It was the Sunday after my birthday…
and I really wanted something to eat because I was still recovering from another episode of “too much bourbon in the city” from the night before.
I was with a few friends, and we debated over places to get brunch. After opinions flew & playful insults were passed on, we all agreed to go to Peaches in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
I had been to Peaches about three other times before and was in the mood to try something different from my usual order of a burger and fries.
I looked over the menu and almost everything sounded tempting. You probably know that feeling of having a hard time choosing what to eat at a restaurant because you know that everything is delicious. Yeah, that feeling happened.
I finally decided to order something that I don’t usually order. A shrimp Po’ boy. I decided to order it because it’s not something that is typically seen on menus everywhere in New York, and it had been a long time since I had a good Po’ Boy.
My mind wandered for a little bit after ordering, and I started to wonder how the sandwich itself came to be. I think it’s fair to say that it’s common knowledge that the sandwich originated in New Orleans, but I didn’t know much else about it besides that.
I wasn’t able to look into it more that day because I spent it getting my life back together, but I got that info’ and you can read about the Po’ Boy (or poor boy) sandwich below.
What the hell is a Po’ Boy Sandwich?
The Po’ Boy sandwich that we know today is made of french bread, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, mayonnaise, and whatever type of meat is clever to really make it your own. It’s a sandwich that can be found at restaurants around the country, even though it originated in New Orleans, Louisiana where they still swear by the Po’ Boy. Generally speaking, It is one of the most popular types of sandwiches.
The History of the Po’ Boy…
Bennie and Clovis Martin weren’t trying to make history when they created the Po’ Boy, they were just trying to help people in a time of need.
According to the Po’ Boy Fest website, In 1922, Both Bennie and Clovis quit their jobs as streetcar workers in New Orleans to open a coffee stand & restaurant. They worked there for years trying to make a name for it, until 1929 when something happened that changed the whole course of their story and this story for that matter, so brace yourself…..
In 1929, the streetcar workers in New Orleans and many other parts of the nation went on strike. This strike is known to be one of the most violent in the history of the United States.
People flipped train cars, burned them, and pretty much did everything in their power to keep the trains from running and people from riding them. They were really fed up.
This quote from Fire Department Superintendent, William McCrossen puts the level of violence into context. He was a teenager in the area when the streetcar strikes were happening.
“Dare not—nobody, nobody would ride the streetcars. Number one, they were for the carmen. Number two, there was a danger [in riding the cars].”
A photo posted by Oceana Grill (@oceanagrill) on
There was chaos happening, but in the midst of it, Bennie & Clovis decided to make a positive change.
Understanding that a lot of people wouldn’t have much money to feed themselves nor their families, Bennie and Clovis took a huge step forward and decided to create a sandwich that was free and easy to make, so that they could help their squad in a time of need.
They even wrote a to all of the streetcar workers who were on strike. In it, they expressed their support and gave them an offer for a free meal. You can read the full letter below, but the two parts that jumped out at me read:
“At any time you are around the french market, don’t forget to drop in at Martin’s Coffee Stand & Restaurant .. our meal is free to any members of division 194”
They were with the streetcar workers in the fight. It also goes on to say…
“We are with you till hell freezes, and when it does, we will furnish blankets to keep you warm.”
Bennie Martin said,
“We fed those men free of charge until the strike ended. Whenever we saw one of the striking men coming, one of us would say, ‘Here comes another poor boy.'”
Everyone referred to the sandwiches as “Poor’ Boys” because it was the free meal that was given to any streetcar worker who was on strike. People would even ask for them as “Poor Boys”, so the name stuck.
The Martin brothers created a french bread with a baker named John Gendusa. With the original french loaf, the ends get small so they didn’t like how they would always have to cut the side. They worked with John Gendusa to make a French loaf that is longer than normal, and rectangular on both ends so they didn’t have to waste bread.
The first Po’ Boy was simple. It consisted of fried potato, meat scraps, and roast beef gravy on bread, but people LOVED it. There were even people lining up to buy the sandwich right along with the “poor boys” how were getting it for free.99.
While researching, I found this cool video from Mind Of a Chef. this short but dope video shows you an animated history of the
Po’ Boy in under 2 minutes. (You have 2 minutes to watch it, I know you do.)
The Po’ Boy of today is different…
Now the Po’ Boy is a part of life for some, most being people from New Orleans. According to this article on CBS Chef Justin Kennedy who is head chef at a popular New Orleans Restaurant said
“It’s a way of life,It’s like going to church. It’s like walking your dog … it’s a lifeblood in New Orleans. I’m glad to be a part of it.”
He also went on to talk about how Peyton & Eli Manning loved eating Po’ Boys growing up..
“They’d come after football practice in high school and they would sit down and both of them would eat two large shrimps in one sitting … which is amazing. I still can’t fathom it.”
The Po’ Boy is here to stay, and I hope most people are as happy that I am that it’s around for us to enjoy.
What are your thoughts about the Po ’ Boy story? Comment below and let me know.
Mind of a chef video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBkkuCaPYMs
Martin brothers letter: http://www.poboyfest.com/files/images/MartinBrothersletter.jpg
History of the Po’ Boy: http://www.poboyfest.com/history
Chef Justin Kennedy quotes: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-tale-behind-the-sandwich-new-orleans-po-boy/