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Preserving the Po-Boy 

At this first-ever meeting of the New Orleans Po-Boy Preservation Society, there is brave talk of a Po-boy Parade next year and a Po-Boy Festival, too.

Here's what they're missing.

The loaf of French bread, the elbow sliced off and buttered as an appetizer, while the rest is sliced and warmed in the oven. Add the pork chop and then lather on the Zatarain's yellow mustard, the thick slices of raw onion and Creole tomato.

That's part of what they're missing, the losers in that never-ending combat between youth and wisdom. And in this case, the difference between po-boy and fast-food eaters.

Think about it. If you are of a certain tender age, chances are better than good that your lips have not surrounded a fried shrimp po-boy from Sid-Mar's or debris at Mother's or ham and Swiss at Domilise's. No, no. Your sensibilities have been saturated and your gullet loaded with somethingŠ

... on a sesame-seed bun. Come hungry, leave happy at IHOP. It's beef beyond belief at Quizno's Sub. Wake up happy with the king at Burger King. Wendy's: It's better here. You deserve a break today at McDonald's. Think outside the bun at Taco Bell. Run for the border. I'm loving it. You gotta eat. NorulesjustrightatOutback. It'snotjustgoodit'sSonic good.

"I think I read that Subway's advertising budget for this year is $260 million," Sandy Whann is saying to the group trying to cool down under the overhead fans. "We've lost the kids. They don't know the culinary traditions of the po-boy."

"We" is a small gathering of those who sell and love the po-boy, that staple of the New Orleans blue-collar menu. There are an estimated 1,300 retail outlets that do po-boys in the area, mostly of the mom-and-pop variety, and some are looking uneasily at the future and its competitors bulging with neon and marketing departments.

The locals are huddling under a brand-new banner, that of the "New Orleans Po-Boy Preservation Society." The group already has bumper-sticker emblazoned with a sassy slogan ("There's no Substitute for a real New Orleans Po-Boy") and a logo featuring a fleur de lis constructed of cartoon French-bread sandwiches. Both are creations of artist Bunny Matthews, bodyguard of good New Orleans things.

But what the preservationists don't have yet is a giant caucus of local retailers. But they're hoping, and at this first-ever meeting of the society, there is brave talk of a Po-boy Parade next year and a Po-Boy Festival, too.

"We've got to get our young people to rediscover po-boys," declares Whann. "It's what distinguishes us from Des Moines." Whann clearly has a dog in this hunt; he's the top executive with Leidenheimer's, the venerable French-bread maker.

The others have a stake, too. They represent po-boy kingdoms like Short Stop, Ted's, Danny & Clyde's, Serio's and Ye Olde College Inn. Somebody talks about how po-boys have been getting a bad rap from the good-nutrition crowd.

"Salads," someone says. "By the time a second helping of dressing goes on, it might as well be a fried oyster po-boy."

This first meeting of the New Orleans Po-Boy Preservation Society is taking place at a delightfully appropriate locale. Sweet-smelling roast beef is simmering in the pots of Parkway Bakery. There are some things to know about Parkway: When I and plenty of other New Orleanians were much younger, Parkway was the archetypal corner po-boy place. On the corner of Hagen and Toulouse, Parkway was open around-the-clock serving up mouthwatering roast beefs and hogshead cheeses. But the place had some idiosyncratic twists that you don't find in the sorry sameness of a Subway or Rally's. Parkway then was owned by the Timothy brothers, racetrack regulars who were as crusty as their bread. An after-midnight place to stave off the night and be further glad you live where you live. "Hey, pal. You want a little gravy on that?" There were a thousand places just like it around here. There should have been a million.

But after a while, Parkway closed, and it stayed closed for years, picking up dust and becoming one of those names that old people bring up when they're talking about places that ain't there no more.

Then along came Jay Nix. He's from New Orleans, and he doesn't believe we should just board up all the windows and go home. So he bought Parkway and brought back pennants on all the old high schools and more importantly, the great French bread and sloppy roast beef.

New Orleans needs more guys like Jay Nix. "The po-boy is New Orleans," he says. "What's old can be new again."

It's not all that old. Lore tells us that the po-boy was the handiwork of some brothers named Martin who had been streetcar drivers and when those drivers went out on strike, they would gather at the Martin's French Quarter restaurant where they'd be greeted by the jibe "Here comes one of those poor boys again."

The point is it all wasn't that long ago. The Martin brothers later had restaurants on North Rampart and Chef Menteur, and I remember those places. And Red Martin, working at the Beef Baron on Canal Street. The po-boy's way too young to die. Come on, kid. Forget that KFC stuff; I'm gonna buy you a lunch you're gonna remember.

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