Food & Drink
A view of Poor Boys at night.

Poor Boys: Way down in Kingston lies a piece of New Orleans

“There is a house way down in New Orleans,

They call the Rising Sun,

And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy,

And God I know I’m one.”

The House of the Rising Sun/Rising Sun Blues.

Poor Boys is Kingston’s piece of New Orleans and sits on the Hogsmill River as it runs into the Thames.

It might not be the bayou, but you better watch out for the queue snaking down to Charter Quay.

That’s where my partner and I found ourselves, freezing one November evening, as we shuffled ever closer to the lights.

Although the House of the Rising Sun likely references a brothel, Poor Boy’s lights call for punters of a different kind: those looking for Cajun-inspired cooking.

Like the folk song made a cross-Atlantic hit by The Animals, Poor Boy’s name comes from legend.

The Poor Boy, usually a footlong loaded baguette, was allegedly invented by a couple of brothers during a 1929 New Orleans streetcar strike.

A piece published in the academic journal, American Speech, in 1950, says it was an answer to the Great Depression:

“Both the name and the sandwich appear to have been the invention of Clovis and Benjamin Martin.

“Their idea was that the sailors, dock workers, and farmers who frequented the restaurants of this vicinity wanted a substantial sandwich for a small sum. 

“They made no effort to copyright the name of their specialty, and within a few years a number of other restaurants catering to working people were also featuring the Poor Boy.”

After an hour of creeping ever closer, we were finally seated at a table beneath an outdoor heater that actually worked.

Despite the snaking line, the staff were calm, cool, friendly, and knowledgeable.

Open the menu and you will see it pays homage to the American south with various Poor Boys, Chicken Wings, hot sauces, and Fried Pickles.

Although, judging by the prices, it picks and chooses with the heritage – you won’t find affordable working-folk food here.

A Shrimp Po alone will set you back £14.95, but the restaurant can justify these prices, to an extent. 

Its website proclaims its ingredients include, Crab and Lobster from Cornwall, Oysters from Dorset, free-range herb fed Chicken from Yorkshire, dry-aged grass-fed Beef from Scotland and organic free-range Pork from Suffolk.

When the timely food came we found another reason too, the portion sizes. 

A wooden table full of Shrimp Po, Fried Pickles, Chicken Wings, Cajun Fries and drinks.
Shrimp Po, Fried Pickles, Chicken Wings, Cajun Fries!

Following the long queue, the quick food was a welcome sight and be assured that it did not disappoint.

Slicing the Louisiana Hot Sauce doused Shrimp Po in two, we devoured it before laying into the Chicken Wings which we drowned in BBQ and Ranch.

The Fried Pickles were the dark horse of the table and, when paired with the Cajun Fries, were doubly tasty.

We washed them down with Root Beer and Sprite respectfully -I opted for the latter because they were out of Cream Soda.

My partner was baffled by their ability to make the fried shrimp so crispy.

Our waiter also noted the sauces are all homemade and that freshness really does come through.

Despite my will to push on, however, the sheer size of the portions left us defeated. 

A tasty Shrimp Po with crispy fried Shrimp!
A Shrimp Po with crispy fried shrimp.

Poor Boys is clearly no stranger to this since all the food is delivered in cardboard containers.

Whilst convenient, the amount of waste is puzzling, not quite fitting the thoughtfulness behind their ingredient sourcing. 

The waste extends to the drinks too. Our cups were plastic, and we saw another pair drinking cocktails with shots from miniatures.

More questions arose when the waiters spontaneously gave us enamel plates, clearly indicating they have reusable tableware.

In the end we spent about an hour chatting and eating. By the time the bill came we had already decided we were coming again.

Unfortunately, at £48.88, the price will push that revisit far into the future.

We parked at the Bentall Centre’s car park before walking to Poor Boys, but Kingston’s centre is also reachable by train and bus.

The restaurant can be found at 5 Griffin Centre, Marketplace, Kingston upon Thames, KT1 1JT.

Opening hours are Monday to Thursday, 12:00 – 22:00, Friday to Saturday, 12:00 to 23:00, and Sunday 12:00 to 19:00.

*All food paid for by the writer.

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