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Where Y’Eat: New School Po-Boys

While the classics endure, some chefs are turning their attentions to the po-boy and coming up with something altogether new between the bread.

We love our classic po-boys in New Orleans, and for many all the variety they need can be found in the choice between roast beef and fried seafood, or maybe between dressed and otherwise. But lately, a few eateries have emerged in New Orleans with entire menus devoted to new and very different ideas for the po-boy, and we’re going to visit two of them today.

First up is Killer Po-boys, a tiny but tirelessly creative venture that’s tucked away in the back of a French Quarter barroom. It’s right there on Conti Street, inside the Erin Rose, a small, cramped, smoky, locals watering hole just a few steps off Bourbon Street. The setting gives it a sort of underground feel, but plenty of people have sought the place out. At lunch time you see delivery truck drivers and suits from the CBD all cooling their heels at the bar while their po-boys are prepared, while the late-night hours here make it a haven for service industry people grabbing an after-shift dinner. 

The chefs behind Killer Po-boys are Cam Boudreaux and April Bellow, and they’re veterans of local fine-dining kitchens. For Killer Po-boys, they start off with some fundamentals of the po-boy canon — like sausage patties, fat shrimp and falling-apart-tender beef — but then they take them all on an imaginative ride.

The sausage is lamb that’s been jammed with a whole shelf of Moroccan spices, griddled into crisp patties and dressed with sumac-scented carrots and a tzatziki sauce that’s green with herbs. The shrimp aren’t fried but rather sautéed and surrounded by pickled vegetables, and all of the po-boys are made on light, crackling-crisp banh mi bread, that Vietnamese interpretation of the baguette. The beef is laced with horseradish aioli and crammed so generously into its loaf that the bread, wetted by its juices, conforms to it like a wrapper. There’s always a vegan po-boy made with red bean puree, garlicky chimichurri and a basketfull of local vegetables.

Our second example of the advanced, applied po-boy studies is called the Sammich. It’s another unconventional eatery, this time operated inside the music venue Chickie Wah Wah, on Canal Street in Mid-City. Here, another seasoned local chef, Mike Brewer, is working up his own ideas for the po-boy, which often resemble dinner entrees composed on French bread instead of a plate.

The fried lobster po-boy at the Sammich is the best example. Big chunks of claw and tail meat are fried just long enough to crisp a tempura batter before they’re coated in a velvety, outrageously flavorful blend of butter, peanut sauce, Sriracha hot sauce and mango. Grilled chicken gets new life in another marquee po-boy thanks to a hybrid dressing that merges kimchee and coleslaw, uniting Korean and American barbecue traditions around char-marked chicken.

While you’re visiting the Sammich, don’t miss the twice-crispy fries, cooked in duck fat and sprinkled with parmesan. It’s a good bar snack, and there’s no missing the fact that you are eating in a bar when you visit the Sammich or Killer Po-Boys. But then, if some great ideas through history have been sketched on bar napkins first, it feels appropriate that some great new ideas for po-boys require a few bar napkins themselves.

Killer Poboys

811 Conti St., New Orleans, 504-252-6745

The Sammich

2828 Canal St., (inside Chickie Wah Wah), New Orleans, 504-813-5259

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.

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