Gene’s Po-Boys, New Orleans

genespoboys

Gene’s Po Boys in the daytime.

Big Jay was the person who first introduced me to Gene’s Po-Boys, and since I didn’t own a car when I lived in New Orleans, he was always my passport to their legendary cheeseburgers. There was a considerable stretch when — at least two or three times per week — we would drive over to Gene’s immediately after finishing our dinner shift at K-Paul’s. It became the type of situation where, if either of us even mentioned Gene’s, then that became the plan after work, no questions asked.

Located at the edge of the infamous Ninth Ward, the neighborhood surrounding Gene’s was always a bit dodgy in those early hours, but I didn’t choose to worry about any of that. I’m reasonably tall and far from skinny, while Big Jay was at least 6-6 and 300 pounds. He had graduated from the University of Arkansas on an athletic scholarship, and anyone would’ve bet the farm that he had spent his glory days on the grid-iron. Ironically, Big Jay was actually a scratch golfer, which is how he earned his full ride.

Since we were always dressed in our chef’s clothes when we headed to Gene’s, I always felt pretty confident about rolling into that neighborhood for a quick bite. After all, our kitchen garb clearly identified us as working-class locals, and besides, it’s highly unlikely that a line cook could ever own something worth stealing, so why even bother? Fortunately for us, however, a cheeseburger po-boy at Gene’s was always affordable, even if payday always seemed like a long ways away.

One night at K-Paul’s, Big Jay and I were plotting our next visit to Gene’s, and we asked one of our co-workers, Jerome, if he wanted to come along. Jerome politely declined, probably because he didn’t want to go anywhere near the Ninth Ward with a couple of pasty Caucasians. If that was indeed his reason — and I suspect that it was — then I could certainly respect that. Big Jay and I were hardly incognito in that neighborhood, especially at two in the morning.

We asked Jerome if he had ever been to Gene’s, and he just smiled at our naivety. Jerome, who had already been cooking at K-Paul’s for nine years when I met him, was a Crescent City native (and a bad-ass line cook). “Every black person in New Orleans knows Gene’s,” he confirmed. Considering that was about 60% of the population at the time, I felt like that was a pretty sound endorsement — and just one more excuse to make the late-night trek.

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