The Legend of the Thanksgiving Po-Boy

Thanksgiving Po-Boy

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Does it truly exist? A sandwich that eats like an entire meal?!  It does, but only for the month of November.

As the gods on Mount Olympus had ambrosia, so the people of New Orleans have the Thanksgiving Poor-Boy from Parkway Bakery & Tavern. Not for consumption by mere mortals, it’s a sandwich of epic portions: sliced, baked turkey off-the-bone, stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy.

To call it a mere sandwich is insulting to the culture, so in New Orleans, the title and distinction of “Poor Boy” (or ‘Po-Boy’) has been bestowed. The Thanksgiving Poor-Boy is an interesting intersection of two historic timelines.

History

New Orleans Streetcar Strike
1929 New Orleans Streetcar Strike. Image Credit: https://neworleanshistorical.org/

Firstly, the puritan Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock and formed a colony in 1620. So thankful to make it through a successful harvest and harsh winters with the aid of the indigenous people, a great feast was held to celebrate and commemorate. Thus, the North American holiday, Thanksgiving, was established as a tradition.

Skip ahead in the New Orleans history timeline, and the birth of the “poor boy” arrives by way of a New Orleans streetcar. Or rather, by way of a violent streetcar strike by streetcar conductors and operators in 1929. While 1,800 workers were affected by the streetcar shutdown in New Orleans, strife was everywhere; workers and companies alike had a hunger, and workers had families that needed to be fed.

The Martin Brothers

thanksgiving po-boy Cajun Encounters
Clovis and Bennie Martin at their hole-in-the-wall coffee stand across from the French Market.

Enter the Martin brothers, Bennie and Clovis, who had retired from their life as streetcar operators and remained members of the local streetcar labor union in 1929. The brothers, in 1922, had established a café in a building (which still stands today) in The French Quarter. The brothers met with a local baker, John Gendusa, to make an Italian version of a 40-inch loaf of French bread. Subsequently, “the good bread” was born. The long loaf was sliced in quarters or in thirds and slathered with mayonnaise and roast beef. It was basically a submarine sandwich originally, a hoagie or grinder. It was yet to be christened in the annals of New Orleans history.

As the streetcar strike wore on and workers and police clashed in the streets, the Martin brothers wanted to show their solidarity with the union workers and offered a free meal to the strikers who couldn’t afford the luxury of eating out, as they weren’t earning a paycheck. In the French Quarter, it was announced that any union member on strike due to the streetcar debacle could come to the Martin brothers’ café for a free sandwich. As word spread and the men came, an alert was sounded.

“Whenever we saw one of the striking men coming,” Bennie Martin later recalled, “one of us would say, ‘Here comes another poor boy.’”

The free sandwich took on the name of “Poor boys” which later evolved into just ““Po-boy” a sandwich with a Southern dialect.

Now, some say that the Martin brothers were not giving away expensive roast beef sandwiches. Free roast beef would’ve been very costly to the brothers. It is said that the very first “poor boy” was a French fry po-boy, not so much like fries but rather British-style “chips”: fat fried potato wedges. The “French fry po-boy” still exists on certain menus in the region.

Parkway Bakery & Tavern

Parkway Bakery
Parkway Bakery & Tavern. Image Credit: NOLA.com

Years later, the po-boy becomes yet another staple of New Orleans cuisine, derived from the food of poor people in the region like its gumbo and jambalaya predecessors. Which leads us to Parkway Bakery and Tavern, who can accommodate anyone who doesn’t have the money to travel over the river and through the woods to a Thanksgiving dinner somewhere. Served every Wednesday in the month of November, the Thanksgiving po-boy is something for which we can all be thankful.

This year, we see the return of the Thanksgiving po-boy for the first time in two years since Covid-19. And, it’s all for a good cause. Parkway Bakery is once again teaming up with the Al Copeland Foundation to raise money for cancer research. The favorite Thanksgiving Poor Boy is available every Wednesday in November, and proceeds will go to the Al Copeland Foundation.

Dine in or to-go orders just in time for the holidays available at:

Parkway Bakery & Tavern
538 Hagan Ave.
504-482-3047

Happy Thanksgiving from Cajun Encounters!

thanksgiving po-boy Cajun Encounters

Book a tour with Cajun Encounters today by visiting www.cajunencounters.com or calling 504.834.1770 or begin your walkthrough New Orleans by visiting neworleanslegendarywalkingtours.com or calling 504.503.0199

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