Real bagels don’t exist outside of New York City and real Po Boys don’t exist outside of New Orleans.
While I’ve yet to find a bagel that matches the quality of those I eat when I visit with Miss Maya in Brooklyn, I can say that Columbus, Ohio is lucky enough to have a Bayou-quality Po Boy joint. And I’m lucky that it’s so close to home.
Johnny Oak’s Po Boy Shrimp Shack is easy to miss. Located underneath an Indian restaurant on High Street in the North Campus area, this tiny shop is one of my favorite food treasures in Columbus. I never go to Johnny Oaks as an afterthought; it’s always a deliberate decision, for a number of reasons. For one, the hours are weird. Or they used to be. (It seems as if they’ve come up with a more consistent schedule these days.) So I call in advance. Second, they’re located on the part of High Street that has been under construction for what seems like several decades. Not only is parking limited, but getting there is sometimes a challenge. Finally, Johnny Oaks only takes cash. Overdraft fees in college taught me that it’s better not to know my PIN number. To go to Johnny Oaks requires that I actually have cash.
But. Once I’m in the shack (and it really is a shack) it’s all worth it. The spicy sloppy sandwiches served at Johnny Oaks are close siblings to my soul-changing Po Boy experience in New Orleans this past summer.
My favorite sandwich to date is the Shrimp Jambalaya Po Boy. ($6.95 for half – and half is definitely enough.) Jambalaya, shrimp, mustard, mayonnaise, tomato and lettuce meet on a lovely bun that soaks up all the gooey goodness. This is a two-course sandwich, for sure. For the first course, I attempt to eat it on the bun, and for dessert, I pull out utensils to eat the droppings. Lovely.
Johnny Oaks Po Boy Shrimp Shack
2348 North High Street
Columbus, Ohio 43202