Not long ago, a reporting project required me to travel to Louisiana, where — surprise, surprise — I seized the opportunity to eat my way from New Orleans to St. Landry Parish, deep in the heart of Cajun country. Fried oysters and catfish, gumbo and etouffee with a cooling scoop of tater salad on the side, red beans and rice, boudin, pralines: I pretty much covered the basics of the Cajun-Creole repertoire, with one egregious gaffe: I didn’t touch a single po’boy.
Not to worry.
Back home in Atlanta, I’ve found respite at the Po’Boy Shop on Clairmont Road, where partners Mark Ferguson and Dave Schmidt are selling what may be some of the best po’boys east of the Big Easy. Ferguson runs the business side of things; Schmidt is a seriously talented home cook who’s been tweaking his recipes for about 20 years.
After being knocked over by pretty much every morsel of food to come out of their tiny-but-mighty fry house, I was astonished to learn that neither of them hails from the Bayou State; both guys were raised in Illinois. In Atlanta, where authentic New Orleans cooking and solid fried seafood are both in short supply, the Po’Boy Shop reigns supreme.
To reflect on 2018 for a moment, it’s been a year of great sandwich finds, from the shawafel pita pocket at Cafe Raik in Duluth to the adorable and delicious Japanese katsu sandos at Momonoki in Midtown.
Now I’m adding Po’Boy Shop’s Surf & Turf to my sandwich hall of fame: Call the undertaker, tell the boys to strike up “When the Saints Go Marching In,” for I am dead with love for this hot mess of a sammie.
Pairing impeccably fried shrimp with roast-beef debris and gravy, plus a good wipe of spicy remoulade and horseradish sauce, this loaf of land and sea is a dazzler. (If you aren’t familiar with “debris,” it’s the meaty remains of a slab of roast beef that’s been baked to falling-apart tenderness, and one of the signature offerings of 80-year-old Mother’s Restaurant on Poydras Street in New Orleans.)
The clincher on this and all the po’boys prepared at this humble spot is the bread: authentic Leidenheimer Baking Co. baguettes from NOLA. Crusty to the bite yet tender at the center, Leidenheimer is the king of New Orleans-style French bread. You may sample it here stuffed with all kinds of tasty things: fried oysters, shrimp, catfish, grouper, andouille sausage, ham and cheese, chicken tenderloin, Impossible burger, and fried chicken or shrimp spiked with red-hot Crystal wing sauce, among other options.
Even the legendary New Orleans muffuletta (cold cuts with olive salad), normally served on a saucer-shaped sesame-seed bun, is tucked into a Leidenheimer plank.
As a condiment connoisseur, I’m smitten with the luscious remoulade, tartar, and horsey sauces the kitchen whips up. A good way to do a po’boy test run at this fast-casual joint is with a Half & Half: a pileup of fried shrimp and oysters. I might like this bad boy better if it were sliced down the middle, with shrimp on one end and oysters on the other. I realize that’s a tad picky, but given the eager-to-please demeanor of the staff, I bet they’d accommodate such a request.
On the flip side of the menu, you’ll see a selection of platters, fried seafood mostly, with built-in sides of slaw, jalapeño hush puppies and so-called “shop fries,” thinly sliced potatoes that have the shape of a steak fry and the crispness of a chip. To be honest, I’m not crazy about this outsourced tater, but I do love the sweet, apple-cider tang of the cabbage slaw and the ethereal hush pups. Shrimp-and-andouille gumbo has the complexion of dark-brown roux; Schmidt’s take is deeply flavorful and satisfying.
My oyster and catfish platter, with fries, was a bodacious amount of food; one employee stopped by my table to tell me I’d need a nap if I finished it. Later, she circled back to rearrange my box of leftovers and replenish my cache of condiments. My grouper platter, with gumbo instead of fries, was perfection, just the right amount of food for a big-appetite bloke like me.
There’s so much to love here, and so much more to explore. Bourbon-glazed bread pudding, Barq’s Root Beer and hard-to-find Barq’s Red Creme Soda, Cajun meat pies, and a double-wide cooler of craft beers and wine. (So far, I’ve mostly stuck to Abita, Yuengling and Miller High Life.)
Mainly, though, I’m just pumped to know that I won’t have to travel 500 miles to score a genuine New Orleans po’boy.
THE PO’BOY SHOP
11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. 1369 Clairmont Road, Decatur. 678-974-8725, thepoboyshopatl.com.
Recommended: Shrimp and oyster po’boy (Half & Half). Shrimp and debris po’boy (Surf & Turf). Fried catfish. Fried grouper. Gumbo. Coleslaw. Hush puppies.
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