Alligator sausage at Mac & Min’s
Its origins are vague (a New Orleans grocery store? the French?), its monikers are innumerable (a hoagie, a hero, a sub), and its ingredients are open to dispute. Identity issues aside, the Big Easy’s definitive sandwich has spawned countless Chicago imitations. Here, five notable takes.
JOEY’S SHRIMP HOUSE
1432 N. Western Ave.; 773-772-1400
Spicy Shrimp Po’ Boy ($6.50)
STRAIGHT OUT OF NEW ORLEANS The N’awlins-style French bun has a crackly upper crust, a supple flour-dusted bottom, and shrimp, shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and sliced red onions in between.
STRAIGHT OUT OF HUMBOLDT PARK Crispy burnt-orange popcorn shrimp glisten in a Buffalo sauce laden with mustard and vinegar. Eddie de Jesus, the chef/partner and a former sauce guy at Japonais, says he followed a Chicago shrimp-house tradition to create the zippy glaze that propelled the sandwich to Joey’s top-seller status.
THE CROSSROADS BAR & GRILL
1120 W. Madison St.; 312-243-1113
Skirt Steak Po’ Boy ($11)
STRAIGHT OUT OF NEW ORLEANS The po’ boys at this old-school-Southern sports haunt adjacent to the United Center cater to bar noshers. Customary veggie toppings and a textbook crunchy/doughy Turano bun keep it basic like they do in NOLA.
STRAIGHT OUT OF THE WEST LOOP The opulent beef is marinated 24 hours before being cooked to your desired doneness. And instead of slicing the meat in half, Crossroads throws on the entire slab. Says Dave Nuehausser, the owner: “People love this sandwich because they get even more than what they paid for.”
THE ROCKING HORSE
2535 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-486-0011
Blackened Shrimp Po’ Boy ($9)
STRAIGHT OUT OF NEW ORLEANS Six tender shrimp are hit with peppers and garlic and then blackened, a modern technique created by a New Orleans chef, giving the sandwich a flavor profile that the co-owner, Georg Simos, says “just tastes like Louisiana.”
STRAIGHT OUT OF LOGAN SQUARE Roma tomatoes and fresh romaine lettuce make for un–po’-boyishly healthy fillings, and the bread, a dainty number dubbed a “hoagie bun” (tsk, tsk), comes from Gonnella’s boutique line. It’s buttery and chewy but lacks characteristic po’ boy crustiness.
MAC & MIN’S
1045 W. Madison St.; 312-563-1008
Alligator Sausage Po’ Boy ($13; $7.45 for a half)
STRAIGHT OUT OF NEW ORLEANS Mark Bires and Mindy Friedler built a po’ boy menu that’s legit right down to the lingo. Order your sandwich “dressed” (in lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, hot sauce, and mayo) and topped with “debris gravy” (braising liquid studded with beef, bacon, and celery—remnants of the beef-making process). And go ahead, try the charred gator sausage imported from Louisiana.
STRAIGHT OUT OF THE WEST LOOP Po’ boy purists will be satisfied with a regulation D’Amato’s white-bread bun. But Bires, who learned from experience at Jerry’s Sandwiches that it’s “darn near impossible to do white-bread-only sandwiches in Chicago,” added wheat and ciabatta buns, both from La Farine Bakery.
THE BIG EASY
1660 E. 55th St.; 773-643-5500
Catfish Po’ Boy ($10)
STRAIGHT OUT OF NEW ORLEANS The house-made rémoulade, a Creole staple that’s typically used to punch up shrimp, is created from puréed tomatoes, mayo, and a handful of spices. The velvety blend is generously slathered on both sides of the bun, the spices lending the inherently mild catfish a distinct Cajun flair.
STRAIGHT OUT OF HYDE PARK David Shapiro, the owner, admits that the spongy, curiously saffron-hued bun—a homemade amalgam of bagel, French bread, and challah—is a far cry from its Southern counterpart. Ditto the Japanese bread crumbs Shapiro uses to coat the catfish. “But what the hell?” he says. “I’m almost positive we’re not breaking any po’ boy laws.”
Photograph: Anna Knott