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New Orleans - French Quarter: Johnny's Po-Boys

Johnny's Po-Boys, at 511 Saint Louis Street, has been slinging one of New Orleans' largest selections of po-boys since 1950--from the traditional seafood versions to the meat overload of the Judge Bosetta special with two types of sausage and ground beef.


The Po' boy, or Po-Boy , also known as Oyster Loaves, is the generic name for the standard New Orleans sandwich. The key ingredient that differentiates po'boys from other subs is the Louisiana French bread, which differs from a traditional baguette in that it has a flaky crust with a soft, airy center. This is generally attributed to the high ambient humidity causing the yeast to be more active. Traditional versions are served hot and include seafood, roast beef, sausage or ham, but can include nearly any meat filling. A "dressed" po' boy has lettuce, tomato and pickles; mayonnaise and onion are optional. Non-seafood po' boys will also usually have mustard--either "hot" or "regular", with the former being a coarse grained Creole mustard and the latter being American yellow mustard.


There are many competing stories as to the origin of the po' boy. The most widely accepted holds that that it was invented in a New Orleans restaurant owned by Clovis and Benjamin Martin, brothers and former streetcar drivers who opened a restaurant on St. Claude Avenue in the 1920s. When streetcar drivers went on strike in 1929, the brothers took up their cause and created an inexpensive sandwich of gravy and spare bits of roast beef they would serve the unemployed workers out of the rear of their restaurant. 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 shortened in Louisiana dialect to "po" boy.


In his book The Art of the Sandwich, Jay Harlow suggests that the namecomes from the French pour boire or "peace offering," which stems from when men would come home after a night on the town, bringing an oyster loaf as a peace offering. Harlow's account conlates two other stories. The French word pourboire literally means "for drink" and translates as the tip one leaves a serving person or a delivery boy. These tips could be used to buy a small sandwich, which became known as poor boys. A variation on this story is that the tips were "for the boy" rendered in a Franglais mixture as "pour le boy." The Peacemaker (La Mediatrice), an early predecessor of the po'boy, was the name for an oyster loaf--a whole loaf of French Bread, split, hollowed out, and buttered, loaded with fried oysters and garnished with lemon juice and sliced pickles. The name derives from 19th-century husbands who would come in late from a carouse with the sandwich to cushion a possible rough reception from the lady of the house.


One resturaunt in Bay St. Louis, Missippi, Trapani's, insists that the name "po' boy" came from a sandwich shop in New Orleans. If one was new to a bar and bought a nickel beer, then he got a free sandwich thrown in. This was sometimes called a "poor boy's lunch."


Vieux Carré Historic District National Register #66000377 (1966)


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Taken on May 3, 2008