When award-winning James Beard chef Erick Williams opened his new restaurant in Hyde Park, a stone’s throw from the critically acclaimed Virtue, he shared a simple origin story that honored the family.
Daisy’s Po-Boy and Tavern was named after her maternal great-aunt and inspired by her New Orleans-born husband Stew.
But if you dig a little deeper into the name of the restaurant itself, like you might pick out a gumbo crab leg, you’ll find a few more pieces than meets the eye.
Williams deliberately chose to cut po-boy, preferred by purists, rather than the journalistic style we use: po’boy.
He also chose to capitalize.
“It was influenced by mk,” he said. Michael Kornick’s gourmet restaurant, which closed after 18 in 2017, which is where Williams established himself as an executive chef. Paradoxically, he used lowercase letters to keep things casual in the loft-like setting.
Yet, comparing a more sophisticated mk to casual counter service at Daisy, the opposite would have made more sense.
“The reason the words are capitalized in Daisy’s and Po-Boy is because the sandwiches are so stuffed,” Williams said. “They had to be big and bold, just like the sandwiches and the flavors.”
As big and bold as putting the alligator on the menu and making it your mascot. Then supply chain shortages hit – even the alligators. The restaurant had something to test, but not to serve.
“Nobody, but nobody, wants to believe this,” the chef said. “They’re like, ‘I just left the South. They have alligators in the South. And I’m like, yeah, they actually have alligators in the South. They don’t have any in the North.
That is until very recently, when he was finally able to get enough from a supplier.
Meanwhile, he settles for more than just his catfish po’boy, which is decidedly more Daisy than New Orleanian.
“I haven’t seen a ton of catfish po’boys in New Orleans,” Williams said. “If I remember seeing one, I would make a statement. And catfish is an entire vibe in Chicago, especially in the black community.
All his po’boys start with Leidenheimer bread, imported from the historic NOLA bakeryfounded in 1896. Pale gold with a thin parchment rind, it easily yields a soft crumb inside.
The bun serves as a willing vessel for catfish delicately dipped in batter and fried, dressed with invigorating Cajun slaw and exceptional homemade remoulade. The flaky fish is a reminder that, in the right hands, catfish could rival the white king salmon cooked by lesser-known chefs.
“I’m very intrigued, informed and motivated by how food travels and how it changes, depending on accessibility and climate,” Williams said. “Part of my practice is to pay homage to the Great Migration.”
Daisy’s is not just a tribute to the life and hardships of a generation, it is an expression of affection for her great-aunt and respect for the man she was married to for 49 years.
“He was one of the first men to guide me through cooking as a process in my life,” Williams said. “And he shared a lot of ideas about the New Orleans fare where he was born.”
This translates to a lively restaurant offering much more than the acclaimed sandwich, with targeted southern cocktails as well.
The fried oyster po’boy is perhaps the best of the nine currently available. Most are dressed traditionally with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise, along with pickles which they do with a sharp kick. All seafood is barely fried and shellfish exceptionally retain their salty character.
The muffuletta, however, is perhaps the best of all sandwiches, and not just because of its quintessentially Chicago condiment. Built on an airy house-baked sesame focaccia, fatty layers of mortadella, salami and provolone melt under a superb warm house-made giardiniera with olives.
“We’re in no way trying to be authentic with this muffuletta,” Williams said.
Sandwiches may be big, bold, and in your face, but gumbo hints at unseen worlds. You’ll experience the reduction of what must be a sea of shrimp shells, sprinkled with whole Gulf shrimp.
“We’re a meat and potato town, so we like a little more roux,” the chef said. “Gumbo is slimmer in New Orleans.”
Banana Pecan Bourbon Caramel Cake looks like a toothache in the making, but it’s a complex take on pralines that’s surprisingly not too sweet. A technically exciting dark caramel sauce smothers beautifully toasted nuts and a cake that approaches bread pudding. A delicious homemade vanilla ice cream gilds the lily.
But it wouldn’t be an appropriate New Orleans soapbox without a nod to drinking culture.
A Hurricane cocktail might conjure up images of spiraling souvenir glasses as long as your arm, filled with colorful fruits and mixers. Daisy’s Frozen Hurricane isn’t that at all.
Instead, fresh passion fruit, pomegranate and orange juice fortified with rum create a deliciously balanced Caribbean drink.
“It’s inspired by the original Hurricane,” Williams said. “But the New Orleans Hurricanes are very syrupy, and a lot of them have grain alcohol in them. I have a lot better alcohol than that. We want it to feel like it’s a prepared drink. in a restaurant where there is a chef working.
Indeed it does, with what has become the iconic soft drink, a thoughtful non-alcoholic strawberry margarita mixed with strawberry puree, orange juice and ginger beer.
“We’re trying to tell a different story,” the chef said. These differences are evident not only between New Orleans and Daisy’s, but also its sister restaurant. “I worked really hard to not have fried chicken as a main menu item at Virtue.”
Daisy’s has a different outlet and fried chicken available half and whole. It’s crispy in crust, deeply flavored, and tender to the point of maybe being too much for my taste, maybe because of the brining or pressure frying.
The hearty place cookies on the side were cooked well, but surprisingly inconsistent. Each of the five I had came out in a different color, from pale cream to burnt brown.
And the alligator meat has finally arrived. Fried like other seafood, like a lot of exotic meat, it just tastes like fish chicken. It’s a novelty here in the north, at a hefty price tag that might not have been worth the wait.
The fried green tomato po’boy, however, would be a bargain at twice the price. It captures the easy abundance of summer in lush golden bites.
Guess it’s just some kind of old-fashioned Southern sandwich Stew shared with Daisy.
“Daisy the person was serious when she needed it,” her great-nephew said. “But she never missed an opportunity to have a good time. She took things seriously, but she didn’t take herself seriously. So she was a fun person to be around and someone you could relate to. count.
“That is to say, we take our job very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously,” he added with a laugh.
It’s a philosophy that translates extremely well from Big Easy to Big Shoulders – and I hope it will be there for many Mardi Gras fun to come.
5215 S. Harper Avenue
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Open: Tuesday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; closed sunday and monday
Prices: $7.99 (6 inch Fried Green Tomato Po’boy), $8 (Banana Pecan Caramel Cake), $13.95 (Large Seafood Gumbo), $14 (Hurricane), $15.99 (half muffuletta)
Noise: Friendly conversation (may vary with live music)
Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible with a single level toilet
Note from the podium: Excellent to very good, 2½ stars
Classification key: Four stars, exceptional; three stars, excellent; two stars, very good; one star, good; no stars, unsatisfactory. Meals are paid for by the Tribune.