Somebody could use a lesson in pepper heat.
On my first visit to Poor Boys, the latest incarnation of the former Balliceaux space — more on that later — my companion and I dove into the New Orleans-style cuisine by ordering devils on horseback ($11.95). The menu promised jumbo shrimp stuffed with jalapenos and seafood dressing, battered, fried and served with a sweet Thai chili sauce.
What arrived was three perfectly fried shrimp which, after one bite, made our eyeballs begin to sweat and foreheads bead up.
Although I’m no heat head, I’m not a heat wimp, either. Yet there we were, two women with bright pink faces and running noses, wiping tears from our eyes. To save ourselves, we excavated the stuffing and ate only the remaining shrimp part, all the while downing everything liquid within reach. When our server retrieved the plate slathered with stuffing, she didn’t question it, but moments later another staffer stopped by, inquiring how we were enjoying the food.
Probably still breathing fire, we share that we’d found the devils on horseback painful to eat. “Oh, we substituted habaneros for jalapenos today,” he casually responds.
Are you kidding me? A pepper’s heat is measured in Scoville heat units, with a jalapeno rating between 2,500 and 8,000 units. OK, that I can handle. By comparison, a habanero scores 100,000–350,000 in Scoville heat units and I’m not too proud to admit that that’s a level of heat beyond my palate’s capabilities. Fortunately, the lagniappe — New Orleans-speak for gratis — corn muffins that soon arrive help tamp down the fires within.
Poor Boys opened in June with its owners going on record as saying that they had two goals: to bring a taste of authentic Cajun-Creole cuisine to Richmond and to be a destination for their neighbors. Part of that strategy involves updating the former Balliceaux and Flora space with five big screens on the walls and one humongous screen over the bar, which has been extended to an L-shape offering more bar seating. Smart move. Otherwise, the booth and table set-up remains the same, with New Orleans scenes retrofitted into the portholes at each booth. Redubbed the Voodoo Room, the back space offers a limited menu, DJ nights and live music.
All the expected low country classics — gumbo ya-ya, red beans and rice, jambalaya — are present and accounted for, including a spicy pasta jambalaya ($16.95) so loaded with shrimp, chicken and penne that finishing it would mean an immediate nap on the bayou, or banquette. Dedicated yard bird fans can get two or three pieces of Cajun fried chicken ($12.95/14.95) with the option of medium or spicy breading. Once bitten, twice shy, I opt for medium and find it as tame as my grandmother’s. Lesson learned.
A fried oyster po’boy sandwich ($12.95) shows off the kitchen’s deft touch with the fryer, as do the stellar fries. Beignets, traditionally yeast-raised dough that’s quickly deep fried, come across more like hushpuppies when you bite into crawfish and crab beignets ($11.95), a decided difference in texture. Classic hot wings (6/$7.95, 12/13.95) come in dry rub, sweet smoky barbecue, zesty gold, naked or breaded, and because the latter were called “fire on the bayou,” I didn’t risk them, but the dry rub wings were meaty and appealingly seasoned.
Despite the Cajun and Creole reliance on seafood, chicken and sausage, vegetarians can count on choices like a garden burger ($9.95) or vegan po’boy ($7.95). To fully customize a meatless meal, consider a side sampler ($12.95) from a menu of 16 sides, 11 of which are vegetarian, including jambalaya made with vegan chicken and vegan sausage, mac and cheese, sauteed spinach and the only collard greens I’ve ever tasted without any hint of vinegar. Just to be sure, I try them on all my visits.
Points go to Poor Boys for service because everyone we encountered seemed gracious and eager to please. The bartender was especially hospitable, calling out a cheery greeting to all who came through the open front doors on a warm evening. When we finally cried uncle, boxes were delivered quickly for our plentiful leftovers. That said, timing isn’t always ideal, as when our appetizer showed up less than 10 minutes after ordering but our entrees took another 20-plus minutes once we finished them. Time and experience tend to work out those kinds of hiccups.
In the meantime, Poor Boys of Richmond is ready to help you pass a good time, as they say in the Big Easy, with NOLA-inspired cocktails and a menu ranging from a 12-ounce rib-eye to the New Orleans Jazz Fest classic, Crawfish Monica, with a little lobster mac and cheese thrown in for good measure.
Habanero substitutions aside, you won’t leave hungry.
Poor Boys of Richmond
Tuesdays – Fridays 5 p.m. – 12:30 a.m., Saturdays 3 p.m. – 12:30 a.m.,
Sundays 3 – 10 p.m.
203 N. Lombardy St.