Its amazing how far the humble food truck has come as a viable and alternative business model to the traditional fixed address restaurant. Last month my post on Perth's Food Truck Rumble skyrocketed to my most read post in a matter of days, and the Rumble itself was so successful that the queues at peak reportedly stretched out to an hour. Glad I got there early.
Melbourne's Po' Boy Quarter is an example of that success story realised and come full circle. Started as a food truck by a couple of people who wanted to bring some New Orleans soul and culture to Melbourne, the Gumbo Kitchen food truck has been serving N'Orleans soul food since late 2011, and in June 2013 expanded the business to a traditional brick and mortar outpost as part of the increasingly exciting foodie landscape of present day Smith St.
Looking like it stole its stylistic cues from a New York subway station, there is a down to earth early 20th Century vibe to the store's design, with striking tiled walls alternating with decidedly on-trend exposed brickwork.
The menu is tight and focused; 6 po' boys (traditional N'Orleans sub sandwiches), oysters, gumbo and red beans served as mains with 4 sides and 2 desserts on offer. They have a liquor license and sell a selection of alcoholic beverages, however the most interesting item on their small drinks menu is the refreshingly sweet and sour must-try homemade lemonade.
We decided to go with two po'boys and two sides for our meal. As fanatics of the swine flesh, Alissa and I were both eyeing off the Pulled Pork Po' Boy, but for the sake of variety I decided to go with the Deep Fried Shrimp.
I regretted my compromise as the Pulled Pork Po' Boy was the better of the two; the delicious slow cooked pork rich in the aroma and flavour of mesquite smoke, with the cajun slaw, pickled cucumber and house made barbecue sauce in a baguette-like crusty sub all adding up to a sandwich literally overflowing with flavour and textural interest. I love American barbecue's focus on smoke and slow cooking, so I should have known this was gonna be too good to pass on; even though I did get to have few bites, I have to admit having some serious dish envy. The sheer size of the po'boy and the near impossibility of taking a bite that contained a bit of everything would be my only criticism, otherwise this was a really good pork sandwich.
Alissa is not big on the combination of prawns and bread or pasta, a viewpoint I don't usually share. Unfortunately, I had to admit that I didn't dig the Deep Fried Shrimp Po' Boy as much as the Pulled Pork. It was tasty enough - decent crunch from the fried prawns and the kick of the Louisana Hot Sauce - however, it seemed a bit one-note compared to the richness and depth of flavour on offer in the Pulled Pork. I have no doubt that Po' Boy Quarter are following traditional N'Orleans combinations in their sandwiches, however I felt that this would have been much tastier with the cajun slaw featured in the Pulled Pork, whereas the lettuce and tomato combination was to me a little humdrum.
Having recently tried The Merrywell's Mac and Cheese Bites, we were most interested in trying the Po' Boy Quarter version of the increasingly common Dude Food staple. Having eaten various different types of croquettes in the last few months (including Japanese, Spanish and home-cooked Dutch versions made by Alissa's Oma), I was expecting something a little smaller than the huge squares of fried goodness we were served.
These Cheesy Mac Croquettes were tastily fried to a nice golden crunch, however Alissa and I felt that the stringiness of the cheese in the Merrywell Bites were better. Additionally we felt that Po' Boy Quarter should steal a page from the Merrywell playbook and servedthe croquettes with a dipping sauce, especially considering how good their house made barbecue sauce is.
Finally, one can't do Southern food without a side of Southern Fried Chicken. This was really good fried chicken, tasting like it was bathed in buttermilk before being coated and fried. The breast meat was tender and juicy, and there was a good balance of spiciness. My only thought would have been that maybe the meat could have been a bit more salty through and through, but then as someone who brines my chicken as a matter of course this is a matter of personal taste. All in all, a classic dish done well.
The Verdict: Very Good
While I personally did not rate the Deep Fried Shrimp and felt that there were some slight improvements that could be made to the Cheesy Mac Croquette, the Pulled Pork Po' Boy was seriously awesome, as was the home made lemonade and fried chicken. Being carb-heavy and with enough fried items to put a smile on Paula Deen's face, this is not exactly a meal for the diet conscious. However with Southern American flavours and Dude Food in general very much in vogue, Po' Boy Quarter is a restaurant for the moment.