Wicked Po’ Boys owners Lan Chi Le and Joey Le neither look nor behave like those guys on History Channel’s Swamp People. At first I didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed, but after getting to know them I realized their story and food is as authentic as can be.
Lan is actually “Dr. Le.” She started dental school at LSU before finishing in Tennessee, but came back for summer internships. In fact, she still works four to five days a week while managing the restaurant. Her husband, Joey, has family ties to New Orleans.
“I grew up visiting my family in New Orleans because my dad’s side of the family is all from there. So we visited there a lot, and then when [Lan] went to school we visited a lot more … We started visiting New Orleans for all the jazz festivals and all the different events that they had.”
At Wicked Po’ Boys there is no hired executive chef. The recipes were developed by Lan and Joey in their spare time, using family and friends as taste-testers. Lan says she mastered soups while Joey became a charred oyster guru.
“It means a lot more and it’s more than just a restaurant when you do it yourself. Even the recipes—it’s not like you’re bringing a chef in, which is great too if you have the option, but for us we just couldn’t do that. We love to cook, so it’s kind of a fun thing for us.”
What Joey and Lan’s friends and family missed the most were po’ boys. Along with the Italian-influenced muffuletta, the French-influenced po’ boy is a regional favorite along the Gulf Coast. The po’ boy is a sandwich rich in fats and “cooked with a lot of flame.” Most of its ingredients sound like conventional deli fare—lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and mayonnaise—but the bread and the protein choice are what makes the po’ boy a sandwich to be respected.
Now I’m not trying to brag here, but in high school I made a mean turkey sandwich. My friends were awestruck when I pulled that bad boy out of a brown paper sack. The only flaw with my sandwich was that I could never put mayonnaise on it, lest the bread become soggy and my cafeteria fame hung out to dry. I’ve grown older and wiser since then, and I’ve also discovered the sacred order of the po’ boy:
“A typical po’ boy comes dressed and there’s one way to dress them,” Joey said. “It comes with pickles, lettuce, tomatoes and then mayo. There’s an art to dressing a po’ boy, and if you ask any native from New Orleans it has to follow that order”
Baguettes and breading stay dry and the world keeps turning. But wait, there’s an “Extra Wicked” side to the menu: you can scoop gumbo or crawfish etouffee over a po’ boy to, as Emeril would say, kick it up a notch!
The origin of Wicked Po’ Boys’ baguettes is being kept a secret. All they’ll say is that they’ve got “a local guy” who bakes them. The bread was buttered and lightly toasted, complimenting the crispness of the charred oyster. Joey has shown commitment to bringing fresh seafood into the restaurant, even going so far as making an overnight trip to bring in a catch of blue crab for a weekly special.
The restaurant’s design mimics the style of New Orleans’ iconic shotgun houses. In a shotgun house you can open all of the doors and see right through the house. In Wicked Po’ Boys you get the same feeling of intimacy. The indoor space can even be opened up to the small patio in front of the restaurant. The tables and bar are squished together and there’s a tiny bit of standing room at the front of the restaurant, but the space is meant for people to rub elbows and shake hands.
“We wanted it to be like a mom and pop shop and to also emulate New Orleans,” Lan said. “—the feel and the look of New Orleans. Something very cozy and intimate,” Joey finished.
It’s a place meant for happy hours, live music and comfort food. If it’s any indication of the future of this fledgling restaurant, one man pulled Lan aside on his way out of the restaurant to say: “Just telling you, I’m from New Orleans, and it tastes like you got a lot of places out here beat.”