Gulf Coast Fish House, Ma Harper’s, Smashin’ Crab, Southerleigh Haute South and Paris St. Po’Boys in Castroville

If the SAT exam had a culinary section, the analogy part would go something like this: “Tortillas are to French bread as tacos are to (blank).”

The answer you’re looking for is po’boys, the New Orleans equivalent of the San Antonio taco. They’re everywhere, they’re a point of pride and they’re filled with all kinds of things.

New Orleans native Jerry Mackie brought the craft to Castroville when he and his wife Shelly opened Paris St. Po’Boys on Good Friday, with the all-in philosophy that makes “po’boy” a universal term for sandwiches with heart and soul you can hold in your hands.

“You can pretty much put anything on that French bread and call it a po’boy,” he said. And that’s true, but it’s the follow-through that counts. And these five shops follow through with po’boys that honor New Orleans with San Antonio style.

Gulf Coast Fish House

This locally owned counter-service operation from restaurateur Benny Costello offers a range of seafood dishes, from coconut shrimp to grilled salmon to Mardi Gras linguini. But it specializes in fried fish, with cod, pollock and catfish all breaded by hand and fried to a high-shine gold.

The fried catfish makes the best po’boy here ($9.99 with steak fries), a fillet that stretches from end to end in a big hoagie roll dressed with tartar sauce and finished with lettuce, tomato, pickles and onions. The difference at Gulf Coast? The roll gets a layer of garlic butter before it’s toasted on the grill, adding a dimension of flavor and crunch to a sandwich that delivers big value for the price.

2230 SE Military Drive, 210-277-0377, gulfcoastfishhousetx.com; also at 8027 W. Loop 1604 N., 210-474-0237. Dine-in and curbside available.

Po'boy choices at Ma Harper's Creole Kitchen on the East Side include smoked sausage, foreground, and fried shrimp.

Po’boy choices at Ma Harper’s Creole Kitchen on the East Side include smoked sausage, foreground, and fried shrimp.

Mike Sutter /Staff

Ma Harper’s Creole Kitchen

You’ll know a few things about Alice “Ma” Harper after lunch at Ma Harper’s Creole Kitchen on the East Side. You’ll know that Harper’s 92 years old (“92 and I don’t know what to do”). You’ll know that she loves Jesus. You’ll know that she started cooking professionally when she was a child in New Orleans (“In New Orleans, if you don’t cook, you don’t eat”).

And you’ll know all these things because Harper walks the floor, talking to everybody who walks in, sharing stories of her faith, her cooking and the journey that led her to start Ma Harper’s in 1991 after a long career in the Air Force fixing fighter jets.

At Ma Harper’s, you can get a fried shrimp po’boy ($8.99 with fries) with crispy curls of shrimp falling out the sides of a bun dripping with a trinity of mayo, mustard and ketchup and piled with shredded lettuce and tomato. And it’s good. But my money’s on a sausage po’boy ($7.49 with fries) that delivers righteous smoke, grease and satisfaction in a package that will test how many napkins it takes to get through lunch.

1816 N. New Braunfels Ave., 210-226-2200, @maharperscreolekitchen. Dine-in, takeout and third-party delivery available.

Order a split po'boy at Paris St. Po'Boys in Castroville and you get fried shrimp and fried oysters with lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayo and housemade sauce.

Order a split po’boy at Paris St. Po’Boys in Castroville and you get fried shrimp and fried oysters with lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayo and housemade sauce.

Mike Sutter /Staff

Paris St. Po’Boys

The Mackies have their hands full in Castroville. They opened the coffee shop Magnolia Filling Station three years ago, just down the street from their new po’boy venture, a business they started because Jerry Mackie said there aren’t many places in Castroville or San Antonio to get a good po’boy.

A good po’boy at Paris St. starts with good bread brought in from New Orleans. Just how important is the bread in a po’boy?

“It’s the number one thing,” he said. “You have to have the New Orleans-style bread to make a po’boy. It has a light airiness to the center and a crunchy crispy exterior that you can’t get anywhere but New Orleans.”

The bread adds magic to an already top-tier catfish po’boy ($12.50 for a 6-inch sandwich), fried fat and flaky with a light crust, dressed out with lettuce, tomato, pickles and housemade Carter sauce, a spicy mayo blend that Jerry Mackie’s grandfather taught him to make growing up in New Orleans. Paris St. goes all-out for two of their specialty po’boys, one packed with fried shrimp and fried oysters ($15.50 for a 12-inch sandwich), both cooked just right, a good match with firm and pillowy textures bouncing off each other.

But the real test of the po’boy’s versatility is the Reef & Beef ($15.50 for a 12-inch sandwich), a combination of roast beef and fried shrimp. It turns out that roast beef is as common as seafood in a New Orleans po’boy, Jerry Mackie said. And this one turns the surf-and-turf knob up to 11.

1302 Fiorella St., Castroville, 830-355-8720, Facebook: @Parisstpoboys. Dine-in and takeout available.

A combination po'boy can be ordered with fried catfish and fried oysters at Smashin' Crab in Stone Oak.

A combination po’boy can be ordered with fried catfish and fried oysters at Smashin’ Crab in Stone Oak.

Mike Sutter /Staff

Smashin’ Crab

The staffing shortage is real at Smashin’ Crab in Stone Oak, where people are lined up for a table in the big dining room and the patio, even though about half the seats sit empty. The waiters and bartenders at this locally owned San Antonio chain hustle like champs to fill the pent-up demand for seafood boils, fried fish and cold beer.

Smashin’ Crab’s po’boy game is strong, led by the option to build a combo sandwich from any two choices of catfish, crawfish, oysters or shrimp ($13). Catfish and oysters make a good team, fried in a thick cornmeal armor that holds up to the dense and properly chewy po’boy roll. The catfish is cut as thick as chicken tenders, with just enough of that earthy catfish flavor to complement the oyster’s salty brine.

700 E. Sonterra Blvd., Suite 1117, 210-402-3337; more locations at smashincrab.com. Dine-in and takeout available.

Po'boy options at Southerleigh Haute South at The Rim include rotisserie chicken, left and fried shrimp, along with sides like french fries and coleslaw, along with Southerleigh's own beers.

Po’boy options at Southerleigh Haute South at The Rim include rotisserie chicken, left and fried shrimp, along with sides like french fries and coleslaw, along with Southerleigh’s own beers.

Mike Sutter /Staff

Southerleigh Haute South

At this more casual offshoot of the Pearl favorite Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery, po’boys are part of a menu that embraces fried chicken, fresh oysters and fresh Southerleigh beer with equal enthusiasm.

Southerleigh’s attention to detail starts with French bread brought in from the New Orleans bakery Gambino’s, a crunchy and fluffy platform for good po’boys made with tender rotisserie chicken dressed with spicy white barbecue sauce ($9 with fries) and another with overflowing curls of fried shrimp with tangy remoulade ($13.50 with fries).

Southerleigh also deploys roast beef done “debris-style,” which means using a little of everything from the roasting pan: trim, jus, the crunchy bits. The result is a broad-shouldered po’boy ($14 with fries) finished with lettuce, tomatoes pickles and brown gravy so good I ordered a side for dunking.

5822 Worth Parkway, Suite 112, at The Rim, 210-236-8556, southerleigh.com. Dine-in, curbside and third-party delivery available.

msutter@express-news.net | Twitter: @fedmanwalking | Instagram: @fedmanwalking

 

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