A po' boy (also po-boy, po boy, or poor boy) is a traditional submarine sandwich from Louisiana. It almost always consists of meat or seafood, usually fried, served on baguette-like Louisiana French bread.
Typically, French bread comes in two foot long "sticks". Standard sandwich sizes might be a half po' boy, about six inches long (called a "Shorty" at Uglesich's), and a full po' boy at about a foot long. But they can be prepared in longer and shorter versions for group events.
The traditional versions are served hot and include fried shrimp, and oysters. Soft shell crab, catfish, crawfish, Louisiana hot sausage, roast beef, and french fry are other variations frequently served. The latter two usually are served with roast beef gravy.
You may be asked if you would like your po' boy "dressed". A "dressed" po' boy has lettuce, tomato and mayonaise; pickles and onion are optional. Non-seafood po' boys will also usually have mustard, but the customer is expected to specify whether they want "hot" or "regular" - the former being a coarse grained Creole mustard (such as that produced by Zatarain's) and the latter being American yellow mustard. Mother's Restaurant, a popular lunch stop in New Orleans on Poydras St., uses shredded green cabbage rather than lettuce for its dressed sandwiches.
The sandwich was featured on the PBS special Sandwiches That You Will Like.
In his book The Art of the Sandwich, Jay Harlow suggests that the name "po' boy" comes from the French pour boire or "peace offering," which stems from when men would come home after a night on the town, bringing an oyster loaf as a peace offering.
Harlow's account seems to conflate two other stories about the origins of the term "poor boy". The French phrase "pour boire" literally means "for drink" and translates as the tip one leaves a serving person or a delivery boy. These tips could be used to buy a small sandwich, which became known as poor boys. A variation on this story is that the tips were "for the boy" rendered in a Franglais mixture as "pour le boy".
A Peace Maker was the name for an oyster loaf -- a whole loaf of French Bread, split, hollowed out, and buttered, loaded with fried oysters and garnished with lemon juice and sliced pickles. That was the traditional peace offering upon returning home late.
One restaurant in Bay St. Louis, MS, Trapani's, insists that the name "po' boy" came from a sandwich shop in New Orleans. If one was new to a bar and bought a nickel beer, then he got a free sandwich thrown in. This was sometimes called a "poor boy's lunch", which came to mean just the sandwich itself.
The most basic New Orleans restaurant is the po' boy shop. In theory, it need not be much different than a sandwich shop in any other city, with little or no on-premise cooking. The debris gravy for roast beef needs to be kept hot, but that could be done in an electric warmer. Classic examples are Frank's on Decatur Street, which for many years just sold muffalettas, and po' boys, and Mother's on Poydras Street.
But these same basic offerings were also available at most corner grocery stores. The next step up for a shop was to offer seafood po' boys and this meant having a stove (or fryer) and having someone who could fry seafood. And if you were frying fish, and shrimp, and oysters for sandwiches, it didn't take much extra to fry them for seafood plates. And if you had a stove for cooking seafood, it didn't take much extra to also offer Red beans and rice and Jambalaya. Many of the classic New Orleans neighborhood restaurants are in this mold offering po' boys, seafood platters, and a number of basic Creole dishes: Parkway Bakery, Maspero's, Liuzza's, Domilise's, Parasol's, Frankie and Johnnie's, and Casamento's.
Two restaurants in this tradition merit special attention. The first is Dooky Chase's, which originally opened as a po' boy shop. Over the years, Miss Leah's cooking evolved and the restaurant expanded, becoming one of the most celebrated in the country. It is one of the few restaurants to span the gulf between neighborhood joint and grand dame. The second was Uglesich's, a small in a more-or-less falling down corner store in New Orleans Central City. Only ever open for lunch, it was for many years a workingman's restaurant serving po' boys and fresh shucked oysters. But the fried seafood (cooked to order in cast iron kettles on a stove) was considered some of the best in the city. Over time Mr. Anthony began to draw on his Yugoslavian heritage combining it with inspiration from other restaurants in the city to create new dishes--Trout Muddy Waters, Shrimp Uggie, Fried Mirliton with Shrimp Remoulade--which have drawn national attention. The restaurant closed on May 6, 2005 with the retirement of Anthony and Gail Uglesich.
Another variety of the po' boy is known as the Vietnamese po' boy, made popular by the New Orleans Vietnamese immigrant population. It is typically made with roasted pork and hot peppers and can be found in Vietnamese groceries and restaurants.
The roast beef po' boy is generally served hot with gravy, but is known as "debris" style if it is made with pieces of meat and juice that have fallen into the roast's drip pan while cooking. At Mother's Restaurant in New Orleans, one can see the pans in which the ham and beef are roasted and from which the debris is made.
The Brickyard in Lewiston, NY has a popular variation made with pulled pork topped with coleslaw.