The po’ boy is a classic sandwich. Its carefully chosen ingredients represent decades of tradition. You don’t mess with an American original. At least, that’s what I thought until I visited Mr. Po’Boys in Fairview.
This spot is the culinary playground of Cedric McCoy and Ryan Thompson, who loved the idea of the iconic sandwich, but not as it is usually served.
“It needed a little boost,” McCoy said. “Somebody had to put cheese on the cheeseburger.”
Sounds bold, right? But the duo knows what they’re doing. They take the classic template and jazz it up with creative fillings pulled in from the Gulf’s culinary traditions.
When I stopped by for lunch recently, I tried a po’ boy that imports all the best parts of another Louisiana classic: gumbo. Chopped chicken, andouille, green bell peppers, and onions fill the soft baguette. A cup of properly dark brown roux sits to the side, ready for you to dunk your sandwich French dip-style. (You can also ask for the kitchen to pour the roux over the sandwich before serving. I didn’t grab enough napkins for that.)
This is creativity at its smartest. So is McCoy’s idea to incorporate remoulade instead of mayo on many sandwiches, or to devise a chopped and dressed collard green slaw, which he uses instead of the usual frizzle of cheap lettuce. When I asked McCoy what to order next time, he pointed straight to the slaw: “I don’t mean to toot our own horns, but there’s something about that collard green slaw with that fried catfish sandwich.”
Next time I’m also thinking about the jerk chicken sandwich with mango habanero salsa. And, just to prove that they can do the classics too, Mr. Po’Boys has a killer starter of jalapeño cheddar hush puppies. Get them with the spicy remoulade, which is not joking about the word spicy.
Although they have a clear gift for sandwich-making, the partners behind Mr. Po’Boys have had to convince skeptics at every stage in their journey. They opened the restaurant without any help from investors or financial backers, using their own money. The investors they did approach offered all manner of excuses: “there’s no market,” “there’s no funding,” “we love it but we can’t help.”
“This is a copycat industry,” Thompson says. “Nobody wants to be the first, but everybody wants to benefit from us. We kind of put ourselves into a position as guinea pigs.”
Customers can be skeptical, too—understandably, if they walk in the store thinking about the traditional po’ boys that have been served in New Orleans for a century. Thompson has a lot of experience convincing newcomers to order their sandwiches with no substitutions.
“Everything matches up perfectly,” he says. “A lot of people don’t think they like the collard green slaw, but then when they get it on the side, they come back and ask for more.”
There is one more challenge: the restaurant’s location, in the heart of Fairview Town Center. It’s one of the once-popular, now half-abandoned shopping malls that dot our suburbs. As you walk along the nearly empty buildings, you can see the faint outlines where old signage used to be. Although the shopping center still has well-known anchor department stores—Dillards, Macy’s, and JCPenney—many of the spaces in between are eerily quiet. Mr. Po’Boys itself is located in a former Twisted Root Burger Co. To lighten up the huge space, Thompson and McCoy have added games like truth-or-dare Jenga.
“A lot of people have never heard of Fairview,” McCoy says, referring to the entire town where the shopping center is located. When Mr. Po’Boys first popped onto my culinary radar, I thought it was located in Allen or McKinney, the bigger cities next door. McCoy hears that a lot. “I always tell people we’re a minute from the Allen Premium Outlets.”
Every Dallasite has to visit the outlet mall eventually. Next time your shopping list takes you this way, there’s a reward at the end of the trip. Like the taco and the cheesesteak, the po’ boy is becoming a medium for creative, new cooking. How cool is that?