Johnny Oak’s Po’Boy Shrimp Shack from the outside
Alongside High Street in Columbus, Ohio lodged underneath a brick apartment complex, is a cavity of Creole goodness. Johnny Oak’s Po’ Boy Shrimp Shack is purely New Orleans. Lining the walls of the unassuming shop are awards and articles about Johnny himself and his famous barbecue exploits. Next to the accolades lining the walls is a collage of Po’ Boy inspired art, mainly drawn on pads of paper or even napkins. They almost feel like art projects hanging on the refrigerator, nice and homey.
While ogling at a list of over twenty sandwiches, my love of shrimp competed with the homemade andouille sausage as well as boudain (rice in a sausage casing flavored with anything from pig’s hearts to crawfish generally with some standout spices like chili powder or cumin).
I chose the crawfish “ah-to-fey” as the menu has it with an apology for not knowing how to spell Eh tu Fe. My fellow corner shop connoisseurs got the boudain and a fish po’ boys . It took about seven minutes for the sandwiches to be prepared all the while the smells from behind the tiki hut wall filled the 10’x40’’ space with Cajun benevolence.
The cook/host/server/busser swung around the counter to hand us our sandwiches, three six-inch masterpieces wrapped in butcher paper in a plastic bag.
With pieces of crawfish poking out of every inch and dropping out from between the bread, the boudain left a pile of rich sandwich innards that formed itself into a mound on the paper, impatiently waiting for you to just finish the sandwich so you can plunge your face into juicy, tasty Cajun mush.
Oh that tilapia, sooooo flakey and moist. The chewiness of the roll paired with the delicate nature of tilapia was beautiful. The cook tweaked the already sinful Cajun spices to honor that fish with all the respect that it deserves…and damn.
I’ll finish with the “ah-to-fey”. While it is still a mystery to me what eh-tu-fe is I do know that I have had it twice, once in a New Orleans diner in the form of a soup (in that case, spelled étouffée), and now, this sandwich. After my first bite I was shocked to look around and find myself in that same Columbus diner for a moment before I snapped out of mind-altered state. I can’t even imagine the cooking wizardry that it must have taken to transform of flavors found in that soup into sandwich form. It is perfection, perfection of a cuisine that was born a short fifteen hours away and brought to a land that might never be the same again.
By: Jason Baldwin