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Po-Boy blues

A vintage New Orleans newspaper clipping
A vintage New Orleans newspaper clipping

You often take for granted how good the food really is once you leave the confines of New Orleans. But, really, how hard can it be to find a shrimp Po-Boy in Chicago? Trust me when I say, it's pretty difficult.

With Lent nearing week four, non-meat Fridays get a little dull if you attend a fish fry every week. So last Friday I was craving something different and after watching an episode of Diners' Drive-in's and Dives (DDD) filmed in Chicago, I thought why not try Big and Little's? They have Po-Boy's and according to Yelp and DDD host Guy Fieri they are pretty good.

Disappointment is not really strong enough to convey the way I felt after leaving this restaurant. As my son Joseph exclaimed, "mom, that was a shrimp sandwich, not a Po-Boy."I must admit he was right, and I must also admit, we should have gone to eat sushi like he suggested. This is in no way a 'dis on the popular Chicago food establishment, but more like a lesson in what actually constitutes a Po-Boy.

The history of the Po-Boy dates back to The Great Depression, when Clovis and Benjamin Martin opened a restaurant on St. Claude Avenue in the 1920s. When streetcar drivers went on strike in 1929, the Martin's created an inexpensive sandwich of gravy and spare bits of roast beef on French bread to serve the unemployed workers. When a worker came to get one, the cry would go up in the kitchen that "here comes another poor boy!," and the name was transferred to the sandwich, eventually becoming "po-boy" in common usage.

The key to an authentic Po-Boy (not to be confused with a hoagie, sub, or grinder) is the french bread. It must be crispy and flaky on the outside, but soft on the inside. The Po-Boy at Big and Little's was on a bun, albeit long like a french roll, but certainly not flaky or crispy. It also contained roughly 6 battered shrimp (I knew I was in trouble once I saw the shrimp were not fried in corn meal) that looked lonely surrounded by the large amount of bread around it. A Po-Boy should have more shrimp (or oysters or roast beef, etc.) than the bread that's holding it. And it can come "dressed" meaning mayo, lettuce, tomato and pickles or "not dressed" meaning melted butter on the bread and pickles.

In a city that boasts a population of over 2.7 million people, there has to be a Po-Boy out there to satisfy a Southern girl's (by way of Los Angeles) tastebuds. I will let you know as soon as I find one.