Wednesday, September 28, 2011
By Anna Purdy
|Lori and Richard Hurst of Poor Boy’s Riverside Inn and Little River Inn|
A family tradition born of humble beginnings still dishes it out in Lafayette and New Iberia.
It all started with freshly shaved ice. In 1932 Hulo Landry opened a little snowball pushcart and would bring his lunch with him. Having worked at the Roosevelt in New Orleans, Landry knew how to cook and his lunch brought attention. People started buying his own lunch from him and a business was born. Poor Boy’s Riverside Inn, so named in honor of the sandwiches that started his career and the erstwhile nickname for the young man from Youngsville with his pushcart snowcones, took off.
Where Lafayette’s Hilton Hotel now stands was once the domain of Poor Boy’s Riverside Inn. Graduating from a pushcart to a structure, the doors opened in 1939. Despite two major floods that left little hope of reopening, Poor Boy’s thrived. In 1977 construction on Pinhook Road forced Landry to consider a change of scenery, which is when Poor Boy’s Riverside Inn moved to a nook in a nestle of trees in Broussard, 240 Tubing Road, where it stands today.
Since its inception the restaurant has been run by family and is now in the hands of Richard Hurst, the grandson of Hulo from his mother’s side, and his wife Lori. The couple operates both Poor Boy’s Riverside Inn and, since 1988, Little River Inn in New Iberia. “They put me to work in the kitchen when I was a little boy, peeling potatoes and shrimp,” Richard recalls. He worked his way up the old fashioned way, acting as a busboy and server and learning the recipes that were perfected many years ago by his family. Much of the staff has been with the family since they were teenagers.
“People ask him how long he’s been in the restaurant business. He says 45 years,” Lori says of her husband. “They ask him how old he is. He’s 48!” Hurst never looked outside of his family’s chosen trade for a livelihood. He has always loved the business his grandfather started.
The setting for Poor Boy’s is straight out of a movie. Squirrels and ducks feed and play outside its windows as you eat or sit at the bar. One wall is stucco and implanted with oyster shells. A few portraits tucked here and there as the ceiling fans whir makes you feel more like you might be in someone’s parlor 50 years in the past.
The menu is extensive and boasts a decent wine list to complement the dishes. Poor Boy’s hosts true Louisiana fine dining: fanciful and flavorful without pretension. Unsurprisingly, Poor Boy’s — while serving a variety of food — focuses on seafood. The menu is bilingual and offers its choices in both French and English.
We started with the Cajun crabfingers appetizer. One half of the crab legs are fried while the other is grilled, and both a red cocktail sauce and a tartar sauce are offered. While the sauces are fine, neither are really needed because the crab legs stand on their own.
Next up was the whole grilled flounder. The flounder’s flesh is scored, the crisscross marks allowing for a beautifully crisp skin that hides the soft white meat underneath. It is grilled with just a light touch of seasoning, so on top of being delicious it is also healthy. No plate is big enough to fit this fish, which is more than enough for two people. You can ask for the fish to be deboned if it is more convenient for you. There is drawn butter with minced garlic to accompany the flounder but, like the crab legs, it isn’t really needed.
There are imitators for crab meat, sure, but nothing can mimic real lump crab meat. Poor Boy’s served its in a cradle of real butter and each bite, and there are many, is sweet and tender. It is a surprisingly filling dish.
Don’t look for this family tradition to end any time soon. Richard Hurst’s mother, Kathryn, still works in the restaurant today. “He’s just like his mama” says Lori. “He’ll never retire.”