Some people spent their Valentine's Day dining amid white tablecloths or indulging in a quiet, romantic meal at home. Still others spent it as any other Thursday evening. I spent mine watching one of my best friends come face to face with two feet of bread, fried shrimp and hot sauce.
"I've been training for this all week," she told me in the car as we wound through the Medical Center on our way to Beaucoup Bar & Grill, where the 24-inch-long Oh-Boy Po-Boy was awaiting its fate. My friend's eyes were flinty, her thin frame taut. She was quiet for most of the trip. I felt like I was delivering The Bride to Bill for the final, gung-ho battle of Quentin Tarantino's kung-fu western Kill Bill.
The Bride loves po-boys. She loves meat and bread, and can eat both in tremendous and inhuman amounts. I once watched her eat two steaks at Brasserie 19 and order a third for dessert. She ate the King Bubba burger at Rockwell Tavern for dinner one evening, then followed it up with half of another burger, an order of fries and two pints of beer. Competitive eaters have nothing on her normal, everyday appetite.
But even I thought that two feet of French bread and fried shrimp would slow her down.
So did the waitresses at Beaucoup Bar & Grill, who chided that she'd never be able to finish the entire thing. Even though Beaucoup normally only makes the $15 two-footer on Tuesdays and game days -- ostensibly for a group to share -- the kitchen was more than willing to build an Oh-Boy Po-Boy when they heard a single person was tackling it.
We sipped on our housemade (and house-bottled) strawberry lemonades and waited patiently. I indulged in a couple of Beaucoup's terrific garlic-parmesan wings, juicy meat hidden under crispy skin that shatters in your mouth like chicken chicharrones. I ate half a slice of crawfish bread off the sampler plate and made a mental note that the toasted French bread covered in sautéed crawfish and cheese should certainly be near the top of this year's 100 Favorite Dishes list.
The Bride absentmindedly nibbled on some wings and fries, seemingly unconcerned about preserving any precious stomach space. When the po-boy hit the table, it was larger than I had imagined. I gaped at the size, and took photos like someone who'd spotted a lion escaped from the zoo. The Bride seemed unfazed.
She calmly began cutting the po-boy into four six-inch sections, tucking each fried shrimp neatly into place so they wouldn't escape their doughy confines. The Bride flattened the bread with her hands and took a deep breath. The first 12 inches were gone within seven minutes. It was a bloodbath.
Every server in the restaurant came by to check on her progress. Most chuckled and said they were impressed, but that she'd never make it. A manager stopped by the table and simply shook her head, smiling.
Indeed, by the end of the third six-inch section, The Bride seemed to be losing steam.
"I'm bored," she said simply. She admitted to being worried about eating two feet of fried stuff, which holds little interest for her. "But the bread is so good," she said, looking at it with a sudden fondness -- as if she'd forgiven the po-boy by virtue of its softly crunchy exterior, and they were no longer foes but warriors in some curious battle together.
She was reinvigorated. Lettuce, pickles and tomatoes were scraped out of the sandwich. Eventually the shrimp was discarded too.
"I'll eat those with the sauce," she said, pointing to a container of sweet and sour sauce that had accompanied some egg rolls on our appetizer platter. "That way I won't be as bored."
The bread was soon gone -- all two feet of it -- and the only thing that remained of the once-massive po-boy were half a dozen fried shrimp. Half an hour later, they were gone too. Mostly.
The Bride left two shrimp on her plate, a tip of the hat to the po-boy instead of a finishing stroke -- a concession to a worthy adversary. She could have finished it, of course. But Bill didn't need killing tonight.
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As we left, The Bride passed a sign advertising Beaucoup Bar & Grill's Sunday all-you-can-eat crawfish buffet. She turned to me.
"I'm hungry again."