From a pizza invasion to po' boy sandwiches. Ok, it's not quite an invasion yet, but down home Louisiana cuisine seems to be surfacing in pockets around town, like New Orleans supper club Ahnvee and even Bancroft Supper Club, with its "Frito Misto" po' boy.
There are many intriguing tales of the origins of N.O.'s most famous sandwich, conveniently compiled by crowd-sourcing research engine Wikipedia. One involves a four month long street car strike where two conductors-turned-restaurateurs offered their disgruntled ex-colleagues (the "poor boys") free sandwiches. Jay Harlow proffers that the name comes from the French pour boire or "peace offering," in his book The Art of the Sandwich. "Pour boire" literally means "for drink," meaning tips that could be used to buy a small sandwich. Yet another version draws the conclusion that these tips were "for the boy," i.e. the Franglais mixture, "pour le boy."
You can read more of these stories here.
In the ring today, two joints pile up their takes on the po' boy. It's one of our closest competitions yet.
Pros: This mouthful's sweet sea morsels and their juices are delicately encased by a cornmeal crust and pulled out of the fryer just in time, as any good fry cook knows that cooking continues long after dispatch from the oil. The french baguette is sturdy, somewhat fluffy on the inside and crusty on the outside (although not very toasted.) One side is smeared with just the right amount of mayo on which rest lettuce, dripping ripe tomato slices and mesclun (not arugula, as the menu lists.) Although no doubt tasty, sweet potato fries are usually limp. Not these amber twigs. They are the crunchiest I've ever had. Ever. The sandwich arrives in an adorable pail with fake newsprint tissue paper, like a spin on the traditional presentation of fish and chips.
The proportion of bread to filling, especially the seafood, is a little more in favor of bread than my ideal balance. Cutting it on the bias certainly doesn't help matters. And despite being on the money, the sweet potato fries served here are frozen, not fresh.
In Case You Were Wondering:
Bulldog BBQ is a no nonsense place serving up barbecue meat and chicken in many forms in an upscale casual setting. You can walk in fresh from the beauty parlor, or, like we did, stinky from the beach -- a big plus considering even shlumpy restaurants are getting so uptight about dress codes these days. But don't expect to be seated quickly unless you're fine with the bar, which even so is limited in capacity. We like the two barbecue sauces, red and yellow, on the table, and that they (and the ketchup) are in squirt controllable squeeze bottles. Chef/owner Howie Kleinberg, who you may recognize from Top Chef season three, is packing the house nightly. Whether or not he's taking a page from the Bobby Flay school of sauces and their dispensers, we're not complaining.
The Spot's Jerk Shrimp Po' Boy with Seasoned Fries (sandwich $8.50; fries $2) - Jerk-seasoned fried shrimp, shredded iceberg lettuce, sliced tomato, and remoulade sauce, on a toasted long roll.
Pros: This po' boy is generous on shrimp, full of flavor, and fun to eat. Shrimp are lightly coated in a jerk-seasoned flour and tossed in the fryer -- cooked to perfection. Although hard to believe at first sight, once you pack down its fixins with the accompanying plastic fork, the soft interior of the roll caves in enough for the exterior to neatly fold over and encompass the entire, now compacted package. Not only does this stay in-tact, it actually fits inside mouths not endowed like Steven Tyler's. The ritual is charming, and so is the plastic red basket the po' arrives in.
Cons: Despite this po' boy's strengths, it was too salty. If anyone can handle and enjoy powerful seasoning (both spice and piquant,) it's yours truly. Jerk is powerful, but this one crossed the line just a smidge. Also, the fries aren't greasy, but I can't say they are a step above McDonald's (although those are probably the most beloved fried sticks of potato in America.)
Richard, the business side of the partnership, was absent this day, but here's C.J. (on the right) with a best friend who cooks there, too
In Case You Were Wondering: The Spot specializes in the food of the Bayou. It has a ridiculously creamy and decadent mac and cheese with shells. It's a must-try. Service is family-style and friendly. It's owned by C.J and Richard Ray, two brothers from NYC who fell in love with the po' boy on trips to New Orleans over the years for the Bayou Classics. They're considering franchising the place. "People come in here looking for pan con bistec," explains C.J. "We're thinking about putting a burger on the menu just to get people in the door, since this is all very new down here, and they don't quite know what to make of it. We want to make it a neighborhood spot. It's all about the personal service, and simple food at good prices. Little by little it's coming. When people taste it, everyone seems to like the food." Stay strong C.J., stay strong.
The Verdict: Although we are rooting for the little guy, sodium chloride is The Spot's downfall, overwhelming the experience when all is said and done. Bulldog's measured po' boy shows both restraint and indulgence where necessary, and as such, is the champ! We will be back to The Spot again, though, as the heavy hand could have been a freak occurrence.
15400 Biscayne Blvd.
North Miami Beach
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1570B Alton Rd
Miami Beach (South Beach)