Like barbecue, burgers and pizza, the historic po’boy sandwich of New Orleans can stir fierce debate among devotees.
It’s no wonder then that Mark Ferguson and Dave Schmidt felt some trepidation when they opened the Po’Boy Shop last month in a modest shopping center space a few doors down from Community Q BBQ on Clairmont Road in Decatur.
Ferguson is an Atlanta bar and restaurant veteran, who formerly owned Black Bear Tavern in Brookwood Village, and currently owns the Great American Cookies franchise in Centennial Olympic Park.
But for Schmidt, a talented home cook who has been perfecting his recipes for 20 years, opening a spot to pay homage to Cajun and New Orleans food was a labor of love. And so far, people are responding with lines out the door all day and into the evening.
Schmidt’s offering over a dozen po’boys, ranging from classic oyster, shrimp and roast beef “debris” to his version of a muffuletta, and even a vegan Impossible Burger po’boy.
Aficionados will be thrilled to know they’re all made with crispy and flaky on the outside, pillow soft on the inside French bread from Leidenheimer Baking Co. in New Orleans.
The menu also includes platters with two sides, Camellia red beans and rice, shrimp and andouille sausage gumbo, fried Cajun or Buffalo wings, and a huge muffuletta salad.
Among the starters and sides, you’ll find Schmidt’s thin and crispy “shop fries,” Cajun spicy beef meat pies, jalapeno hush puppies, coleslaw, and red beans and gumbo in smaller portions.
One recent Friday afternoon, well after the lunch rush, there was still a line to the order counter at the Po’Boy Shop, where Ferguson and Schmidt took a break to talk about the concept and the menu.
“I kind of stepped out of the restaurant business a few years ago to open up a cookie store,” Ferguson said. “I thought I was going to have a real life. But I missed it so much, and I always wanted to do a niche place like this, so I asked Dave if he wanted to bring his Cajun food in to do a po’boy shop.
“We’re not trying to do every single thing here. We want to be known as having the best po’boy in Atlanta. And if you think po’boy, you come to the Po’Boy Shop. Dave’s gumbo and red beans are fantastic, I think our platters are great, but we’re focused on that.”
Asked how he learned to cook Louisiana food, Schmidt said it was a long process.
“I worked for Coca-Cola for 20 years, but I got caught up in a reorganization and decided to do something outside the corporate world,” he said. “I love Cajun food, and I’ve been cooking it for a long time. It started off from having a small Fat Tuesday party at my house with about 20 people, and last year it was about 250 people.
“But that’s what turned me on to this whole concept of the po’boy shop. It’s taken me 15 to 20 years to get the recipes right. My wife’s favorite is red beans and rice. And that recipe is exactly the way I cook it at home. We make everything from scratch here, and use the best ingredients, like Tasso ham, andouille sausage and Camellia red beans. All of our seafood is from the Gulf.”
Like most po’boy obsessives, Schmidt sings the praises of Leidenheimer bread, and even sports the bakery’s logo T-shirt.
“I first had real po’boys in New Orleans, and they were using this bread,” he says. “When we decided to do a concept around po’boys, I had to find out how we could get it here. It really makes the sandwich. And that’s what’s bringing a lot of people from New Orleans and Louisiana in here. They find out we have the bread and figure this place must be legit.
“Certainly the shrimp po’boys are selling like hotcakes. But once people try the ‘debris,’ they usually come back for that. And the people from New Orleans love to see it on the menu, because it’s something they don’t get a lot around here.”
1369 Clairmont Road, Decatur. 678-974-8725, thepoboyshopatl.com.
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