Food & Drink

You Gotta Try This: Chicken-fried mushroom po’boy at Mother

Mother’s po’boy sandwich has a surprise Sacramento twist

Ryan Donahue, co-owner of Mother restaurant, describes their po’boy sandwich. Mother is a vegetarian restaurant, so the sandwich is made with oyster mushrooms instead of the typical seafood.
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Ryan Donahue, co-owner of Mother restaurant, describes their po’boy sandwich. Mother is a vegetarian restaurant, so the sandwich is made with oyster mushrooms instead of the typical seafood.

This is the first installment of “You Gotta Try This,” The Bee’s series featuring one particular must-have dish at a local restaurant. Each featured dish is nominated by a reader. Got a menu item you want to shine some light on? Comment below or email reporter Benjy Egel at begel@sacbee.com.

Salt, fat, acid, heat. It’s not only the title of culinary darling Samin Nosrat’s hit Netflix show; it’s the components that make a Sacramento twist on a Bayou classic the most popular dish on Mother’s menu.

To know Mother is to know its chicken-fried mushroom po’boy, first served when chef and co-owner Michael Thiemann was testing the concept as a pop-up out of Old Ironsides’ kitchen back in 2013. Like everything on Mother’s menu at 1023 K St., this sandwich’s traditional seafood filling has been eschewed for a vegetable — oyster mushrooms, in this case.

Named for their flat, elongated appearance similar to that of a certain mollusk, oyster mushrooms are most commonly found in Asian cuisine. It’s the cooking method and not the taste of the fungi themselves that earned them the “chicken-fried” title, and the crisp crunch of buttermilk has won over several picky eaters, co-owner Ryan Donahue said.

“People have some texture problems with mushrooms, but it just doesn’t eat like that. It eats like a piece of fried chicken and it’s just really good,” Donahue said. “A lot of kids come in and they hate mushrooms or whatever, but they eat this and the parents go, ‘oh, you just turned my kids onto something.’”

NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune identified at least five possible origin stories in a 2016 piece about po’boys, which are generally believed to have sprouted in Louisiana in the early 20th century. The widely-accepted tale is that the brothers Benny and Clovis Martin took pity upon striking streetcar drivers in 1929 and fed those “poor boys” sandwiches full of fried odds and ends free of charge.

A classic “dressed” po’boy includes fried shrimp or oysters, lettuce, pickles and tomatoes spilling out of French bread. Other iterations use roast beef or other kinds of fried seafood, including catfish, crawfish or crab.

Sourced from Dragon Gourmet Mushrooms in Sloughhouse, the oyster mushrooms are coated with buttermilk and Crystal hot sauce and dusted with flour, onion powder, garlic powder and other spices before being deep-fried in canola oil. A remoulade of mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, shallots, dill, pickle chunks and a couple secret ingredients — the same sauce used for hamburgers at Empress Tavern, the ownership group’s meat-rich project beneath the neighboring Crest Theatre — is slathered on torpedo rolls baked in-house by cook Gabriel Nokes.

Iceberg lettuce from Produce Express and fried mushrooms are crammed in to the point of overflow before bathing in more Crystal. Slices of housemade pickles — English cucumbers brined in a mixture of champagne vinegar, black pepper, coriander, garlic dill and sambal for 12 hours — top the sandwich, which is served with a lemon wedge. Salt from the pickles, fat from the mushrooms, acid from the lemon and heat from the Crystal.

“Some dishes really can be conservative in how they taste. This one just smacks you around in all the different ways,” Donahue said. “I would assume your palate would be exhausted after eating one.”

Sandwiches sell for $10, and mushrooms with hot sauce and remoulade come as a $6 side. Mother sells 20-30 mushroom sides and up to 40 po’boys on a given day, Donahue said.

Po’boys were initially listed alongside gumbo, grits and other Southern classics on Mother’s pop-up menus. Only the mushrooms and a collard greens dish survived the first five years, and their deep-fried crunch now serves as a decadent contrast to more diet-friendly options such as the kale Caesar salad and carrot nutburger.

“They’re not the healthiest thing in the world, but they’re quite delicious,” Donahue said.

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Benjy Egel covers local restaurants and bars for The Sacramento Bee as well as general breaking news and investigative projects. A Sacramento native, he previously covered business for the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.
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