03lachine148r57Café Lachine
5000 S. Croatan Hwy. N1, Nags Head

I entered Café Lachine specifically to try their take on the Shrimp Po’boy. They seem to do everything well here and so their Po’boy should be as well.

When I was seated I was told of a special item; a (get this) fried calamari Po’boy. I had to take a shot.

Lightly fried calamari is dressed with a piquant remoulade, topped with shredded lettuce and is surrounded by a fresh home-baked and butter toasted hoagie roll. This was a very tasty sandwich, a real showstopper and had me reconsidering life’s possibilities.

As it turns out this sandwich was the result of a staff contest with owner/chef Justin Lachine taking the honors. It is a winning combination, and I doubt it was rigged in his favor.

Sides are available but I enjoyed this sandwich all on its own. We are looking forward to trying their scallop Po’boy soon.

04brewstation04r57The Outer Banks Brewing Station
600 South Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills
(252) 449-2739

The Fried Oyster Po’boy at the Brewing Station comes with a little taste of Argentina. Having had OBBS fried oysters before, I knew I could expect plump, perfectly fried jewels of the sea.

In this case, they sit atop an open-toasted hoagie roll and are supported by sliced tomato, red onion and shredded cabbage. A dill spear is also on the plate with spot-on home fries. Chimichurri, originally from Argentina, is a sauce based on finely chopped parsley, garlic, lemon, cilantro and olive oil.

Here it is emulsified into an aioli and napped across the oysters in a languid manner, all pretty, green and scrumptious.

05sugarshackr57The Sugar Shack Fish Market
Milepost 16.5 on the Nags Head-Manteo Causeway
(252) 441-3888

Get your fork ready for this one because it is a big, big sandwich. The Sugar Shack does double duty as a seafood market and as a casual waterside restaurant. You can eat in or take home.

I had just been there earlier in the week to pick up some Crab Slough oysters and noticed several Po’boys on the menu. When I returned later, I settled on the shrimp one as I had yet to sample a shrimp version yet and the Shark Attack Po’boy scared me just a little. (I’ll get over it.)

This is one of two Po’boys I was presented in the open face style. There was no closing this one. Really beautiful, perfectly fried shrimp are heaped across a bed of lettuce on a large toasted bun.

Between the bun and the lettuce lies a spicy Creole tomato sauce. This is a classic sauce that is not known well outside of Louisiana but it was good to taste it here.

Sautéed onions, celery and green pepper (aka the trinity) plus cubed tomato set the Creole profile and cayenne brings just a bit of heat. Boom Boom Sauce, a creamy orange, peppery emulsion that goes well with fried seafood tops the shrimp. The two sauces pack a one-two punch that compliments the shrimp and tingles the taste buds.

Slaw comes on the side and you can choose a second side dish. I chose Fried Mac and Cheese Bites because, well, I could. They were good too and piping hot.

These were all in the approximately $10 dollar premium sandwich price range. As always, check for specials. Menus are subject to change, so any items listed here may not be available or exactly as presented.

But Po’boys will not be leaving us any time soon. It is safe to say that here on the Outer Banks, with our talented chefs working the outer edge of the envelope, the Po’boy experience is alive and well and here to stay.

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