Armed with the insight of my Louisiana-reared gal pal, I marched into Po’ Boys and Pickles prepared to be underwhelmed.
She just couldn’t believe Maine could produce an authentic version of the Crescent City’s beloved sandwich and neither could I, really. (Raves from my colleagues here, here and here not-withstanding).
Although I’ve snacked on my share of this New Orleans’ staple post raucous nights of zydeco dancing and Hurricanes, I felt ill-equipped to make a qualitative verdict without some native perspective.
After a phone call tutorial (more like a “dictatorial”), I had my list of the “Three Key Elements on Which to Judge a Po’ Boy”) and I was ready to get down to business.
First, the list:
1. Fresh French bread. Foremost and vital. According to my friend, the bread must have a thin, crisp, parchment-like crust and a fluffy light center. “Its gotta be firm enough to withstand the moisture when doused with sauce, but not so heavy that a doughy bread flavor dominates the fillings,” she said. Although not an extreme purist (someone who insists on New Orleans-baked bread – preferably from the Leidenheimer or Gendusa bakeries), she warned me not to be lenient with “any ole’ hoagie roll.”
2. Stuffed to the gills with the main ingredient. Whether fish, fried oysters, fried shrimp, sausage or roast beef, the sandwich must not be greasy and must not be skimpy, she emphasized. ‘If you ain’t pushing it back in, you ain’t eating a po’ boy.”
3. Dripping in sauce. Whether plain mayonnaise (or MAY-NEZ, as she pronounces it) or gravy on the meat versions, or homemade tarter or remoulade in the fish versions, the po’ boy – if it’s dressed – “must be dripping, tangy and have a bit of heat.” A “dressed” po’ boy simply means it has sauce, lettuce and tomatoes. Apparently, “un-dressed” po’ boys do exist.
So, how did Po’ Boys and Pickles stack up?
Very, very, very well. But, alas, not perfectly.
While fresh, crusty and close to the vital po’ boy style, the bread didn’t quite hit the mark. Perhaps my friend’s hoagie warning rang a bit too loudly in my ears, but the self-contained roll (instead of a “sliced off the loaf” roll) seemed sorta “sub” like.
My blackened fish and Adam’s Debris (roast beef) both were stellar. Flaky fresh with a slight heat, the fish was well-prepared and plentiful. Slow roasted and nicely spiced, the beef was piled high and very tender.
My fish dripped with a super-tasty roasted pepper mayo instead of the expected tartar sauce and – frankly – was all the better for it. A river of it flowed down my arms as I ate. Adam felt the horseradish mayo was a tad tame for the spiced beef, but I liked it fine. It didn’t ooze out in the same voracious quantity, however.
A shared Golden Fried Oyster Salad gave us the chance to sample the fried seafood. While the cornmeal crust was tasty, Adam and I both felt the oysters (and the salad in general) was way too dry. Perhaps the mayo in the oyster po’ boy would overcome this weakness. The mesclun mix, green beans, shallots and blue cheese dressing failed to moisten up the breaded shellfish even a little bit.
A toffee bread pudding was – in a word – killer. Too stuffed to eat in the restaurant, we carted it home and fought over the too-small portion. I’ll definitely go back to try the fried shrimp po’ boy, the gumbo and my very own order of pudding.
A call to my friend with my assessment yielded a stunned pause, and, finally, “A good po’ boy in Maine. Well, that’s almost enough to make my grandpa roll over in his grave.”
Seems Po’ Boys and Pickles will be quite the story down in Baton Rouge.