October 9

It's Poor Boy Day

Noisy Pipes. Walgreen. Paella Town. Bobby Flay. Poor Boys. Hoagies. Meniscus. Dutch.

Days Until. . .

Halloween 22

Today's Flavor

It's Poor Boy Day in New Orleans. It's well documented who invented the poor boy sandwich: Bennie and Clovis Martin. It happened during the famous streetcar strike of the late 1920s. The idea was to provide the "poor boys" out on the picket lines with a big, filling sandwich containing only scraps of meat for a low price—originally a nickel. The day it happened is not known, but the now-defunct Council for the Preservation of the Poor Boy Sandwich (it disbanded in 1973, when it became clear the danger of extinction had past) declared today as the official day of celebration.

The Martins persuaded their baker--John Gendusa, a couple of blocks up Touro--to make a special extra-long loaf of French bread that was the same thickness from end to end. That was an adaptation from the standard New Orleans French bread, which was shorter and had a wide middle and tapering ends.

Most New Orleanians agree that a well-made roast beef poor boy is one of the most delicious eats in this great eating town. We all remember our first one. For me, it came from Clarence and Lefty's, an old joint on Almonaster at N. Tonti. It was so good I ate two of them. That taste still stands as my benchmark: homemade beef and gravy, fresh hot French bread. It's the gravy that makes the sandwich unique. That caused a myth to grow that the sloppier the sandwich, the better. I do not subscribe to that theory. I have encountered some poor boys with so much gravy that they were impossible to eat. There's a golden mean here, and only the really good shops get it right.

The best poor boy shops have many other kinds of poor boys, including unusual meats like liver cheese and hogshead cheese (together?) Of them all, I think the most underrated is the ham poor boy and its variants--especially the grilled ones. Then we have all the fried seafood poor boys. Those differ in being better without the lettuce and tomatoes found on their meatier brethren. The toasted bread should just be slathered with melted butter, the seafood doused with hot sauce, and a bunch of pickles thrown in for acidity and textural contrast.

The poor boy universe is a unique and essential part of the dining scene in New Orleans. Any place with a good poor boy gets a star on my mental culinary map.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Cherrystone, Virginia is just inside Cherrystone Inlet, near the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula, and the entrance to Chesapeake Bay. One might suspect that the community gets its name from the clams that occur in marketable numbers around there. In fact, it's the other way around: the clams were named for this place. Despite the obvious access to the fisheries in these estuaries, the land is covered with farm fields. The small sub-peninsula on which Cherrystone is situated terminates in a beach and a docks. Looks pleasant. The nearest restaurants where cherrystone clams might be on the menu are two miles south in Cape Charles: the Bahama Breeze and Aqua.

Edible Dictionary

upside-down cake, n.--A rich, sweet dessert baked in the oven in a rounded pan or skillet. In the most common version, pineapple rings are placed on the bottom of the pan along with brown sugar and butter, all of which are lightly caramelized. After cooling to just warm, a yellow cake batter is poured in, and the cake is baked in the oven. When served, the cake is flipped so that the fruit on the bottom shows on top. Other fruits and other batters can also be used. but the pineapple version is the classic.

Deft Dining Rule #654:

The thickness of the meat, cheese, and dressings on a poor boy sandwich should equal or exceed that of the top layer of bread.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

The perfect poor boy will, after being completely assembled, be warmed in a 400-degree oven for no less than three minutes, then served immediately.

Food In Science

You know those tendrils of liquid that climb up the side of your wine glass or brandy snifter? We call them "legs," but Johann Andreas von Segner, a German physicist who was born today in 1704, called the effect a meniscus, caused by surface tension in the liquid. Surface tension allows a bug to walk on water, and for little beads of water to roll across the surface of a bowl of water when dribbled. It can force many liquids to climb solid barriers. Far up, in the case of some of our alcoholic beverages. The length of the legs in wine, by the way, has almost no meaning in terms of quality.

Emile Fischer, who won the Nobel Price for Chemistry in 1902, was born today in 1852. Most of his work involved the chemicals in food. Most notably, he greatly expanded our understanding of what happens when sugars ferment (a critical step in winemaking, among other things).

Music To Eat Beignets By

The calliope was patented today by Joshua Stoddard. Live steam blows across tuned (if we're lucky) pipes and generates a tremendous amount of sound, as anyone who's ever been in the neighborhood of a calliope-equipped steamboat knows. Although its sound is associated with the 1800s, modern passenger riverboats usually have them, to create atmosphere. Hearing a calliope is now part of the experience of having cafe au lait and beignets in the French Market or oysters at the Crescent City Brewpub.

Annals Of Drugstore Soda Fountains

Charles Rudolph Walgreen, who founded the drugstore chain that bears his name, was born today in 1873. The soda fountain was already common in pharmacies when Walgreen got into the business. They remained so until the 1970s. A decade later, they were almost all gone. Walgreen has a dessert named for him (informally; the name isn't on the menu) at Antoine's. It's a ring of baked meringue with ice cream, nuts, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream. Must be because it resembled the kind of sundaes you once could get at Walgreen's (and every other drugstore's) soda fountain.

Food Around The World

Today is independence day for Valencia, now part of Spain. In 1237 on this day James I drove the Moors out its the capital city. Valencia (city and state) is the homeland of paella, the delicious dish of rice, vegetables, seafoods and meats which has become more common around New Orleans in recent years.

Celebrity Chefs Today

Today is the birthday, in 1964, of abrasive television chef, restaurateur, and grilling specialist Bobby Flay. He doesn't understand or like New Orleans food, so here's a special salute to his birthday.

The Saints

It's the feast day of St. Denis, the first bishop of Paris, who lived in the Third Century. There used to be an egg dish named for him at Antoine's--it had a sauce made with chicken livers, ham, and sherry--but it's been gone a long time.

Food Namesakes

Strawberry Fields, in New York's Central Park, was christened today in 1985, on the late John Lennon's birthday. . . Dutch actor Paul Beers was born today in 1935. . . Former North Carolina Governor and Congressman William Kitchin was born today in 1866.

Words To Eat By

"Peace is a good thing, and so is salmon when it's smoked."--Sean Ono Lennon, son of John and Yoko, born today in 1975. It's also the anniversary of his father's birth, in 1940.

"A hippo sandwich is easy to make. All you do is simply take one slice of bread, one slice of cake, some mayonnaise, one onion ring, one hippopotamus, one piece of string, a dash of pepper. That ought to do it. And now comes the problem: biting into it!"--Shel Silverstein, writer of children's books and artist in Playboy Magazine.

Words To Drink By

“Drinking beer doesn't make you fat, It makes you lean. Against bars, tables, chairs, and poles.”--Unknown.