STRONG + CRUNCHY The blackened fish sandwich at Po’ Boys & Pickles.
As sandwich shops continue to proliferate during this down economy, the new Po' Boys & Pickles offers a formula for short-term buzz, and perhaps long-term loyalty: have a clear and distinctive vision and stick to it. In recent weeks, every time I mentioned Po' Boys someone piped up to say they have been wanting to try that place. And everyone liked it once they got there. Po' Boys gets the details of a New Orleans sandwich shop right, without an off-putting authenticity obsession.
You won't hear the sleepy tones of a Louisiana accent at Po' Boys, but the vibe is appropriately relaxed. The young proprietor moved to New Orleans after the hurricane, and while he did not stay more than a year or two, he clearly paid attention. There are few explicit nods to the Maine palate on the menu, though things have been tamed just a hair in terms of spiciness and depth of flavor.
This was clearest in the gumbo — a good stew filled with Maine shrimp, chicken, and sausage, but just a touch too mild. The broth's bite came more from pepper than from chili heat. Gumbo thickened with roux can achieve a dark-deep flavor that was not quite there at Po' Boys — they might be adding a bit of cornstarch. But there was no quibbling with the terrific biscuit — a seductive-looking square of pastry that was moist, buttery, flakey, and light.
The sandwich that gave the shop its name is piled high with pulled beef that had been slow-roasted until it was completely tender. There was just a hint of gravy but plenty of mild, creamy horseradish mayo. The all-important French rolls, slightly toasted, are soft but offer a good chew. The pulled pork had many of the tender virtues of the roast beef. There was still plenty of fat in the pork — just how I like it, though it's a matter of taste, as some folks like to render a bit more fat out with a longer cook — and the barbecue sauce was a great version of the thin vinegar-based Southern style that true connoisseurs prefer.
The best sandwich might have been the blackened fish. It had several big moist pieces of pollock, a fish whose strong flavor was balanced by a seared seasoning with plenty of cayenne, paprika, and pepper, topped by a crunchy slaw. The seafood on sandwiches with fried shrimp and fried oysters was expertly fried, though the breading-on-bread combination can get a little heavy. A creole sausage sandwich was surprisingly mild. The four thick patties tucked into the roll would have looked at home on a breakfast plate. The muffaletta sandwich offered a great salty combination of cured meats under a sharp olive relish, and came on the French roll rather than the round of Italian bread that gives the sandwich its name.