ST. PETERSBURG — Wandering the Saturday Morning Market in St. Petersburg early this year I was drawn up short by a beguiling jambalaya, as frustrated folks pushed past my rooted form. It was good. I zipped back over to the Ricky P's booth and asked if they had a restaurant. "Nope, we're resisting that instinct." • Ah, but Rick Parsons couldn't hold out. A New Orleans native with a radio man's itinerant soul, he shored up in Pinellas County some years back and did a little of this, a little of that (broadcasting, print ad sales). A Cajun mother's culinary mojo runs deep and intoxicating, hard to shake if you're an ardent son.
In Your Belly Deli became Ricky P's in February. I admit it, it's not my find. A friend of a friend, a New Orleans transplant always on the prowl for a worthy po'boy, led the way.
It's a sandwich joint, not likely to launch a thousand ships, but very likely to provide a doozie of a fried shrimp po'boy ($6.99, top that lovely with a good shake of Crystal "extra hot" — a new product on my horizon).
You can tell that some of the customers are Belly holdovers: turkey sandwich, tuna salad sandwich (all sandwiches $4.99 regular, $6.99 large). Those are fine, but it's the NoLa staples that shine. One day it was a gut-busting trio of that po'boy, a muffuletta (not on the classic round bread, but a nice pillowy hoagie roll) and a third sandwich that was a drippy cochon de lait. This last is a much fabled "pig in milk" dish, usually the results of a party in which a whole suckling pig is roasted and those standing around make it an opportunity for storytelling and merriment. The results: a pulled pork sandwich without the barbecue sauce but with a scoop of sweet-crunchy cole slaw on top.
Another day I hastened back for a simple cup of red beans and rice ($3.99). It had been a long week of eating froufrou meals, so slow-cooked kidney beans shot through with andouille bits and sitting atop fluffy rice seemed like nurturance. And this may sound kooks, but Ricky P's has a great ice machine that yields perfect air-filled curls that, despite all dentists' admonitions, make you chew the cubes along with your icy soda or tea.
No booze, essentially lunch only and the kind of service that's part do-it-yourself and part sass — Ricky P's feels like a delicious little piece of what built the Big Easy's reputation as a culinary treasure trove.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at blogs. tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.