mess hall

by

our man, mr. johnny oak! we ain’t mad at you for moving, johnny. we just miss you.

from the pages of alive!

by g.a. benton

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“If you like my food, tell your friends. If not, keep your mouth shut,” joked Johnny Oak gently as I was exiting his Po Boy and Shrimp Shack. In my hand I held three of his “half”-size sandwiches and two orders of Cajun fries. In my head their combined massive weight created the image of a white-bagged cartoon anvil and the food’s tempting aromas conjured up nose-lifting, smoky cartoon fingers whisking me off the ground and floating me toward my car.

Half an hour later, still reeling from plowing through Mr. Oak’s spicy comfort food gutbusters, a couple dining pals and I decided to tell our friends: Johnny Oak makes the best junk foody sandwiches on the OSU campus.

There’s just no reason ever to submit to crappy fast food for your fatty fix when Johnny—or one of his stand-ins—is there to hand-craft you an overstuffed, sloppy, satisfying, super rich, French-bread-packed Cajun combo.

But even if Mr. Oak’s grub didn’t slam you hard in your weak spots—you know, the ones that love meat, cheese, grease, buttery grilled soft baguettey bread and a pantry full of racy seasonings, he and his one-room sandwich parlor would be the kind of independent, anti-corporate place I’d want to support anyway. Fortunately, his stuff eats like a wild spree through old New Orleans.

What: Johnny Oak’s Po Boy & Shrimp Shack

Where: 2348 N. High St., Campus

Phone: 614-268-4613

This makes sense considering Mr. Oak hails from the famed Crescent City—he grew up there in the ’50s, “back when no one said Œlet’s get Cajun food,’ because it was just food to us.” He explained this to me while single-handedly preparing our feast (it took him about 20 minutes). As he did so, I occasionally averted my eyes from the blobs of butter, mayo, and processed cheese he was using, assuring myself that such a fit and trim Southern gentleman couldn’t be steering me too wrong.

OK, the food. Of the three torpedo sandwiches I tried, which came on proficient, nicely textured, juice-soaking bread, my top pick was the Creole Shrimp Po Boy ($5.50). It had about six plump and sweet shrimp dressed up with tons of crunchy celery, roasted red pepper, onion and heavy sprinklings of garlic, dried herbs and Cajun spices. The Philly Steak ate as close to the real deal as I’ve had outside the City of Brotherly Love (and that genuineness includes tangy, crazy Cheez Whiz). I also dug the chunky thick pieces of roast beef soaked in jus and given the tomato-mayo-onion-lettuce treatment. While those Cajun fries were just frozen crinkle cuts, they got a good dose of Johnny Oak’s special red-hot flavor dusting.

Likewise, I recommend you get your dose of Johnny Oak’s folksy retro lunch counter artistry, too.

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