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Roast Beef & Poor Boy History

The gravy-drenched roast beef poor boy at Mama's Cajun Cuisine touted in this week's Café review is an experience that New Orleans poor boy lovers won't want to miss. But don't make the mistake of ordering a whole sandwich - you'll have trouble finishing a quarter.

I first wrote about the history of the poor boy in a 2001 review of now-bulldozed Original New Orleans Poor Boy shop on Main. Back in 1929, Martin Brothers restaurant in New Orleans invented the sandwich to feed striking street car workers. At the time I was writing the review, the prevailing wisdom held that the original sandwich consisted of roast beef scraps, French fries and gravy on leftover French bread.

But Michael Mizell-Nelson, a history professor at the University of New Orleans, has brilliantly documented the origins of the poor boy on his web site, poboyfest.com, which includes a 1932 photo of an early Martin Brothers poor boy sandwich. I can't make out exactly what's on the sandwich in the picture, but it doesn't look like roast beef, french fries and gravy.

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At Poboyfest.com, you can also read the letter that the Martin Brothers wrote to strikers, see photos of the original Martin Brothers restaurant, check out menu prices and view a video on the street car strike.

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