Invented in the late '20s in the New Orleans' French market by two former streetcar conductor brothers, Benny and Clovis Martin, the po'boy was born of necessity. Vowing to feed, for free, their unpaid striking streetcar comrades, they would fill the market-fresh baguettes with leftovers, hollering "Here comes another poor boy!" Oysters, being cheap and plentiful on the delta, were a natural favorite. I went in search of this Holy Grail here in Portland--a world away from its original home--expecting to bust, but coming up boom.
Cool Runnings (4110 NE Fremont) offers a logical Cajun twist on the classic, serving up a healthy portion of skillfully fried oysters, blackened, and exhibiting a spicy departure from the status quo. Their baguette is flaky-fresh and provides the appropriate sponginess generally required for this juicy fare. Loaded with extras at $6 for the whole-sized half or $8 for a whole (enough for two) and served with your choice of a wonderfully horseradishy slaw, a simple salad, homemade soup, or Cajun potato salad, this po'boy left me impressed and intrigued by their other--catfish, andouille, gator-- po'boy possibilities.
Dan & Louis Oyster Bar (208 SW Ankeny) know how to do oysters, am I right? They are the local experts. They had, after all, been in business for around 20 years by the time the po'boy was invented. I actually came here "blind," expecting to find a po'boy on the menu. In its stead they offer a Yaquina Bay oyster sandwich, which seemed an appetizing equal. The sandwich came, disappointingly, on a hamburger bun, replete with sesame seeds. The coleslaw I chose as a side was overwhelmed by mayonnaise. The one thing that did impress me, however, were the oysters. They were unabashedly delicate and tasty. Dan & Louis really throw down in respect to their forte. When the oysters are this good alone, it seems almost a crime to couple them with bread. With a $10 price tag for the package, oysters a' la carte and a cocktail seems the logical choice.
Café Nola (8638 N. Lombard) was definitely the Smarty Jones of this pack. I expected this little St. John's café to come up on the short side of the stick in respect to this specialty sandwich. Boy, was I wrong. Nola's po'boy stands as a testament to the classic itself. The oysters are perfectly fried; crisp on the outside, hot and juicy on the inside. The sandwich is dressed in the classic style (mayo, lettuce, tomato) with two exceptions: sparse, thinly sliced red onion and a tasteful duo of fresh green and red baby lettuce leaves. The singular side offered here is the "Texas caviar," a delicious black bean salad with an array of peppers and onion, served cold. All of this delivered with a generous pile of ruffled potato chips. The meager price of perfection: $6!