There is a place in Mid-City New Orleans that has been serving up “Poor Boy” sandwiches since the early 1900’s. The name of this legendary restaurant is Parkway Bakery and Tavern. You may be saying, “Wait! Don’t you mean Po’ Boys?” Yes the majority of places that offer this style of sandwich do indeed call it Po’ Boys. To fully appreciate why some call it Poor Boys, we will need to take a step back in time to 1929. We will get to the meal and pictures shortly. But first lets learn how the sandwich the “Poor Boy” got it’s name. I assure you that once you understand the story, you will never call it a Po’ Boy again.
In 1929 the Martin brothers who owned a coffee stand and restaurant in the French Market wanted to create a filling uncomplicated, sandwich when close to two thousand workers from the Amalgamated Association of Electric Street Railway hit the picket line. The Martin brothers would give the union members these sandwiches free of charge. These workers were no longer making an income, times were tough and essentially they were poor. Legend has it that whenever one of the strikers came into the restaurant, one of the Martin brothers would call out to the other “Here comes another poor boy”. This phrase was said so they would know to give them one of these special sandwiches and not collect any money from them. And the name “Poor Boy” sandwich came to life.
The story doesn’t end there. Also, during 1929 the owner of Parkway Bakery and Tavern, Henry Timothy Sr. adopted the Poor Boy sandwich and in a sense of unity would give them to fed union members and conductors on the cuff. My son lives a stones through from Parkway in an apartment complex called American Can. Prior to being an apartment complex it was a large canning factory by the same name. Back in the mid 1920’s they would operate twenty four hours a day. Timothy Sr. decided to stay open twenty four hours as well and would sell the Poor Boy sandwiches to the factory workers, knowing they would need a good meal and didn’t have much money.
These selfless restaurant owners who expected nothing in return, fed so many American workers for free. Workers that had no income due to being on strike because they wanted an honest wage and improved work conditions pulls at the heart strings. How can I ever again refer to these delicious sandwiches as anything else then a “Poor Boy”.
It was time to “Feed The Beast”, so we left my son’s apartment, walked across the bridge over the Bayou and within minutes we were face to face with Parkway. It is a free standing building that resembles a typical home. They have a fairly decent size outside dining area with a walkup bar. In the middle of the outside dining area sits a vintage Ford automobile from the early 1900’s. It appears to be a ‘Ford Model A”. Inside there is a small dining room and another room with a bar. Though the side door and up a couple of steps you enter and approach the counter to order your food. They will call you when your food is ready. If you would like a drink, you can go to the walk up bar and purchase your drinks separately.
This is exactly what we did. We placed our food order, snagged a table outside and bought a few drinks. After a long night before, I needed the “Hair of the dog”. What better drink then a Bloody Mary. It made me feel like a new man. The Bloody Mary was spicy and the pickled string beans and okra was an added bonus.
Beast Jr and myself were famished and decided to share several items from the menu. The first dish was a cup of Parkway’s “Famous Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya”. How can we not order a dish that is “Famous'”. After tasting it we knew why. The The rice was cooked perfectly with plenty of tender shredded chicken and slices of sausage. Combined with the creole and Cajun spices, this was a perfectly made Jambalaya.
As a side dish we ordered the French fries with cheese and gravy. If you refer to this type of dish as “Disco Fries” as many people do, then these were the Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever version. The fries were crispy with plenty of gooey melted cheese. Parkway prides themselves on their homemade slow roasted roast beef with gravy. On top of the cheese they pour a healthy serving of their gravy which includes healthy bits of roast beef. This can be a meal on it’s own.
It was time to feast on the Poor Boys. Poor Boys / Po’ Boys are served on fresh French bread. They can have different types of seafood, deli meats or a combination. Many places like Parkway also offer vegetarian options. We ordered ours “Dressed”. This term refers to the sandwiches having mayonnaise, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles on them.
The first one we shared was their “Louisiana Catfish Poor Boy”. Parkway uses local southern Louisiana catfish which is flash fried to a golden brown. The batter on the catfish was crisp with zero grease and the fish was light, flakey and tender. It was a perfect choice to compliment what we were going to eat next.
One of the more popular Poor Boy sandwiches restaurants sell is roast beef with gravy. We were all set to order this until we saw on the chalkboard while on line “Po-boy #1. The James Brown”. This Poor Boy has fried shrimp, hot BBQ beef with pepperjack cheese and spicy crystal hot sauce mayo. This too we had dressed. With all of these ingredients on the sandwich, the fried shrimp somehow remained crispy. The beef was extremely tender, juicy and would fall apart as you ate it. There was so many different flavors that all complimented each other. This sandwich was the best Poor Boy, Po’ Boy or whatever you want to call it, that I ever had.
If you are ever in New Orleans and crave one of these legendary sandwiches, you would do yourself a disservice if you don’t head over to Mid-City and eat at Parkway Bakery and Tavern.
Currently “The Beast” is looking for volunteers for my next journey to Nola and Parkway. There is one Poor Boy that is on the menu that I must have. It is called the “Bayou Beast”. It is a three foot Poor Boy with alligator sausage, fried shrimp, pepperjack cheese and layers of their BBQ beef. “The Beast” won’t rest until he takes on the “The Bayou Beast”.