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[whitespace] Sandwich King: Brett Engert serves up a shrimp po-boy.

Photograph by George Sakkestad

Big Easy Out West

Rush-Inn offers New Orleans sandwiches 'po' in name but rich in taste

By Janet Blaser

NO, I WASN'T SURPRISED when the manager of one of downtown's most distinguished restaurants accosted me on the sidewalk and said he had something to give me. Of course, I was hoping for a taste of some new, exceptional wine he'd discovered, so the bright-yellow flier he handed me was a bit of a letdown. No matter, though--what it announced hit close to my heart: New Orleans-style po-boy sandwiches and gumbo being made and served right here in Santa Cruz. Those of you who've been to N'awlins are doing one of two things right now: shaking your head in disbelief or beginning to salivate as you plan tomorrow's lunch. Po-boys are, basically, fried fillings on fluffy white bread, "dressed" with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and mayonnaise (no, not aioli, just plain mayonnaise). Other "unhealthy" fillings abound, too: roast beef and gravy, home-baked ham and cheese.

Some believe that po-boys are a good part of the reason why the Big Easy has been voted the Fattest City in America for many, many years. (They lost that title in 1999, and Orleanians have been up in arms--and eating mightily--in an attempt to gain it back in 2000.) And maybe the export of po-boys is part of the reason.

Anyway, turns out "Brett" Engert (not the name he uses at--oh, I promised not to tell) grew up in New Orleans, making gumbo and po-boys in the kitchen with his Cajun grandpa. Although he doesn't have an accent (a Boston-born nanny made sure of that), well, as Brett says, you can take the boy out of N'awlins but you can't take N'awlins out the boy. Turns out he's been missing po-boys and seafood gumbo since he moved to California almost 15 years ago.

So when his friend, Keith Butterfield, owner of the Rush-Inn (a stone's throw from Brett's "other" restaurant), offered him the use of the bar's kitchen to make the lunches he was missing, Brett jumped at the chance. For almost a month now, he's had bread dough delivered once a week from Binder's Bakery in New Orleans; he keeps it frozen and bakes it as needed. The bread, he says, is the trick, and he's working with Joe Ortiz from Gayle's in Capitola to figure out the recipe. Fluffy on the inside (to absorb gravies and seafood juices) but slightly crunchy on the outside (to prevent a really big mess and provide a different texture), the bread is quite distinctive.

Brett offers four kinds of po-boys: roast beef, ham and cheese, and--yum--breaded, deep-fried oyster or shrimp. (Crayfish, by the way, are on their way.) What more can I say about such rich fillings on white bread? You'll just have to try 'em yo'self. And the gumbo? Jest like Mama--Brett's, not mine--used to make.

The only downside I can see to this venture is the location. I know that the UCSC crowd finds the atmosphere at the Rush-Inn comfortable, maybe even bucolic, but it's hard for me to enjoy lunch at noon with the smell of alcohol permeating everything around me. But, hey, this is supposed to be New Orleans, right? So, how appropriate. Besides, you can call ahead and get your po-boy ($3.50-$6) or bowl of gumbo and rice ($3) to go. Right now, lunch is served weekdays from 11:30am to 2:30pm. Brett would like to expand into the weekend evenings if there's enough of a demand. You can find the Rush-Inn behind the Town Clock at 113 Knight St., Santa Cruz, or call Brett at 425.9673 to place your order.

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From the March 15-22, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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