Hometown Hungers: Best Po' Boys Outside of New Orleans

Restaurants across the country are channeling the tastes of the bayou with their own riffs on the Big Easy's signature sandwich stuffed with seafood, meats and more.

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Photo By: Mark Nardecchia ©Shagly pet photography

Bite of the Big Easy

The exact origin of the po' boy is hard to pin down, much like many of the legends floating around the colorful city of New Orleans. A popular version traces its creation back to a streetcar drivers’ strike in 1929, when sandwiches built on hefty loaves of thick, fresh French bread were handed out to the striking conductors for free. That same style of bread is still used today to make the classic po' boy, which traditionally comes stuffed with seafood (think shrimp or fried oysters) or a hearty meat such as roast beef. A fully dressed sandwich comes adorned with tomato, lettuce and a spicy mayonnaise or remoulade. For those who aren’t quite in reach of the Big Easy when a po' boy craving strikes, chefs across the country are churning out their own versions of the NOLA staple. 

Photo courtesy of Doc Crow’s

Smack Shack: Minneapolis (with a second location in Chicago)

What started as a mobile operation has grown into a bustling brick-and-mortar restaurant. The menu has expanded with the space, as the Smack Shack now offers a slew of seafood favorites (and fun cocktails) in addition to the fresh lobster rolls that started it all. There are options aplenty, including fish boils and lobster-studded mac and cheese (which was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives). You can also get your seafood in sandwich form, as po’ boys dominate the Minneapolis menu, with six varieties that include fried shrimp and blue crab. For those who prefer to skip the seafood, other options include andouille sausage and fried green tomatoes. Each sandwich is further customized with different toppings that pair perfectly with its particular filling.

Photo courtesy of Smack Shack

Go to: Smack Shack

The Parish Cafe: Healdsburg, Calif.

This spot delivers a taste of the Crescent City in the midst of wine country, thanks to Chef Rob Lippincott. The New Orleans native opened this homey restaurant on the heels of a successful beignet business, which saw him peddling that fried-dough treat around Northern California. Now that he’s settled in a brick-and-mortar locale, his menu has expanded beyond beignets to encompass a wider swath of his hometown’s specialties. Po’ boys in particular dominate the menu, with nine different varieties offered. It’s hard to go wrong, but a favorite is the Half Shrimp & Half Oyster, thusly named because one half of the sandwich is heaped with fried oysters and the other half with fried shrimp. The recipes are authentic N’awlins, but the bread comes from local Healdsburg bread company Costeaux.

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Glassell

Go to: Parish Cafe

101 Coffee Shop: Hollywood, Calif.

This iconic Hollywood diner turns out a number of comforting dishes, including four types of po' boys that channel Big Easy flavors. These hefty sandwiches come crammed with traditional fillings, which include blackened catfish (sustainably farmed to boot) and corn-floured fried shrimp. No matter which option you choose, the sandwiches are as close to authentic as you can get outside of New Orleans. They’re served on Leidenheimer French bread flown in straight from the Crescent City and topped with shredded cabbage, dill pickles, tomato and spicy mayonnaise.

Photo courtesy of 101 Coffee Shop

Go to: 101 Coffee Shop

Saltine: Jackson, Miss.

Executive Chef Jesse Houston brings a Southern sensibility to this seafood-centric restaurant. Though a Texas native, he sticks close to New Orleans’ classic style of po' boy, churning out a variety of options that come fully dressed with Creole mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and pickle. Given Saltine’s culinary focus, it’s no surprise that many of the po' boys come crammed with seafood, such as blackened catfish, fried shrimp or fried oysters. But for those who prefer a different sort of filling, choices such as fried chicken or ham and Swiss also abound. The chef steps well beyond the traditional recipe with his Asian take on the sandwich — a Po’ Bao — served on a steamed bao bun with fried oysters and all the fixins.

Photo courtesy of Saltine

Go to: Saltine

Doc Crow’s: Louisville, Ky.

Bourbon and barbecue may be the entry points for this hip Southern smokehouse and raw bar, but the authentic po’ boys are not to be missed. Made with French bread sourced straight from Louisiana, these sandwiches are brimming with a bounty of fried seafood that evokes the tastes of the bayou. Options include fried oysters, fried catfish and even an oyster-and-shrimp combination. All are finished in the standard fashion, with remoulade, lettuce and tomato.

Photo courtesy of Doc Crow's

Go to: Doc Crow’s

Rye KC: Leawood, Kans.

Chefs Colby and Meg Garrelts stuff most of the menu at their restaurant with Midwestern dishes, but the po’ boy is a welcome interloper of the Southern-tinged variety. Served at lunch, this po’ boy features a fried piece of catfish with a crisp cornmeal crust. It comes crowned with a creamy splash of spicy remoulade and a bright thatch of greens from the garden. Pickles and a side of fries round out the plate.

Photo courtesy of John Brogan

Go to: Rye KC

Atwood: Chicago

The po’ boy has grown far beyond its humble roots at Atwood, where Chef Brian Millman has created a gourmet version of the historical sandwich. He takes succulent morsels of sustainable Laughing Bird shrimp, marinates them in buttermilk and then tosses them in cornmeal. After a quick fry, the shrimp are tucked into a hoagie bun that’s spread with a housemade spicy remoulade for some extra kick. A topping of pickled slaw adds some tang.

Photo courtesy of Atwood

Go to: Atwood

Trio New American Cuisine: Colleyville, Texas

Chef Jason Harper’s devotion to Creole dishes is practically imprinted in his DNA, as he credits his “Cajun cooking machine” grandmother for instilling a love of Big Easy cuisine in him. Harper’s passion shines through in the NOLA-inspired dishes he’s dreamed up at his New American restaurant, such as a revamped version of the po’ boy. This culinary riff brings together the sandwich’s typical flavors but delivers them in a bit of a smaller package. Panko shrimp and onion slaw are piled onto remoulade-slicked slider rolls for more of a bite-sized approach to the sandwich.

Photo courtesy of Trio New American Cuisine

Go to: Trio New American Cuisine

Wheatsville Food Co-op: Austin

Wheatsville is proving that po' boys aren’t just for meat or seafood lovers, as the Austin co-op has created a satisfying vegetarian-friendly take on the classic sandwich. The shop has adopted the NOLA staple as one of its signature sandwiches but taken liberties from the original recipe to create its own best-seller. Known as the Popcorn Tofu Po' Boy, this version comes stuffed with crispy popcorn tofu topped with lettuce, onion, tomato, pickles, sprouts, cucumber, carrots and cashew tamari dressing. The whole lot is held together by a French roll, resulting in a hearty sandwich that has gained a cult following.

Photo courtesy of Wheatsville Food Co-op

Go to: Wheatsville Food Co-op

Brine Oyster: Newburyport, Mass.

Impeccable seafood is the lure at this oyster and crudo bar where fresh catches are the standard. Opt for a po’ boy and you’ll be served a robust sandwich shining with Cajun flavor. A toasty slab of bread comes piled high with a heap of crunchy morsels of catfish that have been dunked in a golden cornmeal batter before being fried. The whole lot is smothered in a housemade remoulade and comes topped with house pickles. 

Photo courtesy of Brine Oyster

Go to: Brine Oyster

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