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 V.22 No.15 | April 11 - 17, 2013 

Food 101

Po’ Boyhood and Beyond

The birth of a New Orleans original and where to find it in the Duke City

The po’ boy sandwich is special. Not only for its elusiveness in our fair city, but as the tasty little vertex of two great American endeavors—1.) sandwich eating and 2.) sticking it to “the Man.”

A little history lesson to explain: It’s New Orleans, July 1929 and the Carmen’s Union (street car workers) has called a strike against New Orleans Public Service Incorporated. Their demands are greater job security and closed shop provisions. As usual, a stalemate ensues, strikebreakers are enlisted, streetcars lit on fire and able-bodied men are stranded on the picket line.

The months wear on and the protesting carmen grow hot and, more to the point, hungry.

“If only some kind sympathizer full of American pluck and ingenuity would feed us! If only a former carman turned restaurateur would invent a sandwich with a name that referenced our plight!” the carmen cry out, in a dramatization of historical events.

“We will save you!” yell back brothers Clovis and Bernie Martin, and they send free hand-held fried potato and gravy sandwiches out to the front lines in a show of union support. They soon note a structural weakness in the tapered ends of the bread and shape a better, handier sandwich loaf, uniform in width.

“If only some kind sympathizer full of American pluck and ingenuity would feed us! If only a former carman turned restaurateur would invent a sandwich with a name that referenced our plight!” the carmen cry out, in a dramatization of historical events.

Voila, the po’ boy is born. Or née as they say in the French Quarter.

After the strike ends anticlimactically, as they usually do, the term po’ boy comes to mean almost any tasty victual slapped on a French bread bun—battered shrimp and oysters, roast beef with gravy, hot sausage, french fries, catfish, crawdads, fried chicken, you name it.

But there are qualifiers: The bread must be crisp and crusty on the outside, light and airy inside. One must not stint on the fillings. A po’ boy should be loaded and dressed to the nines, as if to feed a hulking, hungry (angry!) carman. The dressing depends on the filling of course. Shredded iceberg lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo are standard issue.

Nowadays in New Orleans, you’ll run into noveau riche po’ boys stuffed with roasted duck, Moroccan spiced lamb and rum braised pork, topped with things like crema, plantains or Korean eggplant.

But that’s New Orleans. This is Albuquerque. Here you have basically two options for quality, self-indulgent po’ boy remembrance—Louisiana transplant Mr. Powdrell’s and the Supper Truck.

Both are somewhat elusive.

Powdrell’s po’ boy is not listed on the menu, but they’ll make you one if you ask. Built like a streetcar, a foot-long, stuffed with three kinds of meat (pork, chicken, brisket), topped with french fries, onion rings, coleslaw and drenched in smoky sweet BBQ sauce, this is a full flavor, full texture memorial to the working class, not at all unreasonably priced at $12.95.

For a hipper, more colorful carman sandwich, you’re gonna have to chase down the Supper Truck (or just follow them on Facebook). It will be worth the effort once you sink your teeth into a hot mess of corn-meal crusted catfish, creamy momo sauce, red cabbage slaw and dill pickle ($7.00). (They also sometimes flaunt an oyster po’ boy special and an off-menu, top-secret shrimp po’ boy.)

Unfortunately, their po’ boy is only available for another week after this article is published. Maybe you want to form your own picket line demanding they revive it sooner rather than later.

If you succeed, and as you partake, pause a moment to reflect on the spirit of the sandwich—a sandwich of flaming street cars, brick bats and Gulf Coast heat waves; a sandwich of deliverance and social consciousness.

So poignant. So delicious. Long live the well loved po’ boy.



Bow & Arrow Pairing Dinner at Indian Pueblo Cultural Center


Tour the musuem and then enjoy a five-course meal, perfectly paired with beverages provided by local Native-owned Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. Reservation required.


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