The Gambit Weekly

Flavors and personalities persist after a neighborhood joint switches neighborhoods.
By Ian Mcnulty

When it comes to po-boys, personal preference must be informed by some blend of convenient proximity, experiences had at an impressionable age or perhaps even the history and personality behind a particular po-boy shop. All of those dynamics are vividly at work at Koz’s, a casual lunch spot in Harahan that is proving the portability of an erstwhile Gentilly neighborhood joint.

Koz’s is the reincarnation of the Po-boy Bakery, which had been in business on Franklin Avenue near Filmore Avenue since the early 1960s. The place had been the roost for Gary ‘Koz” Gruenig ever since the day in 1965 when, at age 12, he was given a job there sweeping up after school. Not long after, a Po-boy Bakery regular conferred the nickname that would end up above the doors of his own business today.

‘I was kind of reckless on my paperboy bicycle, and I crashed it a lot,” says Gruenig. ‘I crashed it into a car one time and Xavier Viola was the cop who took the report. He said I was like a kamikaze pilot without the plane, and every time he came in to the shop he’d call me Koz.”

The name stuck, and so did Gruenig, who worked at the Po-boy Bakery alongside founder Jerry Seely for the next 40 years. In 1983, he and his family moved into the apartment above the shop. When Katrina struck, the levee failures put about 10 feet of floodwater in the building, destroying the business and the Gruenig’s home. Seely later moved to Eunice, La., but when a regular from the Po-boy Bakery offered the lease on an undamaged restaurant space in Harahan, the Gruenigs snapped it up. They opened their own restaurant, Koz’s, in December 2005.

The list of po-boys has the normal meat and seafood options, plus a Po-boy Bakery original, the barbecue ham po-boy. Another entry in the long tradition of New Orleans kitchen misnomers, the ham is not actually barbecued or covered in barbecue sauce. Rather, the sandwich is filled with rough but tender mixed bits that are cut off a baked ham, stewed in a salty, tangy jus and ladled in juicy scoops onto the bread. As Parasol’s is known for its roast beef and Liuzza’s by the Track for its barbecue shrimp po-boy, the barbecue ham po-boy is the stand-out item that made the Po-boy Bakery’s name among knowing palates. Now it says Koz’s. Officially available only on Saturdays, barbecued ham po-boys sometimes show up on the specials board on Mondays, too.

Another long-standing Po-boy Bakery specialty served here is the whole loaf po-boy, which proves a very good bargain if three or four people can agree on the filling and how it should be dressed. Only the seafood versions break the $20 mark. More often, though, these enormous, 32-inch-long po-boys are cut into small slices as party sandwiches.

Decadence reaches its peak with a po-boy called the Chamber of Horror. The name is a reference to the basketball gymnasium at the University of New Orleans, a cramped space back in the day when fans often made a fearsome racket to intimidate the Privateers’ opponent. In sandwich terms, this is a Frankenstein monstrosity done kitchen sink-style with roast beef, ham, turkey, Swiss and American cheeses, the normal vegetable dressings, raw white onion, gobs of mayo and Creole mustard and Italian salad dressing. It doesn’t taste like anything in particular, more like a deli case of leftovers crammed into the bread, but students of excess will find plenty to chew over.

Surprisingly, roast beef is not the strong point here. The tame gravy adds little to the thin sheets of beef and slices of garlic seem only to make an impact in those areas where you actually bite them. Seafood is much better, especially Koz’s way with oysters. Eating these incredibly crisp, audibly crunchy oysters means breaking through a crust on each fried nugget to release the tender oyster meat encased inside.

The gumbo has a thick, light-colored roux loaded with chicken, good-sized shrimp and deep red, smoky andouille. The plate lunches like red beans, meatloaf or country-fried steak arrive on trays with a supporting cast of sides and salads. Stuffed artichokes under domes of cellophane wait at the counter near the Hubig’s Pies.

The Po-boy Bakery wasn’t actually a bakery, although it did a bang-up business selling donuts made nearby at the Verbena Street Bakery, a long-gone Gentilly legend where the baking took place in the ground floor of a modest house. Today, Koz’s uses bread from John Gendusa Bakery in Gentilly, a softer, chewier loaf than the more common crackle-crusted, airy-crumbed variety of po-boy bread. Gruenig has it delivered to the door of his Uptown home each morning and brings it the rest of the way to Harahan himself, a relay-style accommodation that allows his suburban shop to use familiar Gentilly-made bread and saves the baker time and costly gas miles.

There can be no doubt that people in Gentilly miss the Po-boy Bakery, but today its flavors and personality live on in a new Harahan locale.

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