The Coast's cultural fusion is reflected in its cuisine. But even in that melting pot of tastes, there are a few iconic dishes that help define this region. One of those is the po-boy.
Here's a little background:
First, a po-boy is a sandwich (also known as a submarine or hoagie). The main difference is that most Coast po-boys are made with French bread. Yep, the French were among those who once made the Coast their home.
Although we call po-boys our own, they were not first served here. That idea is often credited to Clovis and Benny Martin, who moved to New Orleans in 1918 to be streetcar conductors. Four years later, they opened a small eatery across from the French Market, and when the streetcar union went on a long strike, the Martins began feeding conductors roast beef and gravy sandwiches on French bread. When one of the conductors walked in, they'd yell, "Here comes another po-boy!"
The Coast does have a po-boy first. At least, we think so: Vincent Rosetti, who knew the Martin brothers and had a Biloxi Point Cadet eatery, took credit for the "pressed po-boy," basically a regular po-boy with French bread pressed and toasted in a heavy grill after the sandwich is filled.
The pressed po-boy, developed in the 1930s, is still commonplace at Coast restaurants.
Speaking of Coast restaurants: Employees at the Coast's largest newspaper, the Sun Herald, were asked to name their favorite po-boy restaurants. The result, of course, was to give our visitors the benefit of experienced and discerning taste buds.
Many restaurants made the list, and those who voted for them fervently defended their choices. It was a close race, but the top five rose to the top:
1. Lil' Rays (Long Beach and Gulfport). "This was the first place I was taken to for a good po-boy and a Barq's," says one voter. Another said Lil' Rays in Gulfport has the "best oyster po-boys on the Coast. Everything is fresh at this restaurant."
2. Pirates Cove (Pass Christian). "I'll submit only one. One restaurant. One po-boy. Nothing beats a roast-beef po-boy from Pirates Cove," says this beef lover. "They're just as good from the little trailer at War Memorial Park as they were at the swept-away location on the beach not far inside the city limits. Gravy so good you'll lick your fingers and still need a dozen napkins to get through the whole sandwich."
3. Fayard's. There are many Fayard's along the Coast from Biloxi to Moss Point - all with convenient gas stations on the side and all with delicious po-boys. "I know it sounds odd," says one voter, "but the pressed po-boys at Fayard's BP are wonderful." Another famous patron of the gas station po-boy (Pass Road, Biloxi), President George W. Bush, didn't vote.
4. Old Biloxi Schooner (Biloxi). "The Schooner in Biloxi, hands down!" says one voter. "I cut my teeth on their crabmeat po-boys, and the quality has remained the same, even though the location has moved since Hurricane Katrina. Also, it has a certain charm no other place duplicates."
5. Ben's Deli (Gulfport). Another voter says that po-boys at Ben's Deli are "the largest and best for the money."
On the bubble: Trapani's Eatery (Bay St. Louis), High Cotton Grill (Gulfport) and O'Neals Restaurant (Gulfport). One voter says Trapani's "has fabulous oyster and softshelled crab po-boys to bring tears to your eyes."