When I look at any sandwich joint’s or restaurant’s sandwich menu to order, I can never get past the oyster po’boy. I’ve sampled all species of Subway sandwiches, Phillie Cheesesteak in Philadelphia, grinders in Rhode Island, and many other species of specialty sandwiches across the nation, including other flavors of New Orleans po’boys. But to my taste, nothing compares to a well-prepared fried oyster po’boy. Since fried oysters are my all-time favorite food, a po’boy is really hard to pass.

This Frog City Travel Plaza po'boy I had for Christmas (in Rayne, LA) gets a grade of B.

This Frog City Travel Plaza po’boy I had for Christmas (in Rayne, LA) gets a grade of B.”

Of course, not all oyster po’boys are created equal. I’ve had some regrettable dining experiences with poorly-made and/or poorly-cooked oyster sandwiches, so the indefatigable teacher impulse in me resorts to grading each po’boy on a four-point letter grade scale. Here are the criteria for evaluation that determines how I evaluate each sandwich experience:

Criteria 1: The oysters: size and quantity. Plump oysters are preferable to small oysters. The number of oysters should be more than the bun can contain–In other words, if excess oysters don’t fall out of the sandwich when you try to fold the halves of bun together, the sandwich is deficient in quantity.

Criteria 2: Crispy/crunchy. Well-fried oysters are never served mushy, limp, or at room-temperature. They’re hot out of the grease and very crisp. One hears “crunch” biting into the golden nuggets.

Criteria 3: The bun. Traditional New Orleans po’boys are served on traditional New Orleans French bread. The perfect crust is hard, flaking and crumbling in your lap if you try to bite off too much at once. A true po-boy is not a loaf that one slices as a slice of bread, either, but rather a crusty loaf that one must saw with a serrated blade to cut. No butter knife can do the cutting if the bread is authentic. The bun must also be served warm to fetch the best rating.

Criteria 4: The dressing. Classic po’boys come dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and mayonnaise. Ketchup or tartar sauce are acceptable dressings or substitute for mayo. The lettuce/tomato/pickle on the best po’boys is laid the bun as a thick bedding for the oysters. Even without the oysters, the dressing should be sufficient to give the folded bun substance and filling. Padding with cheap lettuce to the neglect of tomatoes and pickles, though, is an indication that the restaurant is cutting cost corners, which will lower the rating for this criterion.

Criteria 5: Taste. They’re salty but never fishy, spicy and tangy but never overwhelming. The most important feature is that out of all the ingredients–bun, lettuce, tomato, pickle, mayo–the most interesting taste feature that stands out is the flavor of the oysters. One almost has to experience eating oysters raw to have the right baseline for judging the taste of the po’boy, because even fried (or cooked in any fashion), eating an oyster is a waste of time if the distinct oyster flavor is masked or over-ridden by some other combination of ingredients.

I rate each criteria on a three-point scale: 3=exemplary, 2=acceptable, 1=needs improvement, 0=unacceptable. 15/15 rating points is A+, 14/15 is A, 13/15 is B+, 12/15 is B, 11/15 is B-, 10/15 is C+, 9/15 is C, 8/15 is D+, 7/15 is D, 6/15 is D-, and anything lower is F. A zero rating for any of the five criteria disqualifies the po’boy from a passing grade, even if the other criteria qualify for some rating points.

The po’boy in the picture provides an example of the rating scale. For criteria 1, it got a 3–I couldn’t see the bun beneath the mountain of oysters piled thereupon! Criteria 2 fetched a 3, also. They were fried to perfection. Criteria 3 got a 2 rating. The bun was the right shape, but it lacked the hard crust, and it was served at room-temperature. Criteria 4 got a 1–I had trouble finding the tomatoes and pickles. Criteria 5 made up for criteria 4, though, because this po’boy tasted just right. Ratings total: 12. Grade: B. For an establishment outside of the Greater New Orleans area, that’s pretty good!

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